Major climbs: None
Terrain: Flat with cobbled secteurs
Best: Riding on closed roads with Geraint Thomas and Magnus Backstedt
Worst: Being totally unprepared for the pavé
No matter how many times somebody tells you, or how many times you watch the pros struggle, its difficult to believe that the cobbles of Roubaix are as hellish as everyone makes out. At least that’s the naive attitude I took with me to the inaugural HotChillee Dunkirk- Roubaix sportive.
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You may know of HotChillee from its standout multi-day events like London-Paris, but this was the first one-day event added to the line-up.
Aimed at providing ‘professional events for amateurs’, you can expect rolling road closures, a fleet of support vehicles and some competitive sections to their events. And with the grippy 165km course, including nine sections of pavé, support offers real peace of mind.
The main part of the course stretched across French Flanders, with a brief trip across the Belgian border, and made for a relatively friendly introduction.
Two groups of around 16 riders breezed through 111km of the smooth rolling roads of northern France, troubled only by the three real climbs of the day, including Mont des Cats, and a neverending headwind. While it may not sound that easy, it was made insignificant in comparison to what was to come later.
Led by the HotChillee ride captains, not having to think about where you were going and instead concentrate purely on your pedalling, really made you feel like a pro.
Another key to that experience was having some real life professionals to ride with. HotChillee recruited Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who put his name to the event, while former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt and triple crown holder Stephen Roche also came along for the ride.
Both chatted and shared their experiences with everyone, which added to the event’s great atmosphere.
The pro experience
A lunch break of sandwiches, French tarts and life-saving massages came prior to the final 50-or-so kilometres, where we took on the last 40km of the Paris-Roubaix route, including the finish in the legendary Roubaix velodrome. But before that came a 15km race section.
This seemed hell-bent on giving us an understanding of just how gruelling a race like Paris-Roubaix is, as we charged across four cobbled secteurs including the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Fortunately the weather remained fine aside from a small shower, as the prospect of riding over slippery cobbles was not one anyone wanted to consider.
While the day was a punishing one, the thought of riding laps of the famous velodrome and soothing tired muscles in the Roubaix showers kept everyone pedalling to the end.
We were welcomed at the finish with a celebration of medals and trophies to top off a hard day’s riding. As there were only 33 riders taking part, everyone certainly bonded across the difficult terrain before transfers back to the hotel in Dunkirk brought the event to its conclusion.
At a minimum price of £500 for a place in the event, including hotel, transfers and a Q&A dinner with the pros, it’s a heavy investment for most to make. But Dunkirk-Roubaix is definitely an event with a bright future.
Well-organised staff manage the riders and cater to every need while a dynamic route truly gives participants a taste of life as a pro. Indeed, it’s hard to see why this event won’t go from strength to strength every year.
Missed it? Try this…
Paris-Roubaix sportive, Sunday June 8 2014, with either 210km or 120km distances over even more cobbles than Dunkirk-Roubaix.