This past weekend Adam and I travelled to Northern France to witness, first hand, probably the toughest one day bike race in the pro calendar, Paris-Roubaix or L’Enfer Du Nord (The Hell of the North) as it is reverently known by cycling fans. It is a race that starts in Compiègne (some 85km outside of Paris) and heads north, through 257km of French countryside, culminating in a sprint finish after a one and a half lap circuit of the famous Vélodrome André-Pétrieux in Roubaix. If 257km is not enough to test the riders, there are 29 cobbled ‘secteurs’ of varying degrees of length and difficulty to contend with and it is these that quite often prove the undoing of both man and machine.
It is a race that has driven the most famous cyclists of all time to despair and ruin, spawning legendary soundbites as broken men slump on the grass in the velodrome
“Paris-Roubaix is bullshit” – Bernard Hinault
“Paris-Roubaix is a horrible race to ride, but the most beautiful one to win” – Sean Kelly
The images are no different, perhaps the most iconic and certainly my favourite is of a muddied and battered Greg LeMond sitting in the Roubaix showers after finishing 55th in the 1991 edition of the race. Still in his Z Vetements kit, LeMond sits broken in the showers with a can of Coca-Cola and a ham and cheese baguette as he tries to breathe some life into his aching bones
The above image was taken by Klaas Jan van der Weij and won the World Press Photo Of The Year (Sports Category) that year.
We wanted to take in as much of the race weekend as we possibly could so we decided to make our base in an AirBnB in Valenciennes. It’s a small, quiet place but it is circa 10km away from the Trouée d’Arenberg (where we wanted to watch the race), 135km from Compiègne and 75km from Roubaix so it is fairly central to the race route. On our way to the accommodation on Friday we decided to pop into Arenberg to have a look around pre-race and we were glad we did, catching the Trek, FDJ and Bahrain Merida teams out doing their recon rides
Arenberg is one of the ***** secteurs of pavé on the route and it is iconic for both its location and its difficulty. The great Eddy Merckx once said of Arenberg:
“This isn’t where you win Paris-Roubaix but it’s where you can lose it”
We walked the whole of the 2.3km length of the trench, taking in the absurdity of riding over the bricks (cobbles is too soft a word) that formed the path through the forest. There were plenty of amateurs out testing themselves on the pavé as we walked, from a variety of nations, all marvelling at being in one of the greatest sporting locations on earth.
On Saturday we travelled down to Compiègne for the team presentations and to soak up some more pre-race atmosphere. A top tip here is to stand behind the stage as this is where the team buses pull up, allowing you a chance to glimpse a close up or even a photo of your favourite rider. I had a special reason for going as I had arranged to go and say hello to my cycling game rider, Mike Teunissen
I was delighted to get a few minutes with Mike, he was a lovely guy so it was good to be able to chat with him and offer our best wishes for the race. Mike would go on to finish 7th (which is no mean feat), improving on his 11th place from 2018. He will continue to get better results, this is his race and it suits his style.
On race day we positioned ourselves in the Arenberg Trench, having parked about a kilometre away so we could make a quick(ish) getaway. We got there about 11am, four hours before the race was scheduled to go through, but we soon realised that you could turn up any time up to 1:30pm and still get a decent viewing spot. Parking, however, seemed a different matter.
The arrival of the race was signalled by the appearance overhead of the helicopters at a bout 2:50pm and, a few minutes later a stream of professional cyclists thundered over the cobbles in front of us, their faces contorted as they tried to deal with the vibrations and bumps while concentrating on a safe passage over the pavé. It was a truly amazing spectacle, lasting no longer than a couple of minutes, but something that I will remember for ever
After the riders had stormed through the trench we hot footed it to the car and set off for Roubaix with the intention of getting into the Velodrome for the finish. We made good time and managed to park about a mile away, in plenty of time to see the final 40km of the race unfold on the big screen and the sprint to the line. We positioned ourselves on the hill at the corner of the finishing straight with some slightly drunk but very amiable Belgians and there we watched Gilbert beat Politt in 2 up sprint to take his 4th monument, a phenomenal achievement.
