British amateurs made up over one third of the 4,500 entries for the Paris-Roubaix Challenge, but why would anyone want to ride it at all?
It’s raining, there’s a block headwind, the road sneaks uphill at a shallow gradient, and you’re managing just 12mph. Your bike and body are being shaken together like a can of baked beans on top of a spin dryer; your bruised hands are getting hot from the friction of rubbing the bars.
You’re approaching a rider. Just as you plot out the best line to get around him, he somersaults into a ditch.
This is the Paris-Roubaix Challenge sportive, which takes place the day before the elite race, and it’s the infamous Carrefour de l’Arbre sector of cobbles. And this isn’t even the worst bit.
“The only way to describe the Arenberg Forest is that each cobble is like an ice cube,” said Iain Hawthorn from Old Portlians CC, riding the Paris-Roubaix Challenge for the first time.
“They’re ridiculously slippery. It gets hard, but nothing gets as hard as that.”
Hawthorn was one of around 1600 British riders entered in the sportive this Saturday before the 2015 elite Paris-Roubaix, around 37% of the total entry of approximately 4,500 riders.
Added to eight British professionals riding on Sunday – at least three of which are considered favourites for the victory – this year’s Paris-Roubaix is becoming a very British affair.
The easy channel crossing and the opportunity to see those well-known riders, combined with a growing mainstream awareness of the cobbled classics, has this year pulled rosbifs to Northern France in their thousands.
Of course some of this is down to the ‘Wiggo Effect,’ but perhaps us Brits are just gluttons for punishment.
One rider suffered eight punctures over the 169km long option, which took in all 27 cobbled sectors used in the race, and rode into Roubaix with his inner tube making its bid for freedom via the sidewall of his rear tyre.
“Why do we have little fingers?” mused Clive King from VC Norwich outside the Roubaix velodrome. “They were no use today. It took me a long time to actually find the right position to grip the bars.”
“Nothing could ever prepare you for this, it’s proper mental,” he added. “It’s so bloody brutal you wouldn’t want to come and do it again!”
The thing is, there’s something about Paris-Roubaix that keeps everyone coming back for more.
“At one point around the Carrefour de l’Arbre I did think, why am I doing this?!” said Mikkel Togsverd.
So, will he do it again next year?
“Yeah,” he said.
“Roubaix: it’s the one isn’t it?”