My Review: Scott Solace Disc 10

I’m not one for usually falling in love with a bike, but having already booked a trip to Flanders with unfinished business, the opportunity to take this for a test on some of the toughest pavé in Europe was too good to pass up.
A lovely bright, standout colourway, far brighter than the listed ‘red/ black/ grey,’ sloping geometry and disc brakes all ticked my boxes for a bike to tackle some of Europe’s roughest pavé.

Prepped for cobbles, although I did drop the bars a fair bit

The tough sportives of Paris Roubaix and Flanders already over, I headed back to Oudenaarde with this awesome looking bike to see if it could stand up to the billing.
I know what I need from a bike like this, and it’s got to be stiff enough to give back the power being put into it over the famous bergs in Belgium. I also didn’t want it to be a rattly carbon monstrosity that’s uncomfortable to ride for more than a couple of hours over the rough roads.
An easy spin out from Oudenaarde and over shooting the entrance to the Koppenberg had me wondering how it would react to the cobbles. It rode like a full carbon bike should do, fast and responsive, and the geometry didn’t feel like it was lacking.
An about turn, and a run up, and I was soon on the cobbles. Quickly running down through the gears as the gradient rose, this bike was giving every bit of power back to me as turn by turn and cobble by cobble I clawed my way upwards. The false flat giving me a slight breather before tackling the last rise.

We were in no rush to do the route my friend had planned, but this was an easy descent, with me quickly in top gear and astonished how fast it reacted, I was soon diving off down the unfamiliar road.
A long run into Ronse, a wind through the town and then the climb of the Kruisberg to tackle. Whereas before on cobbled climbs, previous bikes had been too flexible and unable to give back what I was putting in, this again was stiff enough for the power to flow through it, making the climb more of a pleasure than I thought possible.

Riding up the Kruisberg

The road climb of Hotond was next, before a long fairly straight down the cycle lane of the N36 saw me flying but cautious, a quick turn onto the Paddestraat and we were suddenly at the bottom of the Oude Kwaremont. Turn by turn, I was surprised how quick I was up and over the steep section and onto the false flat. Straight back in the big ring, and the immediate responsiveness nearly caught me off guard. I put everything into tempo and worked hard to the top. 

The Paterberg was up next, and it’s easy to see how a stronger rider would get the most out of this bike, I got a lot further than I thought possible!

Still to conquer the whole climb, the Paterberg is a monster!

Sunday was back to France, and down to the Arenberg. I’d yet to conquer this section of pavé, due to crashes in the sportive previously, and I was determined to tackle this hard. Spring greenery blooming fast, it was a different Arenberg to the one I’d been to a couple of weeks earlier. Thankfully the pavé was still dry, although no less fearsome!

We got a clear run onto the famously brutal cobbles, and aiming for the speed that lets you go over cobbles (rather than into them) I rode hard, passing my friend Phil well before the bridge and pushing to get the most out of it, I was soon well away from him. A glance up every now and then as the rise out of the trench began, showed how quickly the barred end of section was approaching. 

‘I couldn’t catch you!’ Phil told me with resignation at the end of the Arenberg

A trip up to Chereng, and the bikes were quickly back out and we headed into a strengthening southerly wind. Warm and dry, and with knackered legs, we headed out over Sector 3 – Gruson and down onto the 5* section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre. This is a section I know the best, and with a strong wind, it makes it harder. A brief trip out to sector 5, and we were soon back onto the cobbled hell of the Carrefour. The midsection is the worst. 

Don’t think! Just pedal hard, the crown isn’t easy to stay on here, and the last slight uphill section with a nasty crossword was nearly unbearable as energy levels dropped so quickly. It’s the love/ hate of the cobbles that brings me back every time, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, yet can’t wait to do it all again. 

Carrefour de l’Arbre

The bike tested is as billed on the website here

My changes were only the tyres, to my own Continental GP GT 28mm, as I love these on the dry cobbles. 
It’s absolutely perfect for hard long rides, and would be in it’s element over the full hard-core routes of the Paris Roubaix Challenge and the Flanders sportive. The more relaxed geometry is perfect for hours on the bike, yet the surprising stiffness let me power quickly away from a stronger rider. The hydraulic disc brakes just add, rather than take away from this bike with fast, precision braking.

The 11-32 cassette is spot on for climbing the bergs of Flanders, never leaving you with the feeling that you’ve run out of gears!

It’s great to have the feeling that everything you put into riding this bike is reflected straight back. That last push to get over the brow of a hill, could seem sloppy with another bike, but due to the bi-zonal construction, it’s easy… and fast!
I’d happily ride this bike all day, every day.

Huge thanks to Phil Booth for driving, organising routes, smashing cobbles, being a great photographer and being such a damn awesome friend. This trip was excellent, and much needed after my sorry state at Flanders with a wrenched back! 

