Obviously I’m not doing the sportive like @editorsfoot and @JCoxy1. But I have come over to France to watch the iconic race.
The idea was first floated around in January, but the only person that seemed keen was Ron Southern.
So a plan was formed: he’d bring his van and we would take the bikes through the Euro Tunnel.
I duly found a hotel in Hem. Little did I realise until last week that it’s pretty much on the race route!
Finally the 11th April dawns, after I’ve seen all the statuses/tweets from the others off to do the sportive yesterday, I’m finally ready to go. And it duly heaves down with rain all day until just after we arrive at Hem. Where we see most of the Corley Cycles group ride up to the roundabout next to the hotel.
A quick trip out for food, and I spot Decathlon where I then ‘splash out’ on a pair of black B’Twin legwarmers after seeing the forecast is a bit chilly in the morning, and a black Elite carbon bottle cage (it was cheap!!!).
Back at the hotel we decide on a quick outing on the bikes as it’s dried up and the sun is out. I faff wondering what to wear – finally settling on my Garmin kit – jersey and bibs. I tried the legwarmers on and @tomstaniford will be pleased to know they fit!!
I had a quick mosey at where to go on Google Maps and decided we should be within reach of Section 4. So off we headed toward Forest-sur-Marque on the D952. The off onto the Rue de Tressin towards Tressin, through there and out to Chéreng. A decision to go south to Gruson was rewarded by a crossroad of very smooth topped lumpy cobbles and the ubiquitous Belgian fans in campers. A quick check of the map or two and we we suddenly right in front of Section 3 (labelled Pavé de l’Arbre on the map next to Gruson).
A pair of English guys on their bikes offered to take our photo (supremely cheesy grins!!) as we posed LOL!!
Then we decided to ride it. You know. Just to see how far it went. And to see if we could get to Section 4. The 5* rated pavé that’s described as worse than Arenberg this year.
Bearing in mind this is the very first time I’ve ridden on proper cobbles…
We set off, riding 2 upsides bouncing around a bit before Ron got ahead, telling me to ride on the crown of the road. I duly followed him and this is all I can describe:
Jouncing around with no let up, everything wobbling and vibrating, handlebars like 12 racehorses pulling in every direction at once. The feeling that you MUST NOT let go. You MUST NOT stop. Shades bouncing around so much you cannot actually see, the unrelenting rattling banging of my poor aliminum bike with the chain bouncing up and down like it’s demon possessed. The thought of ‘Maybe I should’ve worn gloves,’ followed by the fact that I *AM* wearing gloves. The manic grin and the giggle as two walkers stop to look. It’s quite frankly amazing and as much as I want it to stop. To long for smooth roads. I know nothing will ever quite beat this. Then 2 little turns and I’m off the cobbles with the stupidest smile ever on my face. Feeling sky high. And ridiculously unfit!
Ron and the two that took our cheesy picture laugh at me and ask if I’m ok. Of course!!
Then we ride it back again. The way the sportive rode it today. The way the race will go tomorrow. And once again, it’s epic beyond imagination
THIS IS WHY I RIDE MY BIKE.
We mutually agree to ride the signposted route back to the hotel, knowing we hit sector 2 somewhere along the line.
Then we do and Ron hares off. I keep my own pace, quickly realising this section is NOTHING like the easy smooth bobbling of Sector 3. This is rough. And potholed. And all I want to do is let go of the bars, or change a gear or get out of the saddle or something. Something to stop the bone racking crashing up and down. So I pull onto the side and ride in the dust. Hating every second of it. So back to the cobbles I go. Trying to steer around the holes and craters that line the way with these so called rocks that some errant joker calls cobbles. There’s nothing to hold them together and wheels attempt escape down every crack and cranny to only find brief purchase on dusty field grit before they spin ever onward in spasmodic jerks as I attempt to keep my bike in a straight line. There is no ‘crown’ of the road on this section. No slightly raised, marginally smoother part. This is rough. I pull over and take a quick photo, which unwittingly turns out to be rather good. Then I find myself laughing. I’m truly enjoying this. I pedal onwards. Trainers slipping, chain vainly attempting to get itself off and throw me in a muddy ditch. Finally I think I see Ron. Only I’m not sure because I just can’t see straight. I realise he’s got a camera. But I’m smiling anyway. Because this is good. Because this is why I ride my bike…