Alarm call 5am after a fitful night as dawn broke over Roubaix city centre – am I ready for the Hell of the North!?
Pleased to hear the cobbles were in the best condition ever as I donned my 28mm tyres praying that the pressures would allow me to glide me over the pave (although at the same time wishing I had gone tubeless like my sportive companion). A short pedal from base camp led us down to the historic velodrome, which was buzzing with excitement, and we were off through the back streets South towards Willems.
The sportive was filled with road, gravel and MTB bikes propelled by riders of all ages and with some interesting and colourful kit options on display! The planned gentle roll out for the first 50km was highjacked by over-zealous riders forming fast groups pushing the pace way above zone 2. The mood was happy but not particularly chatty as some Roubaix veteran riders gave me a wry smile when I enquired as to the sectors to watch out for. Go hard or go home I thought to myself (live the dream).
The Trouee D’Arenberg was the first pave sector we hit with 95km to go and this was a brutal introduction to the pave with cobbles like giants teeth jutting from the forest floor laid at right angles to our direction of travel. One bottle immediately ejected from the cage never to be seen again along with several layers of skin from both thumbs as I struggled to work out the best grip on the bars. How on earth do the pros hit this section at 60kph+ and maintain their line? The thighs were burning mid sector and I struggled to maintain any sort of respectable speed. The next few sectors were only interrupted by a passing train on Helesmes with stretches of tarmac to recalibrate your senses.