Also many, many thanks to Keith Murray. You, my friend, are a legend!

Roubaix 2017

No riding the sportive for me this year, instead a last minute (one star) hotel booking in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and a flexible ferry ticket back to see my favourite race.

Don’t mention the journey on Friday to me, M25 hell bound. But it did mean a late arrival and empty French roads with Verity, my oldest and best friend, for company.

I’d offered to be neutral support for Phil Booth who was riding the 145km mid distance route, with the first section of cobbles being the erratic, bone shuddering Arenberg. An early drive in misty weather with the promise of a beautiful day ahead, saw us with a prime parking spot just off the Arenberg finish. 

The first few fast riders were just starting to trickle past in one’s and twos as we headed down the dolled off path. Metal barriers for quite some way limited access of cyclists to the much friendlier path, as much as keeping the public off the exit.

We wandered down, watching the rope barriers being set up, and kicking the odd bottle off the middle of the cobbles. A few people were walking about, the odd ‘bonjour’ and us two ‘allez’ing the riders on. A very French ‘Yes. It’s rock and roll’ in reply (pronounced Yace. Eets rack and wrol) had us in giggles for a while. 

I warned Verity a bridge would eventually appear – although neither I or Phil had even noticed it last year when we rode it – but the fog kept it hidden until the last minute.

Punctures and dropped chains were order of the day if you didn’t get through unscathed, although I failed to see the guy fall off his bike in the plough behind me as we finally saw the bridge.

I honestly couldn’t believe how high and out of place it looked in the spring greenery of the surrounding forest. A 15 strong mountain bike peleton was strangely quiet as the shock absorbers did their job over the rough, jilted cobbles. 

A total mix of bikes, it really makes the mind boggle. From full suss, brand new mountain bikes (Scott the leading brand by a mile) to road bikes who’s glory days had been 15 years ago. Most popular road bikes were all types of Specialized. Several Venge Vias and even a couple of candy coloured Cruxs. Castelli and Rapha the unbranded kit of choice, and the huge variety of club colours and makes. 

We removed all the bottles dropped on the ancient cobbles that we saw, and collected the spare tubes and tools that we found – giving the tubes to those who had punctured.

Phil managed to spot my very unsubtle gilet, and waited for us at the end.

Arenberg was very very dry this year, the only damp from shattered and split bottles. 

We saw Phil safely on his was before heading to my favourite section of pavé, the ever degrading Carrefour d’Larbe. Reckoned this year to be worse than Arenberg.

A long wait on the side of the pavé in the sun, a lot of encouragement from us both to the riders both flying and weary. The wait was starting to get worrying, so much so that a song was made up…

‘We’re Really Quite Worried About Phil.’

A WhatsApp let us know that all but one of his chainring bolts had come out, and the mechanics had done a bodge job worthy of GCN hacks. One other bolt and cable ties held it together

I offered my Scott Addict, sat redundant in the car, and even got it out to be ready.

A random meeting with Jon Dibben’s mum, massively proud of her son and trying to find a better place to park the campervan they had took up some time, until finally a white, green and red jersey snagged my attention.

A dusty dry day was taking its toll, and Phil decided to finish on the patched up Felt after he’d got himself together.

L’enfer du Nord

Sunday saw a car pool and a trip to Compiègne to see the start from the Medway Veloians cafe of choice. A table in the sun, coffee and banter. The colourful parrot like flock of the peleton as they passed

Then it was off to Saint Python for the next bit. Chasing the race for the love of it.

Fair play to the Astana bus rocking the Tom Boonen mask in the front window as we drove past!

The heat was cranking up as we made our  way into the village and out on to the cobbles. A high bank and narrow verge granted excellent views, as I chose to stay low for a photo or two.

The arrival of motorbikes and the distant helicopter heralded the arrival of the race. Dust driven up in clouds that a sandstorm would be proud of as the vehicles sped onto the cobbles.

The race was already breaking up. Riders barely glimpsed amid the cars. Terpstra abandoned. Punctures and team cars too far away.

Then it was a trudge up the field and back into the car. Air con a luxury the peleton could wish for. A long drive to Cysoing and a lucky parking spot. Twitter refreshed and the race really starting. Crashes reported, breakaway and a peleton thinning by the minute. Mostly French around us, radios and flags abundant as the temperature rose. A trek up section 7, memories of timed sections surfacing from last year as we found a place to stand. 

Rodonia sang again as I downed the last of the Orangina. Vehicles approaching, Daniel Oss still in front, yellow dust clouds gathering like the storm of the chase behind. Grim, dirty, silent, streaks of brown marring the rainbow hued men as they hurtle past. 

