The pace increased and someone in the group mentioned the “A” word; the ‘Arenberg Forrest’. That hallowed stretch of pave (cobbles from last week’s lesson) where more races have been lost, and more bones broken, than any other stretch of road in the world. This felt like a real a race, but it was only the Paris-Roubaix Sportive.
The idea of entering the dreaded stretch of pave with 50 others did not sound so attractive (although the free ride for the past 30km had been nice), so Alex and I took the chance to take some photos of The Forrest and let the group disappear into the dust. Then it was our turn and it was all on.
What sounded like a good idea after a few beers at the end of the Tour of Flanders Sportive the prior weekend was not feeling like such a great idea as we bashed our way over the 2,400m of pave (or was it a long lost river bed that some sadistic race director had directed us over). Maybe Leah was the wise one after all, as she opted for the 70km version that conveniently avoided The Forrest. It is hard to explain the sensory over load as your arms start to cramp, your eyes water and you jar you and your bike to pieces, and we were only doing 25km/hr unlike the pros who enter at 60km/hr. Then the violence is over and you exit The Forrest with a sharp left turn and assess the damage to you and your bike. Skin intact, no flats but a loose water bottle. Not too bad, we had survived The Forrest! However, this was only the first 2km of 31km of pave for the day, but it was by far and away the worst and deserves it’s legendary status. A stretch of road that every cyclist should endure once!
The Paris-Roubaix sportive takes place one day before the pros each year and you have several different options. 170km with 50+ km of pave, 150km with 30km of pave which Alex and I competed, the 70km version with 9km of pave, including the 5 star Carrefore de-l’Arbre. All three finish with a lap around the Roubaix velodrome, which leaves you feeling like a champion. A fun day was had as we three brave ones battled with the Roubaix pave. Leah was truly the wise one as she did 70km on her cross bike with nice wide 35mm tires. Next year wider ties will be on order to tackle the Hell of the North.
The next day, being car-less in Roubaix, we rented the local communal bikes and made our way down to the Velodrome. Cruising around Roubaix on these provided some light entertainment for the morning and helped to loosen up the bodies. As we were not sure where to watch the race, the velodrome seemed the logical place, and it was a good call. As we were hanging out watching the race on the big screen we were perfectly positioned to grab a seat in the stadium as they opened the gates.
A quick dash and we were in to the second row, about 30 meters from the finish line and right above the track. We had to pinch ourselves as we watched on the race unfold on the big screen, then the buzz in the stand rose as the helicopters approached, then the motorbikes and cars pulled off, and next thing you know Cancellera and Vanmarcke appeared in the stadium. After a little cat and mouse during the first lap, it is all on as they sprint just in front of us. Cancellera took it in one of the most exciting Paris-Roubaix pro races in years.
Adding to the lessons from the Tour of Flanders
1. It is possible to go fast (at the start) across the pave, but hell it hurts (both to you and your bike!)
2. Paris – Roubaix is aptly named “The Hell of the North”
3. The Arenberg Forrest is as bad as everyone talks about, and makes the Flanders pave feel smooth
4. Do Flanders the week before to warm you and your bike up to what lies in wait for you in Roubaix
5. Carry an allen key to tighten the bolts that will shake loose
6. Do Roubaix once to say you have done it. That was Paris-Roubaix. We will be back next year, and hopefully there will be more than just the three of us.