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 pav√© in Europe was too good to pass up.
A lovely bright, standout colourway, far brighter than the listed ‚Äėred/ black/ grey,‚Äô sloping geometry and disc brakes all ticked my boxes for a bike to tackle some of Europe’s roughest pav√©.

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 pav√©, 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 pav√© 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. 

‚ÄėI couldn’t catch you!‚Äô 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‚ÄôArbre. 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‚Äôs 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‚Ķ 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!

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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 pav√©, the ever degrading Carrefour d’Larbe. Reckoned this year to be worse than Arenberg.

A long wait on the side of the pav√© 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 

Medway Velo does Flanders

Last Friday saw us heading to Flanders. Having left early, I beat the M25 Friday gluepot and arrived in Chatham far too early! Nearly a whole hour early.

I spent most of the week moving house and getting the bike ready. Panicking that I didn’t have the right stuff or know where on earth I’d packed it all to move, let alone take with me.

I’d decided to ride the Scott Addict CX bike, with an added 52 chain ring  (thank you George Gori), 28mm Continental GP GTs from Paris Roubaix last year and kept my normal Crank Bros Eggbeater 3s so I could wear my Giro VR90s. A whole range of kit was packed, with only a new Castelli base layer my last minute addition.

Running through all of it in my head whilst I waited for Phil to arrive home, I hoped I had all the right gear… and yet still no idea what really lay in store. A frustrated message to the group chat as I enjoyed the sun in the car yielded no joy when asking for Rock Tape. I’d managed to turn my ankle over on the shale path outside the house whilst putting rubbish in the bin.

Rob and Phil had kind of convinced me earlier in the year to do the Flanders sportive, and now that we were nearly there, I’d started to really look forward to it. Checking my last minute Fantasy team on road.cc, I pondered my team choices and decided to leave them. Surely between GvA, Sagan and Gilbert, I should have some chance of points?

All too soon Phil had done some kind of superman, leaving some bewildered schoolkids to wonder how their teacher had beaten them out of school!

Steve was first to arrive, cycling up a hill of the type that I thought existed only in Wales, in casual clothes with a huge bag slung even more casually over his shoulder. He wasn’t even sweating, showing that Zwift and turbo training through the last few months is rather good for you!

Phil was next. Bike already on the roof and stuff already packed. I left the two pro’s to attach bikes whilst I slung my bags in the boot.

Shotgun had already been called by yours truly a week or so before, mostly because I get travelsick.

We had one other to arrive before we set out to search for Matt, hoping that Phil knew where he was going to pick him up.

Somehow we managed to get in convoy with Rob before we had picked Matt up, pure chance rather than millisecond planning.

Quickly through Dover and onto the ferry, time for a bite to eat and to say hello to the rest of the crew; Sparkle (Neutral Service Extraordinaire), Tom ‘Crash’ Kennison, Lord Muir and Roberto ‘I’ve Crashed In Better Races Than You’ll Ever Ride In’ Kennison. Better known as Flandrian.

A late arrival at the hotel, and I got the keys to my room for the next two nights. A nice little room. That smelt of drains. Shutting the bathroom door helped, but not much…

A beer/ wine/ Fanta and plans were laid to be ready to leave at 7.00am. Luckily we convinced the receptionist that we really needed breakfast, and we we allowed to take a selection to our rooms. We also had Canadian Jamie join our gang, he’d picked up our sportive number packs.

Tom managed to break the self serving coco pop machine, but gave me the idea of grabbing a bowl of dried fruit and yoghurt instead.

Anxiety had me up at 6, ready to go by half six and forcing breakfast down. A group chat call for milk had gone out as I blearily opened the door and passed it rather grumpily to Lord Muir. A check outside saw rain, and I made sure my Castelli Sotille jacket was at the top of my dry bag.

Leaving a little later than planned, and after Phil argued with his sat nav, it rained most of the way to Oudenaarde. Or at least to the Stijn Devolder (nope I can’t spell it either!) sportive car park.

