Paris Roubaix

Paris Roubaix takes place this weekend. It’s the best of the classics and has the most mythical cachet. The seminal document of the event is “A Sunday in Hell”, by Jørgen Leth, a beautiful and beguiling film; “Maertens, De Meyer, Dierickx, Godefroot, De Vlaeminck… and Merckx… leading”.

I went over to watch the event in 2009, spending the weekend in Lille. I spent the Saturday riding the last few sections of pavé before sweeping into the velodrome and riding two laps. On the second day I watched the race and was staggered by the speed and skill of the peloton and the way in which Tom Boonen piled on the pressure towards the end of the race, forcing the pace over the cobbles.

The lead group prior to carrefour de l’arbre: Flecha, Boonen, Pozzato, Van Summeren and Hoste, Hushovd

I remember several things quite clearly: the bike-destroying magnitude of each cobble; the joy of being in a country where cycling is the national sport; and the brutality of professional bike-racing. Rarely has the gulf between the professional and the amateur been so starkly reinforced.

25.4 Miles, quickly

my form seems to be holding over the season quite well, i’m sure it’s luck rather than judgement. yesterday was the Severn Road Club “10” on the u7b, one of the world’s slowest “10” courses. there were a few BSCC riders on the startsheet, it’s a trophy event for the club. I managed 2nd place, my best placing yet in an open 10, with 21.51 – which happens to be 15 seconds slower than my time for the midweek about 14 days ago, although the conditions were not that favourable. i bagged the cup though. it’s in honour of Les Cattell, who went under the hour for a 25 in 1949. probably on an 84″.

this morning i clipped a further 45 seconds from my 25 PB, with a 53.01. i would have liked to have found the extra 2 seconds somewhere to bag a 52, but can’t complain. alec managed a 52.58, which is pretty impressive, especially without a disc wheel. i noticed he has crossed to the dark side and started shaving his legs though (not that i was looking at his legs, i hasten to add), i attribute this to him dabbling in the back-stabby world of road racing, with its surreptitious double-dealing and gentleman’s handshakes, where the fastest and fittest doesn’t necessarily win, but the most cunning and the stealthiest, the one who reads the game of poker best and chooses the right moment to bluff and when to front it out. meanwhile, back in the race of truth, he went deep and put in a brilliant performance.

my approach today was to pretty much floor it all the way, apart from the nasty middle section where there is an epic long draggy bit that slaps you in the face a few times, but not with real venom. on the way back from the turn i was absolutely flying along, as quick as i’ve been in this sort of race, holding 32+mph for a good few miles. it was exhilarating. the last bit, especially the drag up the sliproad, was hideous, i thought i’d done enough to just get under the minute, but it was not to be. i take some consolation that on a regular 25 it would be well beneath, maybe even 40 seconds less. I am also pleased with the new PB.

elsewhere in the wonderful and frightening world of cycling, today has been a seriously crashy TdF stage with flecha and hoogerland totalled by a TV car. one minute hoogerland was contemplating the stage win and polka dot jersey, the next he was wrapped around a wire fence. the first week has been more like a castle combe 4th cat crit than the apotheosis of professional bike racing.

Tired Legs

In the build up to any series of events, or race, or during any phase of training there are some real dead spots where nothing seems to be going well. that’s the sum of my limited experience in building form. i went out riding with steve on sunday. this was after a really heavy friday ride, 30 hilly miles (2000ft or so) at a 22mph average speed; this took more of a toll than i thought. the next day i planned to spin my legs out a bit on the turbo, which i did, but made a fatal error by watching omloop het neuwsblad at the same time, and my enthusiasm for the race ended up with me riding at pace for ten minutes whilst i chased down both juan antonio flecha and sebastian langeveld’s ill-fated escape, before destroying them both with my ferocious sprint to add to my illustrious palmares. so anyway, i went out riding with steve on the sunday morning and my legs felt flat, devoid of feeling, and i had a noticeable energy deficit. it was all i could do to drag myself around the 40 mile loop (again hilly, always hilly, every time, up monstrous hills, no shame or self-awareness, just hills) in his spritely, pedal-dancing wake. it was very tough. i regret destroying him and kieran two weeks prior. steve is now en forme, and thus i will consider my riding strategy when we next go out. it might even be time for a spot of half-wheeling. (i joke).

i’m hoping to ride through it in the next few days – i have the first hardriders event of the season on sunday, and it’s an absolute stinker with a horrifically strong field; lots of old-school testers ready to suffer and gurn their way to the finish. it is a great part of the season though, the weather is often harsh and you really ride into form, i have races for the next 5 weekends or so. alongside this, the pro peloton has hit the spring classics which culminate in paris-roubaix in 8 weeks time. it’s cobbled mayhem, with evil climbs and crazed belgians shouting from the sidelines. brilliant. het volk was a great primer, watching flecha bridge across to langeveld was pretty awe-inspiring. here’s his escape, after a typical ‘chute’ – the cobbles bite. he missed the win by an eyelash, which is fair enough, langeveld rode a great race.

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