It was a fantastic end to a brilliant weekend and I’m delighted we managed to make the velodrome as well as the Arenberg Forest. Adam and I have resolved to do this again sometime (maybe at a different race), just got to plan it out!
At the end of it all, when any bike race is done, there’s only one thing to do……
In all the reviews I read in magazines or watch online, there is usually one common theme – upgrading stock wheels will make a huge difference to the overall performance of the bike.
My Hunt Bike Wheels order arrived this week and I was very excited….
I’m not the most confident of bike mechanics (I’ve often thought of doing a course in it but they aren’t very common) so I made a point of watching a few YouTube videos to help me, as well as ordering some new tools (which always makes me feel instantly more knowledgeable!). I knew that I had to complete the following:
As a result of the above, the toolbox swelled with the purchase of a Shimano Cassette Lockring Tool, an X-Tools Chain Whip and a Lifeline Chain Keeper (which I had meant to purchase for a little while). I also thought it would be a bit of bad form to adorn a new set of wheels with a dirty old cassette so I ordered a new Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-28T Cassette!
Even with the new tools and the multiple views of the YouTube videos, I was still a little apprehensive of hooking up the new wheels mainly due to the transfer of the disc brakes and ensuring everything was secured properly. I needn’t have worried, save for a slight altercation with a rogue elastic spacer that prevented the cassette from moving freely (meaning the chain whip came in handy), the transfer of the disc brakes and the installation of the new cassette went very smoothly.
My Specialized Tarmac Expert Disc now sit on top a pair of Hunt 30 Carbon Aero Disc wheels and very nice they are too.
I maintain that one of the greatest noises in the world is the sound of a well made hub and freewheel and the Hunt wheels do not disappoint!
Ooh, that’s great isn’t it!
Well I would have gone for a ride to test them out but 1. it rained 2. my wife is ill so I had the kids to look after and 3. I’m ill too! Doubt I’ll get to test them out before we leave for Roubaix!
On Friday we went to the annual London Bike Show at the ExCel (Exhibition Centre London). We’d been a couple of years ago before the Paris run so we were under no illusions, we were going to see a lot of lovely bikes that we could not afford!
This time though, we had purpose to our visit as there were a few bits and pieces that we wanted to get or find out about. I wanted to info on Bike Boxes for our Sweden trip and Adam wanted a new lid and to talk to someone about prescription cycling sunglasses.
We ticked off the first of Adam’s list almost immediately. Lazer had advertised a helmet ‘amnesty’ to give 20% off to anyone that traded in an old helmet for a brand new Lazer model. Fortunately, they had one Lazer Blade+ in ‘massive heed’ size and even better that is was in matt black! Then we headed over to the performance area to watch a Q&A with the legend that is Sean ‘King’ Kelly
Kelly is one of my heros, I could watch his descent of the Poggio and catch of Moreno Argentin in Milan – Sanremo 1992 over and over again.
He was a phenomenal cyclist, a warrior that could win any race he put his mind to. It was great to hear him relive some of those classic moments and talk about his long standing association with Vitus. One thing I wasn’t aware of is that Kelly won many of his races on a Vitus frame, the brand has a considerable (but largely unknown) history and palmares!
We then ticked number two off Adam’s list, some prescription cycling sunnies from a company called Eyepod. Adam has been looking for a decent, but good value set of glasses for a while so it was great to meet these guys and I can’t wait to see the result when they arrive. We went to drool over the Canyon stand after that…..
We tried on some fetching eye/headwear and Adam had a blast round the test track on an eBrompton….
…..but, for me, there was one last thing to do. I needed to return to the Hunt Bike Wheels stand to have a look at their lovely range of carbon wheels. I’d been torn between their 30mm and 50mm depth wheels so it was good to have a chat with them, but I didn’t buy anything…..
……until last night
I went with the 30mm depth wheels in the end. Despite their lovely appearance I’m not sure I could carry off the 50mm wheels! I am pretty bloody excited, I can tell you!