A race split to pieces by those errant blocks of stone, seemingly thrown together by a joker. A dry, hot day ridden at ridiculous speeds that we can only dream of. The main pack is gone. But every couple of minutes another whistle screeches, the crowds roar and part and another one or two or three come streaming through. Faces are strained, there’s not another lot left, and yet still more than 25km to go. The Carrefour awaits not far ahead, and yet they still don’t stop. A ten minute gap, the gendarmerie still vigilant for riders alone. 

Outgunned, unlucky, not their day, as we wait in the sun, envious of the hard men of Roubaix flashing through as Twitter once more is refreshed as they near the end. 

A van towing a flatbed loaded with bikes gives pause for thought. Is that Rowes bike? 

A shock as the three slow and become five, can Stuyven sprint? No. The day is for GvA, a whoop from me and as I look up the road is reopened. But not all riders are through? Of 199 starters, it feels like maybe 40 have gone through. 

Suddenly it’s all done for another year… 

#keepsmiling 

Paris Roubaix Challenge

You all know how much I’ve been looking forward to the Paris Roubaix Challenge Trying to not get too excited leading up to it. Well. It was absolutely bone judderingly fantastic.

5:36:19 and 75.46 miles.
Max speed 30.71mph (must have been us entering Arenberg!)
Average 13.6mph (no auto pause).

Equipment:
Colnago World Cup 2015 on Continental Grand Prix 28mm tyres (90psi). Double wrapped bar tape – Bontrager Gel Cork over Colnago.
Castelli Nanoflex Bibshorts, Castelli Nanoflex legwarmers, merino socks. Orange Giro mtb/cx shoes.
Castelli diluvio overshoes.
Sportful long sleeved 2nd skin baselayer.
Borrowed red spring jacket.
Bioracer Medway Velo jersey.
Ana Nichoola winter gloves from 3 years ago.

Having two support cars made a hell of a lot of difference – and it seemed to be a common factor with a lot of people, having back up by the side of the road. After dropping the others off at the start in Busigny, we made out way to the first rendezvous point – the end of the timed section at Saint Python. It was chilly, but clear with barely a cloud in the sky. Plenty of wet grass to walk through as we walked a short distance down the cobbles to wait for the others. Sparkle’s cowbells were a great idea, even with Tom managing to drop the clapper.
It’s a proven point however that laser eye surgery isn’t always great as Tom managed to confuse a 6 ft plus guy with rather wide shoulders riding toward us with Rob.
Soon however Rob did appear, jabbing his hand at the guy in front and gesticulating wildly.

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But as he didn’t appear to have a mechanical or be in serious pain, just a bit more loopy than usual, we let him carry on and waited for the others

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They regrouped at the end of the cobbles where Rob proceeded to explain his gestures were not part of some strange cobbled madness. The guy he was pointing at was Juan Antonio Flecha. Yes that Flecha.

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They all set off again, with Neil (@HooRoubaix) having had a puncture a slight bit behind.

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Then onto the first feed station. Which is where I started from. Rob, Sean and Steve were the first to appear and after I quick chat, I set off in front of them. I’d got quite chilly and whilst I desperately needed to warm up, I wasn’t going to go on a burn out mission in the first few miles.
That first section of pavé – no. 21 – Quérénaing à Maing warmed me up considerably. There wasn’t a huge amount of people going onto it at the same time as me, so I was able to hold my line on the crown and ramp up the speed a bit. I’d forgotten quite how rattly everything is, but quickly remembered hands on top of the bars, hold them very loosely and power forward. Ironically it’s not unlike cx – I find myself riding harder and faster over the cobbles than I do on the smooth tarmac in between. In my head it’s SPRINT sprint SPRINT sprint SPRINT. Because that is exactly how it feels.
I heard Rob’s voice next to me as I rode toward pavé n°20 – Maing à Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon, and I gestured Steve to go ahead just before we hit it. I know they are faster then me, and they gradually rode away for me. Knowing Phil and Neil were still behind me was quite heartening.
Heading up the tarmac after a couple of sections was great. Legs had started warming up and I’d got warmer.
I can’t remember why, but I was looking down rather than up as I left Demain. A quick glance up showed flashing lights and a metal level crossing barrier/pole already lowering in front of me. You wouldn’t think it but I was going far too fast to stop, so grabbing the brakes I manged to chest it pretty hard… and not fall off. A rider coming up behind me was the only person to see it, and as he pulled up alongside he was chuckling away. A *beep beep beep* heralded the arrival of our minibus and trailer behind. I think I turned around and waved, although I’m not too sure!

Phil and Neil both managed to catch me up before the next cobbled sector n°19 – Haveluy à Wallers. We rattled over it, in the middle as there wasn’t much room on the sides, and as we came out the other end, Phil informed me the next section was n°18 – Trouée d’Arenberg as he caught sight of the iconic coal mine that marks the first sight of the Trench. Turning into the bit of tarmac leading up to it was frankly unreal, crowds already gathered some behind barrirs, some in front, Belgians, French, British just starting to have a party that lasts all weekend.