The Medway Massive does Flanders

Kitted up, a thousand mixed feelings crossed my mind as we ride down to roll over the start. I thoroughly loved sitting on the front of our mini Peleton chatting to Rob whilst we rode down and up the river on the lovely flat cycle paths.

All too soon we went up a hill, and I was dropped fairly quickly. Phil soft pedalled, being far too patient and waited as the group drew ahead out of sight.

We chatted and pointed, looked and laughed, shuddered at choppers and exclaimed our disgust at the tens of idiots behaving stupidly as we rode. 

The first cobbled climb showed exactly what madness the Flanders sportive can throw. People walking. People getting gears all wrong. Diving up the cobbles and slipping and sliding everywhere. Ahead Phil pulled off to one side and unclipped, but I dropped down the gears and soldiered my way up. Faster riders passing and chopping each other up six ways of stupidity. I held my line and ground my way up until a blockade of swearing Europeans halted me. Trudging the last bit before swinging back on and riding again.

The flat cobbles  were great, although my right lower leg and back felt twingy,  I dismissed it.

Glad I’d kept my gilet on (Scott do awesome gilets!) as it wasn’t as warm as I thought it would be. Every hill was an effort, and the twinges got worse the more I climbed. Stoking off downhill had me grinning from ear to ear, passing a fair few on the cobbled sections had me feeling like I was at home as I stayed in the big ring as much as possible. The first feed zone was a calamity of bikes, riders, a hundred hues of kit and sticky isotonic drinks. 

Oranges, waffles, refilled bottles. We rolled out again, shooting the breeze like only good mates can. The next hill had me nearly in tears, twinges now abhorrent jabs in my lower back. Suddenly we were on the Valkenberg,

‘See you at the top Phil.’ I called, trying to ignore the flare up of pain. It was hard, every downstroke of the right pedal had a white hot poker stabbing me on the back, but I had to get to the top. A false flat as we turned the corner, and I pulled in by Phil knowing that was me done. I could barely put any weight on the leg, and had to lean the bike down to get off it.

A hard decision to call Sparkle put an end to my Tour of Flanders, and I ushered Phil to go ahead and finish. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, and was soon off my leg and sat in the car on the way to the third feedzone. A million √©motions;  frustration, sadness, anger, more frustration. Guilt at leaving Phil to ride on his own after having to wait for me.

We saw the fast group into feedzone 3, Tom finding me some stroopwaffles from the feedstation. Oh my God. I love stroopwaffles! Lord Muir was next, then someone who thought they were at the finish but were at the 2nd feed zone. Phil wasn’t far behind, and we were off to the finish. Eventually I ended up getting dropped off whilst Neutral Service found somewhere to park. 

Hobbling up the street – painkillers had taken the worst edge off – I saw familiar Sigma Sport kit, in the form of the just finished Callum and Rupert from work. Both looked knackered but happy! And then more familiar kit in the form of Hans Stiles Kingston Wheeler kit.

A bit further on, location dropped by WhatsApp, the faster group and Sparkle were enjoying beverages well earned. Banter flowing, Phil was suddenly spotted riding fast past us…

We later found they had stopped at the unofficial finish, and timing chips would show a gap of a couple of hours…

I had to ride back out to the car, the only bit that hurt badly was trying to ride a small hill in trainers on Eggbeater pedals, pressing down with only the left leg. 

Pizza, frites and beer were well earned that night. Even after 9 men couldn’t find the restaurant in Menen…

Sunday was race day. The Medway Velo organisation meeting held in the breakfast room at the hotel had outlines of a plan. Ride into Oudenaarde, watch the women’s and men’s, then head out to the Kwaremont (ish).

Backpacks were not allowed in the town centre, and that and an achy leg nearly had me a meltdown. Sorry guys! 