The broken fence panels in my garden have travelled further than I’ve managed on my bike (outdoors) over the last few weeks. The weather has been atrocious, with high winds battering the area I live in. The open nature of the top of the North Downs makes going out in windy conditions extremely inadvisable.
Consequently, more time has been spent indoors on Zwift! I took part in another race last weekend, this time it was a 2 lap race around that UCI Hilly Circuit on the Innsbruck map. I was intrigued to try this rather than the flat, crit style races that really don’t appear to be my thing.
I finished 58th out of about 125 riders so I was extremely happy in the top half of the table, for the Cat D riders I was 5th out of 27 that eventually finished! I felt good on the KOM, I could feel the benefit of the SST training and running I’d been doing as my rhythm was better and it showed as it was there where I moved up the rankings.
I also started to notice, even in the virtual world, the value of sensible riding and good tactics. I’ve recently finished reading a book called Full Gas by a gentleman called Peter Cossins which is all about tactics within the Pro Peloton. I put some of that knowledge to good use, managing my ‘efforts’ on the climbs to bridge to the next rider in front of me, then sitting in for a while to recover before putting another effort in to bridge to the next rider and so on. It worked extremely well and, weirdly, it added to my enjoyment of the race.
One thing did become apparent in this period, I needed a more stable stand for my laptop! The ‘music stand’ style stand I had been using rocked and rolled as my front wheel knocked it when I was out of the saddle and it really didn’t look or feel secure so I started to think about an alternative. There was no way I was going to shell out £100 for a trainer table so I had to look for a cheaper alternative……. and I found one. I found a guy on eBay selling these beauties for £20!
I finally got round to putting it together today and it is perfect for a turbo trainer setup, firm, sturdy and the feet setup means there’s no interference with the front wheel. Here’s the finished product in situ
I also bought a cheap case and some sticky Garmin connectors so that I simply clip my phone into the out in front Garmin mount, a perfect place for it to sit to use the Zwift companion app. I’m quite pleased with the improvement, next is the question of whether I upgrade to a direct drive trainer…..
I’m turning into a fair weather cyclist. The rain was forecast to come today and it duly delivered, well over delivered really when you looked outside, so I scoured the Zwift schedule for any group rides, gran fondos or sportives that may take my fancy. What I decided was to participate in my first Zwift Cat D race.
Before that, I explored the new ‘Drops Garage’ feature that Zwift have introduced. Basically, you accumulate sweat drops as you ride in the virtual world which you can then redeem for better frames and wheels
I had c.500,000 drops when I looked so I traded them in for this rather sweet looking Specialized Tarmac frame to go with the Zipp wheels I already had and the gloriously retro Z Vetements kit
I lined up for the 3R LaGuardia Flat Loop Race, a 12.1km race around Central Park on the New York circuit. The race catered for categories A through to D with the categories defined by the watts per kilo ratio that the riders are able to generate, I signed up for the Cat D race which allows for riders up to 2.5 W/KG (A = 3.7+ W/KG, B = 3.2 – 3.7 W/KG, C = 2.5 – 3.2 W/KG) and waited for the start. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I had participated in the ‘Baby Fondo’ previously and found it to be quite a relaxed affair but anecdotally I’d heard the races were a completely different story.
From the drop of the flag it became pretty apparent that it was going to be the latter, everyone whooshed past me from the get go leaving me pootling away from the start line like Driving Miss Daisy. I didn’t panic though as this had happened in the Baby Fondo, there I started to regain places as the road pitched upwards and so it would prove today too. At 12.1km long I knew it would be ‘full gas’ for all of the riders, pushing their limits for 20 or so minutes, but people in the same category as me can’t do full gas for that long! It did maintain a good pace though, way above my training, which really got to me on the 3rd of 4 laps and I started to feel sick in the pit of my stomach. However, I persevered and took another couple of places, finishing 12th out of 27 just under 3 minutes down on the winner. I was pretty happy with that for a first attempt especially when 7 of the riders ahead of me pushed over the category W/KG definitions
As always, I’d rather be outside on my bike but I enjoyed my first Zwift race experience and, with a better feeling in the legs, I’d hope that I could improve on my first showing
So, this week the postman brought me the news that I have been successful in the ballot and have a place for the 2019 Prudential Ride London 100.