As Phil says – ‘Nothing happens before Arenberg.’
I’m pretty sure my words were ‘Jesus Christ here we go!’ and then ‘let’s hit this hard at speed.’
As we sped onto the first few cobbles ‘oh hell’ went through my head as we attempted to ride them hard and fast. Nothing quite prepares for the complete irregularities and huge gaps, let alone the fact that it was wet and muddy. All sectors (apart from Troisville) had been dry so far. A glance at the old Garmin showed 23mph as we entered the dank forbidding forest.
Then the sounds you dread to hear. That distinct sound of a bike, then another going down, lycra going off route in front as riders are unable to hold their original line. I could see one down, and another, a hold up on the section where you dread to stop. I can honestly say I did not touch my brakes, but had to stop pedalling as there was only a narrow space on the left to squeeze through. I’d lost the speed I needed then, and ended up juddering to a stop, I managed to get going again, and get back over, but with people going down all around, and no chance of getting back up to speed, we ended up going up the right hand side. Jumping back on a bit further up, we managed to ride the rest of it. Despite more and more riders going down all around me, both Phil and I managed to stay upright.
I saw Sparkle and Lee at the end, and we managed to pull in by Tom. I failed totally to open an energy bar with teeth or gloves, and Tom took pity on me opening it for me.

I remember setting off again, knowing Phil was forced to ride a bit slower as I’d just started to have a bit of energy lag. And I certainly remember riding sector no 16 Hornaing à Wandignies (4 star rating 3.7km), no 15 – Warlaing à Brillon (3 star, 2.4km) and n°14 – Tilloy à Sars-et-Rosières (4 star, 2.4km) as they were one after the other in fairly quick succession, and certainly not easy to ride!

A quick stop at the feed station. Honestly oranges have never tasted so good! A visit with the support team around the corner to pick up some more bars and gels. And off again.

We ended up riding a sector, slowing/stopping the other end (mostly for me!) and waiting for each other, trying to figure out without looking at the top tube sticker which sector was next, and how long it was and how many stars it was rated. The answer was… no idea… and it didn’t matter. Over and over again, I knew (and told Phil repeatedly) that we would be fine when we got to sector 5 – because I knew it from last year.

I’d just ride the cobbles (or the side of the sector if available!!) as hard as I could – churning the best gear I could. Which was fine until you really are tired, and just don’t quite have enough energy to get past the slightly slower rider in front without blowing up. Every bit of road into the headwind was slowly draining me, and the last feed station was more than welcome. More oranges, bananas, orange energy drink, and off again.

I’ve no idea how much crap we talked, as the energy levels slowly burnt down, but it was a lot. Idle thoughts become voiced questions as you get more tired. Mentally I loved every second of it, although finally seeing the entry to sector 5 – Camphin-en-Pévèle (4 star, 1.8km) was a hell of a relief, then seeing both James and Helen Standen picked the mood up a bit more. I think I knew at this point that we would make it. The Carrefour de l’Arbre (5 star, 2.1km) was not too bad, until we turned the corner into that sapping headwind. Phil dropped me here as I struggled along first the right then the left, then just pushing along and trying to blank it out of my mind as a few cars came past rather closely! Eventually I reached the end, and pulled to a stop by Phil, using one of his gels as I was out.

I can’t pretend the last two sectors were easy  – although we rode Gruson on the gravel at the side. Well until I got nearer to the end, and an ‘I WILL do this’ filters into my brain, and I get back on the cobbles. Same for sector 2 – which I still profess to personally dislike. This time it was easier, riding proper lines through and off the corners, and hammering the last section right down the middle.

The last bit we knew was all tarmac, so the sheer relief as I think we laughed was huge. Well until we got to 5km to go where they had decided to route us over a few meters of new cobbles – that was just like… what? Why would they do that!??! How? Just… disbelief doesn’t cover it!

We ended up on the banking in the velodrome, but finished safely. I still can’t get over doing it! No punctures or mechanicals for the entire group! A celebratory drink after nearly had me on my knees. Dehydrated, drained and very very tired..

I can’t thank Medway Velo enough. Especially Rob Kennison for talking me into it, Phil Booth for riding with me and looking after me without complaint. Also the drivers – Anthony and Lee, soigneurs Sparkle & Tom Kennison, and the other riders; Sean, Steve, Neil and Ian. A great group that got on really well, especially when chasing the race the next day, and so many laughs on the way home – as the minibus massive managed to catch one ferry, and the car crew got stuck at passport control! Guys, you were absolute diamonds, and I’m proud to have been part of it!

Thanks also to Continental Tyres – for the Grand Prix GT 28’s. Never had a moment of doubt with grip on the damp sections being so important. They rolled through everything and barely looked used! So impressed, definitely a go to for next time (which might well be June!)

#keepsmiling

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