Rouleur’s Guy Andrews and Ian Cleverly sampled some old-fashioned, mud-spattered Paris-Roubaix hospitality in the wake of the mighty Bernard Hinault. Andrews excelled and, while Cleverly groveled, he did learn a thing or two from the back of the bunch.
You gotta roll with it
Riders possessing sizable thighs, shoulders and arm muscles (Hinault, Andrews) as opposed to worthless twigs connected to a slightly wider twig (Cleverly), will have a forward trajectory on the pavé. Those of a lightweight disposition, both physically and mentally, will surely bounce into oblivion unless fit and prepared to suffer. That would be me, then...
Attack, recover, attack, ad infinitum
Hit the cobbles hard to minimise disruption, then back off on the tarmac. We all know the theory that riding a rough surface at speed will reduce the jarring effect, yet many ease the pressure on the pedals as a default reaction. This is a mistake. Press on at all times when on the pavé and it will soon pass.
The first section of pavé will always result in somebody – usually equipped with one of those flimsy-looking carbon bottle cages – parting company with their bidon. Sure enough, a bottle bounced away into the surrounding fields within 50 metres. I noticed the offending receptacle a few miles further down the road, flapping around in the breeze, about to part company with the frame and bring its owner to a halt.
Preparing your bike for Roubaix means tightening everything – and I mean everything – up. And ensuring your bottles cages are up to the job.
Both Guy and I rode ‘cross bikes, all the better for mud clearance and comfort. Continental Gator Skins in a vibration-deadening 28mm were perfect – no slipping down the gaps between stones and grippy enough to make for a tumble-free day. We both fitted cross-top levers which, although rarely used, are reassuring when spending lengthy periods on the bar tops.
Final modifications to my bike were gel inserts under the bar tape and a K-Edge chain catcher – an excellent little gadget that eliminates the possibility of chain derailment between frame and chainset. All in all, we got the equipment aspect spot on.
Sounds ludicrously obvious, doesn’t it? Most rides you can wing it: a modicum of condition, stick to your own pace, and it’s possible to muddle through – even in the mountains.
The cobbles are another matter altogether. They take every weakness and magnify it tenfold. Lacking strength? Five or six sectors into the ride you will start to flag. Bike handling skills not all they could be? Expect to be seriously challenged on the farm tracks to Roubaix. Heart (and head) not in it? Forget it. Paris-Roubaix is not for everyone.
But get it right and there is no ride I can think of that is so deeply satisfying; that gives such a sense of accomplishment when swinging onto the track for the closing metres of this legendary race.
The current generation? Overpaid, underarchieving and wrongly-trained.