Those who have read this blog will know that my debut in last year’s edition of the sportive was far from a happy one after being knocked off my bike by some fool in Richmond Park. It was only a month ago that I recounted my displeasure with that day and made the statement that I was done with mass participation sportives.
The success in the ballot stirred something. In the days after the confirmation arrived it really gnawed at my brain, the nagging feeling that I had unfinished business with the Ride London 100. I couldn’t forget that I hadn’t been able to do the hills, it annoyed me that I hadn’t been able to enjoy it and put my best effort in due to the crash and the buckled wheel and I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t deserve the finishers medal that I got.
So, today, I confirmed my place for the 2019 edition of the sportive, I’m going to give in another go to banish the bad memories that I have of this event
I’ll be better prepared this time, I’ll be more vigilant and hopefully it won’t rain!
The best thing about this? It looks as though BOTH the fat blokes will be riding the event this year as Adam is in the process of signing up on a charity spot with The Rainbow Trust. It’s another chance for us to raise some funds and have a good time doing it.
Better get some training in…..
I’ve dabbled with Zwift over the last couple of years but I’ve certainly not put as much time into it as some people (hence my current standing at Level 10), in fact I’ve only just opened the Jungle course on Watopia and Alpe du Zwift is another 2 levels away for me! I’ve referenced my issue with this in another post, for the now £13.99 a month I think I should have access to everything1 That, however, is by the by where this post is concerned.
I have been going to the gym regularly, twice a week, for two years now but, although I have seen some pretty significant changes in my body shape and overall fitness, I haven’t really ever felt like I was doing anything that was focused and targeted. Recently I have changed my habits and I can already feel some considerable differences. My Tuesday gym hasn’t changed so much; some stretches, core work, light weights, leg raises and then a 5k run on the treadmill. Thursday is where I have made the change, I’ve turned to Zwift in my shed rather than heading into the gym to work on my base cycling fitness.
Now, in the past, I’ve gone and smashed out an hour and a half on Zwift, aimlessly pedalling around whatever world was on rotation and then spent the rest of my day wondering what (if any) benefit there was to that effort. This time I have been using the Zwift workouts and I can already tell the difference, the under 1 hour workouts are extremely time efficient and you leave the trainer knowing you’ve benefitted from the effort. My favourite, for my Thursday mornings, is the SST (Short) workout
SST stands for “Sweet Spot Training”, essentially getting you to hit a level that will build your base cycling fitness, it is all based on your overall FTP score so you will need to measure that in game beforehand (and that is tough!). The workout warms you up, then mixes four periods of five minutes at 96% of your FTP with four periods of five minutes at 88% of your FTP. You definitely get a great return for your time, without being taken into the red, so it is ideal for a pre-work workout.
The second workout I tried was an interval workout called ‘The Wringer’ and, my god, I thought I was going to pass out! It included 12x 30 second bursts of effort at 400w based on my (very low) FTP score. I managed 8 before my legs told me they weren’t going to comply with any more requests!
I was glad that I tried this but disappointed that I hadn’t managed to finish it. I wanted to do more intervals as I’ve heard they are extremely beneficial so, with one eye on completing The Wringer in the future, I made my own Zwift workout……meet the Mini Wringer!
I used the full wringer as a guide and reduced the interval watts to give me a chance of completing the whole workout. I dropped them from 400w to 350w and I’m glad to say I completed all 10 reps, but even better was that I could feel the exertion in my legs so it was testing enough to ensure that the workout wasn’t a waste of time. The SST workout will remain my go to workout with the intervals coming in where I cannot get out on the road due to time or the weather.
I also got to ride the New York course for the first time today. Yes, that’s how little I have used Zwift till now. I did the Central Park loop and it seemed like a nice course although I have to admit that the futuristic aerial skyways that appear in other parts of the course have put me off worrying about riding this before.
So, there it is, I actually think I am starting to understand what Zwift can do for my fitness and how I can maximise the time I have in the virtual world