The Hell of the North.
L’enfer Du Nord.
The race has many names, and unsurprisingly many characters – both riders and cobbled sectors alike. And the Belgians. I truly think the Belgians make this French race the race that I saw today.
Ok, we know riders animate the race, especially the breakaways. And it was cracking to see Adam *Super Shiny Shoes* Blythe up there for such a long way today.
We’ve also see Tom Boonen stay away in this race over an incredible distance (sadly not taking part today).
But. The Belgians. Seriously just awesome. They give the build up something a lot of races lack. Is it their own panache? Or gumption? Or is it the sheer fact they are here to have an amazing time, and aren’t afraid to let you know it.
I had a double puncture in Chéreng today (huge thanks to Ron who actually showed me how to fix them quickly and easily!!). But after that we headed over the cobbles of Sector 3 – surpringly they felt a lot easier to ride today! Then straight for Carrefour de l’arbre. You know. The 5* sector of pavé I’ve been banging on about on twitter the last two days. I asked Ron if he (speedy gonzalez compared to me) would mind me going in front. Not a problem.
And yes. I loved every knackering bone shaking second of it. Even managing to laugh at the camera that filmed me motoring around one of the corners (and zoomed in on my trainers with a muttered ‘Merde!’) < Did I spell that right?!
We rode up to sector 5, which by comparison looked smooth as a babies bottom (not that I've ever seen one, but you know what I mean!). Then doubled back to ride 4 again. This time getting heckled by 2 lots of friendly Belgians – and damn doesn't it make you feel good!!
Only an hour later did I realise my arms ached. And yes @ClaireR_81 I had one miniscule blister!!
We were lucky they had a big screen at the end of Carrefour de l'arbre. And settled in there to watch the gruelling race. Gutting to see riders going down like dominoes. And most of all (as he's my fellow countryman!) poor Geraint Thomas. 2 punctures and a nasty crash that saw him eventually get dropped.
It was obvious that the cross winds, attacks and possibly #TrainGate (was the train driver a former Shimano employee!?!) had blown the race apart way before the severely fractured peleton arrived on our section of dusty cobbles.
But it was still a race in progress as they passed us, seeing the grit of teeth covered in a brown film as the riders tried desperately to stay off the worst cobbles. Ironically the cleanest rider I saw appeared to be Luke Rowe!
They were past in dribs and drabs, and I was really pleased to see Shane Archbold (@Theflyingmullet) had disentangled himself from an overly long embrace with the cobbles, that had left blood running down his nose.
Then they were gone. Broom wagon finally appeared. We said goodbye to Jon Baines (lovely to see you hun!) and headed back through the mad crowds to the hotel.
Luckily I managed to draft behind a car going over sector 3, before we blasted past it on the road the other side. Whilst trying to weave through people all over the road. Plenty of 'Excusé Moi' 🙂 Then we went past two groups of mad drunk Belgians (I'm not sure if they heckled me or propositioned me!!!)
The easiest way back was over sector 2. Which was blessedly empty apart from one group who cheered us as we went through. Plenty of 'Hup hup.. oooo… hup…. ooooo…. hup hup…. yeah!!!'
(Yes that was me sliding around the potholes on the cobbles!)
A few passing words with the Hot Chilli lot, and that was us done!
It's been quite simply, epically brilliant. Why do cobbles have a something that actually secretly or pubically *make* you want to ride them again? I loved every second. Even on my poor Trek Lexa who really isn't built for that.
Oh and I didn't drop my chain once!