Monday, 7 June 2010

Surviving the Cobbles - Part 1


I'm just back from another fun-packed weekend in northern France - the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix to be precise. It certainly was north, but even with the rainy muddy conditions that we experienced I find it hard to say that it really was hell. It was a celebration of cycling.

When we first arrived in northern France I'd been feeling a little apprehensive - from the staff at Lille train station to the local chemist, there was a hint of fear for us in their voices as they bid us "Bon Courage" - whatever do these two young ladies think they've let themselves in for on the pav├ęs that even we, as cyclists won't ride??

A trip down to the legendary velodrome in Roubaix made me feel more reassured. My friend Jo and I had decided to ride to the stadium on Saturday afternoon to recce the route to get there later at 3am when catching the bus to the startline.

Coincidentally we arrived there when the organising team from Velo Club Roubaix were doing their event briefing and getting ready to travel to the different start towns for each of the routes.

We spoke to a few of the club members, who were very excited about the whole event. For them it was the culmination of a year's preparation, and they were really looking forward to the coming 24 hours. Mind you, they weren't going to be riding the cobbles!

Marc, one of the guys was really impressed at the size of the British contingent. They'd had 350 pre-entries from the UK, which was a record number. They'd also had 2300 pre-entries in total and were anticipating a final number of around 3000, including on-the-day entries. Seven coaches had been laid on to take riders to the different start towns, and tens of thousands of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, fruits etc were prepared for the four feed stations.

Another guy gave us tips on how to ride the cobbles, what pressures we should put in our tyres, how to pace ourselves and an idea of the weather forecast.

These guys were not just jobbing event organisers. They were people who were really passionate about cycling, and all the history behind it. Their club house has photos of all the previous winners of the Paris-Roubaix professionals race, though some of them were abit dubious about this year's winner and his bicycle tactics!

Apparently plans are afoot to build an indoor velodrome in the same sports complex, adjacent to the current outdoor velodrome, along with a hotel. This will be ready for 2012 when it is intended for use as a training base for London 2012 Olympic athletes from various countries.

It was good to hear some of the stories behind this legendary event.
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