Sunday, June 8, 2008
143 days to go
In case anyone has failed to notice, it?s January. The month of good intentions, grand plans and ambitious targets.
Well, as we all know, the road to Hell, is pavéd with good intentions. Actually, it?s paved with great big uneven cobblestones held together by mud, stagnant water and the dashed dreams of the hundreds of hard men who have subjected themselves to the punishment meted out by Paris-Roubaix every April.
Traditionally, January is the month everyone enters the Etape du Tour ? rightly recognised as the blue riband event in the cyclo-sportive world.
Although, I have a place in the Etape it is not thoughts of the Col du Tourmalet or Hautacam that occupy my mind right now. I know I won?t be big-ringing it up Hautacam like Bjarne Riis did ? and not just because we don?t have the same doctor.
But everyone trains for the Etape, so my goal is something a little different. Instead I am pre-occupied by the fear of the bone-jarring effects of the pavé.
I have read various accounts of the Paris-Roubaix sportive. Some say it?s too easy (!) Some say it?s a severely demanding test that should not be taken lightly.
In the easy camp: It?s flat and the weather in early June is likely to be dry and fine.
In the demanding camp: It?s a long way. 255 kilometres, or 157 miles. That?s the fat end of 10 hours in the saddle. Oh, and the cobbles.
Ah, yes, the cobbles.
I?ve seen the cobbles up close many times, watching and covering Paris-Roubaix. Like most who report on the sport, I fell into the trap of glibly commenting that such-and-such a rider simply couldn?t stick with the pace over the stones or that so-and-so took the wrong line through the Forest of Arenberg.
Oh, how easy to be an armchair expert.
My attitude changed somewhat last spring when my colleague Edward Pickering and I travelled to Belgium, Holland and northern France to ride the iconic stretches of each of the six spring Classics in a whirlwind couple of days. You can read the feature here
Having ridden the Tour of Flanders sportive a few times I thought I knew what the cobbles were all about. Well, Belgium, your cobblestones are baby bottom smooth compared to the beasts of Paris-Roubaix.
The Forest of Arenberg was a pretty horrendous experience. The bike was not really set-up for it ? too much carbon fibre, standard tyres, no padding ? meaning that every horrible jolt shocked the shoulders and locked the elbows.
Poor flyweight Ed was bounced about all over the place. My natural ballast meant I was able to ride the storm a little better. But the amazing thing was how quickly the cobbles sapped the speed and dented the confidence.
It was an experience I was in no hurry to repeat.
And yet? Something is calling me back.
Riding the Arenberg Forest last spring. The figure in white is Edward Pickering, cheating by riding on the smooth bit. Picture by Luc Claessen
The Paris-Roubaix sportive is run by the Vélo Club de Roubaix and it?s run every other year. The 2008 edition will be the 30th.
Another colleague James Shrubsall, a man who in cycling terms never knows when enough is enough, encouraged me to commit to the Paris-Roubaix ride.
Training began tentatively in November and I used the eight weeks before the inevitable Christmas binge of booze and food to give myself a more solid base than I?ve managed in many years. Mostly I rode my mountain bike ? sometimes on the road ? figuring that the extra weight and rolling resistance would make my riding that little bit more intensive.
The first week of January was promising. A total of seven-and-a-half hours in the saddle.
?I?ve cracked it,? I thought. ?I?ve formed the habit that coaches talk about. I?ve managed to structure my time to incorporate my training. I?m off and running. This?ll be a piece of cake.?
And then the weather took a turn for the worst.
The past two weeks have been rotten. Rain, rain and more rain.
So I subject myself to an hour of mind-numbing pedalling on the rollers just to satisfy myself that I am doing something. I sneak the rollers into the kitchen rather than brave the chill and smell of paint, or terps or whatever it is that?s spilled somewhere, in the garage.
I listen to music (listening to Neil Young?s Cortez the Killer three times in a row is almost 30 minutes of cycling I discovered yesterday, when my iPod got stuck on the repeat setting) or Radio 4, and I count down the minutes on the clock on the cooker.
Is it doing me any good? Should I stop being such a wuss and just get out there in the wind and the rain?
There is a plan, of sorts, to get me ready for the distance. A solid season of reliability trials ? starting on January 27 and running throughout February ? will make riding 100 kilometres second nature again.
100km reliability trial
more reliability trials
get the miles in
Tour of Flanders sportive
Double centuries, apparently
With few opportunities to practice the cobbles in Hertfordshire ? although the quality of the roads is deteriorating so quickly it?s only a matter of time ? today I entered the medium-length Tour of Flanders sportive, which I?ll be riding with Ed and Nicholas Bourne, the man who devised the beastly Tour of Wessex.
After that James has nonchalantly pencilled in a couple of double century rides for late April and May (I hope he?s talking kilometres not miles), and before we know it, Paris-Roubaix will be here.
There is a get-out clause, which I?d feel remiss not to mention. There?s always the option of a shorter 173 kilometre Paris-Roubaix, which still includes all 27 cobbled sections (which in themselves add up to 45 kilometres).
And failing that, I can always do ten hours on the rollers in the kitchen. On second thoughts, perhaps Paris-Roubaix wouldn?t be too bad.
Check back next week for the second update and, no doubt, yet more obfuscating and elaborate excuses for having not done enough training.
Official Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive 2008 site
Is anyone else doing the Paris-Roubaix sportive in June? Or have you done it before? Who?s right ? is it easy or hard?
Join the debate on our forum here