A ride out to the bottom of the Kwaremont in jeans had me rethinking about wearing them! Bikes locked to a metal gate, all stuff in a carrier bag to get through security and we set up camp on the side of the road by the cafe. 

Leffe Blond and Brun, Coke and Iced Tea. Hamburgers and banter with the good guys around us.

Suddenly out riders on motorbikes, lead cars and the women were there. Noise levels escalated to those known only by cycling fans as languages from all over the globe encouraged them on. 

The noise is followed by quiet. More fans making their way up, us chilling on the grassy verge. Friends checking in from the middle and top of the Kwaremont as we try and follow the racing on twitter. Pictures exchanged. More banter. Race updates from Twitter don’t glean enough information, instead I sit back and we wait for the men’s race to arrive. 

More fans arrive. Flandrian finds his fan club. Everyone is getting lightly toasted in the super weather. Even more fans walk up to the famous spot. Our grass verge starts to get crowded.

The helicopter is spotted, and cowbells start to sing as the first vehicles approach. We know it’s Gilbert and the crowd goes berserk, a noise that’s nearly indescribable, but is many decibels  higher up the road. 

Huge roars in Flemish,  French, English to name but a few. A brief silence, then the chase. Splintered groups of hard men on the road. Sagan, GvA, the names are all there.

Banter and beer resume, until Matt points out we can see them descending behind us, the yellow of oil seed rape a more garish backdrop to the sunflowers of France later in the year.

We watch the front few come past again, before quickly making our way to the bikes and back down the road. I’m first away, having to get nearly in the ditch to let the last of the peleton through. Then we are there, just around the corner from the Paterberg descent.

Gilbert flashes through, we know about the crash by then, before we make our way back to the car. 

My first Flanders done, I will be back, for I feel I’ve left my pride out in Flanders narrow cobbled climbs. A great group of friends and team mates, two great bike races and endless banter. Food for the heart and soul.

I have something to prove, I will be back. Until next time Flandrians and Medway Veloians. 

#keepsmiling 

Dunkerque Roubaix With Hot Chillee

Credit Jojo Harper for all the pics, apart from my cobble and images in Ypres….

I don’t know if I was more excited or nervous, when I learnt I’d got one of two places given to Sigma Sport¬†from¬†Cervelo, who are one of the official ‘Teams’ of Dunkerque Roubaix as well as being one of the Hot Chillee Ride Captain sponsors.

It’s been something I’ve really wanted to do since last year, and only further enhanced by the fact that it included cobbles. Wait. Did I tell you I liked cobbles? Oh, yeah, maybe I did. Once or twice.
This is what they have to say about it:

‘This intimate 165km ride takes place two weeks after the iconic Paris-Roubaix.

The event is restricted in numbers and follows the HotChillee event format of flagged pavé race section, rolling road closures, full service corp and small seeded speed groups.

This is the closest experience amateur riders can get to a pro Spring Classic with participants riding alongside cycling legends on a route which takes in the last 40km of Paris-Roubaix.

Previous riders include Team GB rider Geraint Thomas, Tour de France winner Stephen Roche and Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt.

Riders experience an iconic finish in the velodrome with use of the original pro rider showers and drinks reception in the velodrome bar.

The¬†event is¬†preceded by an¬†exclusive dinner on the Saturday night with cycling legends where they share some¬†exclusive¬†insight into the pro¬†peloton.’

Rereading the confirmation email, I tried rather hard not to get too excited at the prospect of riding a brand new¬†51cm Cervelo C5 with DI2. Why a 51cm? Looking at actual top tube length, a 54cm would be a little on the large size. Although I didn’t know it was DI2 until I got there.

I’d been checking and double checking the rather crap forecast in the preceding week, and it looked cold and rather wet. An impulse buy at the last second from work,¬†Castelli Nanoflex Pro Bibtights¬†would prove to be the best last minute buy ever.

As usual, I agonised over what to pack, deciding that at the last minute, taking too much was better than not taking enough. And hey, I was driving my own car, plenty of space and all that.

