As I sit here in the comfort of my living room, watching Paris Roubaix on Eurosport, I’m reminded of several things. I’m reminded of my personal visits to northern France to see the “Queen of the Classics” and I remember just how difficult the cobblestoned sections (les secteurs pavés) of this race really are.
In the last few days leading up to this year’s edition of Paris Roubaix, I’ve noted the usual excitement from fellow cyclists. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ were a buzz with speculations as to who will win this year’s race. And as customary for this race, talk about the weather took a prominent postion as well. Will it rain? With a nickname of “Hell of the North”, spectators seem to like to see conditions worth of such a title. Paris Roubaix is perhaps the hardest of one day bike races, rain or not.
I’ve been fortunate enough to ride some of these cobblestoned sections firsthand. For me, they are some of the most difficult, most challenging stretches of road that I’ve ever ridden. They are harder than Alpe d’Huez, the Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux. The pavé is like none that I’ve ever seen. It is so rough and uneven, it will bounce you off your bike if you loose concentration. If you’ve watched Paris Roubaix on TV, you’ll probably recall a shot or two, showing the riders’ chains jumping up and down in slow motion. The broadcasters are trying to give you at home, some sense of how rough it really is. But there’s little one can do to really show you how rough it truly is. Ride a day along these sections of road and you’re sure to feel bruised along all the parts of your body that touch the bike. The following day, your hands will feel like someone took a hammer to your palms. And even if they are dry, the cobblestones remain ever so slippery. The fact that the pros make it look so easy and relatively smooth is a credit to their skill on the bike.
If you ever get the chance to ride even just one section of pavé, I recommend you do it. It will forever change your perspective on the race and give you a whole new respect for the pro cyclists that compete here every year.