I had a nightmare Friday night, when it took me nearly two hours to get my pedals off. More my fault than anything! They might not look the coolest on a road bike, but I think they are perfect for CX, and happily rode Paris Roubaix in them without issue! I have both CX bikes fitted with them, and absolutely love them. Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2 in case you are wondering.

I had a late morning slot on the Eurotunnel on Saturday, and had a last mintue detour to Ypres (Ieper), which was beautiful but chilly.

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I arrived at the hotel in Dunkerque a little earlier than expected, but there was plenty of people there already, all setting up for the next day. I was quickly pointed to the Cervelo mechanic, an absoultely lovely guy, called Detlef (a Germanic mechanic, who according to Sven Thiele, famously finished first and second at the best German Mechanics awards at the Alpine Challenge). After a quick chat, he suggested I get changed and take the bike for a quick spin to check the set up. A quick check in, and a hello to Andy Hawes, Matt Stephens (sorry, Kenny!) and Sven, a change of clothes, and I made my way back out to ride the bike.
All I can say is that I did not have to change a thing, saddle height and reach were perfect. It’s only the second time I’ve ridden DI2, and it took a few minutes to get used to it again. I did debate using my Colnago saddle – but after using the Fizik Antares (I think!) – I thought it would be perfect. Perfect tyres with Continental 4 Seasons too, not a moment of doubt with grip.

A lovely evening was spent, with a rider briefing, then first of all with Kenny van Vlaminck and then with Stephen Roche. It was great to have some of the other Sigma Staff along, Will Bridgman, James Brewer and Callum Clarke, as well as both bosses, Ian Whittingham and Jason Turner.

A fairly early night was had, I’d already packed a day bag, and the musette we were given. And I knew I wanted to be up early for breakfast, which was available from 06.00. Our group was the first to leave at 07.30.

I was quite worried before the start, having never ridden the distance before, worrying as always about being too slow and getting dropped, and slightly excited about trying out a super sweet bike over some pretty rough terrain. It was raining steadily as I took my bike outside, and felt rather cold to say the least. I gave my end of day bag to Detlef, and my musette to our lead car, and was ready to roll.

Not many people in Group 3, the *social paced* group. And actually that was something to be thankful for. It was easier to remember names, and easier for the Ride Captains too. We were quickly introduced to each other, and set off.


I set off at the front, a place I quite like to be, with John who was to stay at the front of the group for the whole ride. We chatted away as the miles rolled by, sat side by side with the group in a good compact form behind us. It rained and rained, but I was doing enough to stay warm, and it was a long while before the rain started to soak through. With the rolling road closure around us, and a good tempo (well above the advertised average of 23km/h for the first 3 hours), it was easy to while away the  miles as the rain got heavier, and the wind picked up incrementally. Our out rider motos were excellent, herding us on to bike paths on the main road, and waiting at every junction, keeping safe distances as they rolled past us, and the odd thumbs up from one of them.
John mentioned we would see the first hill with the mast on top of it soon, and we did. I mentioned, as I like to do, that they would probably drop me quickly as I was no climber. I believe in being honest at the end of the day. Ironically I climbed a lot better, but it woke up my legs and lungs, and I soon called out for them to pass me out as I was holding some of them up. I think about six of them did, John took a quick loop to come back and check on me, but I was ok just blowing like a train. And we carried on up and up. Nothing too steep or long, just a bit of a shock after a fair few miles of mostly flat road. Eventually I got myself to the top where they were waiting, and only then did I realise there was a couple still behind me. More food to be had quickly, and we set off again. The next hill I climbed a hell of a lot better, pacing myself but spinning quicker, and soon caught up with the ones that had gone ahead. We spotted the one thing I wish I’d taken a picture of – a chairlift the opposite side of the road, and a few of us mused what it was for and where it had come up from.
The rain still kept coming down, but with constant grazing on food, and still on the front, I was doing fine. My legs felt good, and I felt more confident the further we went.
However the first section of cobbles came up on us quicker than expected, John and I turned on to them upsides, and I had to let him get in front. He’s faster and quicker than ¬†me, and soon pulled away. Honestly riding with 100psi over cobbles is a pretty bad idea, but one that I knew was only going to last until lunchtime, when I planned to let a bit of air out.
However this was the first time I had ridden a carbon bike on cobbles, and it took most of the first section to adjust as the bike was bucking around so much. No chance of hitting the sweetspot when the tyres are too hard!
Soon enough we were all through, and after the 3rd/4th pee stop (I had none) – we set off again. The rain still falling, and if it wasn’t falling, it was already on the road and being picked up by us as road spray. Then we had hail. It hurt a bit. And suddenly we were at the lunch stop.
Food was excellently provided, but as I’d been grazing away, I only had a bit of cake, half an orange, and a bit of coke. Then as I was cold and soaking wet, took the opportunity to change into my Sigma Winter jacket which is pretty warm, and a proper rain cape which was another thing I’d borrowed from @cyclingfiction (Jesse you are a superstar). I left my damp baselayer on as I needed the long sleeves, but despite being damp, it did work. Soon I was freezing from stopping, and plaintively asking to get going again, just as Group 2 and Group 1 rolled in. A refill of my pockets with food, and we got our stuff to get ready to go again. Guess who forgot to refill their water bottle? Yep. Me, despite telling everyone to hurry up. (Slightly embarrassed to say the least!)
Then, the next section. It rained harder, we rode into more and more wet roads, and it hailed again (that actually stung like mad), and still I sat on the front. I tried riding in the group a couple of times, but I was at my happiest on the front with John. Coming up to the cobbles, I had dropped back and said to Dave that I’d be happier on the front going onto them, he said to make my way back up there, so I did. I started recognising places we were going through, and a church here and there that me and Phil had ridden past two weeks ago, but still the first section took us by surprise. I led onto them, with John behind me, hard on it along the crown. Assembling all the split second sights, mud, corners, narrower sections and just riding as straight and as hard as possible and then an oh fuck….. Lead car had slowed right down and the motos were flagging us to slow down. however I know cobbles and did not want to brake. Instead slowing the turning of the pedals, it still nearly caused chaos, one of the guys riding off the crown and into the mud by the side of me. Luckily we got through it ok. I was still feeling good, surprisingly, and carried on my thing of eating every 20/45 mins, and making myself drink. Especially before each section of cobbles!
Suddenly we were at the GC section, I told John to go in front of me and I tried to power away behind him. The first section was hard, and Tom over took me just after and went off just ahead with John. I buried myself trying to keep the pace high through the next section, and just before the third section I knew I was on my limit. A quick glance around showed Dave and a couple of others just behind me, and I felt a crushing sense of disappointment that I was going to get thrown out the back. Somehow I stayed in front but I felt crushed, so completely knackered. I knew if they got in front, I’d never pull them back. But I kept going somehow, barely able to breathe, or turn the pedals when I hit the tarmac the other end. Finally realising I had probably needed the sports drink I hadn’t yet touched. As I reached for it, first one then another rider came past. The crushing weight of defeat hit me hard, and I downed half the bottle in one go. Managing to then get three Shot Bloks down as well before I turned onto the Carrefore de L’arbre. Then, literally magic. I had legs again. I stormed after the two that had gone past me, passing first one, then the other. Having to dodge up on the bank, then choosing the worst place to get back onto the cobbles. I so nearly stacked it, the bike hit a massively uneven section and I nearly let the bars go. The back end went one way, the front another. But somehow I wrestled it back into control, turned the corner, and just rode straight up the middle as hard as I could for the timing section at the end. I got through, and managed to unclip and stop. And stood there trying very hard not to cry. It was unbelievable, that I’d managed to pull two fairly strong riders back, after I’d sat on the front of the group for the majority of the ride so far. The emotional shockwave hit me so hard I could barely breath. And it was a a few minutes before I could turn around to see the others.
We left the Carrefore as one huge group, all riders mixed in. I managed a quick chat with all the guys from work, Rich Earkins from edco/Continental, and a few other faces I knew before we hit the last section of cobbles at Hem. I just followed Callum to start with, then dropped onto the side behind some guy that wasn’t riding fast enough. I overtook him on the last stretch, avoiding the guy who had gone down. When we stopped for a regroup, I felt so knackered, I had a gel just to get me to the velodrome.


It was slightly surreal to make it, and ride that last lap and a half around the velodrome. By the time I’d given my bike back to Cervelo, and collected my bags, my brain had fried. Only when I got upstairs to the showers did I realise I’d forgotten my towel. One of the PMR girls lent me hers… I’d never been so glad to get washed and changed ever.
I couldn’t see the TV for the end of LBL, and was so tired, I just tried to eat a baguette. They then called the awards in the little backroom, woman’s winner, masters, grand masters. Then they called the ‘spirit’ awards. When they said my name, I just stared at them. It didn’t compute until Andy Hawes looked at me. A complete oh my god moment when presented with it from Stephen Roche, and we all stood on the podium for a picture.

But when they called Cervelo as the Team winner… my brain had enough… I made sure that we had James up there with us before they took pictures!

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Winning – the Cervelo dream team… the lads are a *lot* quicker than me! Credit: Jojo Harper

 

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What a day. I have no idea how I got through it, but it was an amazing event. So well looked after, and so well prepared. And to ride a dream bike like that was fantastic. I never thought I’d finish the route, let alone be able to sit on the front of our group the majority of the ride.
It was seriously hard work, in rather wet conditions, but I looking back on it, I loved every second of it.
Superbly well organised, the Ride Captains are brilliant, massive kudos to Dave who got so cold and wet he was shaking at one point and John who was happy to tailor his pace to stay with me at the front.
Huge thanks to Sven too – belief is a strange thing. You’ve no idea how much stronger I feel having done that.

Thanks to both bosses, Jason and Ian, for letting us have the opportunity to do this #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 pav√© – no. 21 – Qu√©r√©naing √† 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¬†pav√© n¬į20 – Maing √† 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¬į19 – Haveluy √† 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¬į18 – Trou√©e 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 √† Wandignies (4 star rating 3.7km),¬†no 15 – Warlaing √† Brillon (3 star, 2.4km) and¬†n¬į14 – Tilloy √† Sars-et-Rosi√®res (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-P√©v√®le (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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Strong enough? Or a point to prove?

Looks like I’m heading back to the cobbles of Paris – Roubaix again (My Paris Roubaix.) this year, this time with the lovely people at¬†Medway Velo.
I’m highly likely to be riding the Colnago – yep, my cx bike, hopefully with borrowed wheels (TBC).
You wonder why I want to this? Because, despite my emotional outbursts, I want to prove to myself I’m strong enough to do this. Being surrounded by doubters has left me with a right ‘fuck you can do’ attitude, you don’t think I can? I’ll prove to you, I’m stronger than you ever thought I was.
And. I love those cobbles. It’s given me something to aim at…

So thanks to Phil Booth and Rob Kennison. Looking forward to joining the madness!

What’s your advice? Spare tyres? Chamois cream? Super cool bar tape? (Don’t even think about mentioning a road bike, I don’t have one) Nutrition to carry?¬†wpid-20150412_114759.jpgwpid-20150412_113155.jpgwpid-20150412_115839.jpgwpid-img_20150412_142840.jpg

#excitedmuch #keepsmiling

Cobbles on a Sunday

Paris Roubaix.
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 Ch√©reng 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 pav√© 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 'Excus√© Moi' ūüôā 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!

#keepsmiling