Do you even pavé bro? Coz I do and you should too.
I do all the shitty roads that are available around my hometown Krakow. Gravel, dirt, cobbles? Bring it on! I can handle this as long as my road bike can handle it. And it turns out that it can handle quite a lot. Like really a LOT. And let’s be clear here, I’m riding Giant TCR on 25mm tires. The majority of riders seems to accept cycling only on tarmac smooth as silk. I don’t buy it but I’m OK with it. You can’t talk flat-earthers out of it.
Autumn is for cyclocross, everybody knows that. Especially if you find yourself close to Belgium. Plenty of events and great conditions (you know, the so-called flandrian weather). I had an opportunity to spend a few weeks in Lille recently. That’s like 10-15k from Belgium. It was a tough decision but I decided to leave my gravel/cyclocross bike at home and take my road bike instead because Lille is also 10k from Roubaix. I thought that mud could be found everywhere, pavé like the one on the Paris – Roubaix course can nowhere be found except the Paris – Roubaix course.
For a non-pro-fit rider going solo the whole course is hardly doable during shorter autumn days. So I planned to ride all the sectors of the 2017 edition from Haveluy to Roubaix, which gives 20 of them, including all the five stars ones. Around 170k of riding if you start from Lille and finish there. I woke up not so early on Saturday. I had a few triples too much the day before and didn’t feel for an early wake up at all. I cruised to Haveluy with one short stop on my way to have a petit déjeuner – two croissants and coffee.
The first sector I hit was Bernard Hinault Pavé. That was the place where my ride really began although I had already 70k under my belt. I was fairly relaxed and fresh. I kept my gears and cadence on the lower side and my hands on top of the bars, just the way it’s to be done. The ride at first felt almost smooth. I don’t even recall when the bouncing begun to take a toll on my body. My wrists were first to show weakness. Then the pain overwhelmed my whole body, slowly but steadily. It was amazing, I still had legs but the constant beating my body was getting made the ride physically unbearable.
I value classic spring races more than stage ones. Likewise, I am more of a fan of riders that do well in one-day races than those winning grand tours. Can’t really say why the Paris – Roubaix was always close to my heart and Tommeke Boonen was among the favorite ones. Thinking that I was riding the same bloody thing he and other hardmen raced so well made me push. I could be destroyed but not defeated! The mind is truly the most powerful engine.
At the beginning of my ride, I was looking for a better and more comfortable line. Later I figured out that there is no more comfortable line or even more comfortable pace. I think that this feature of the Paris – Roubaix course is distinctive from other courses. No matter what you do, no matter how fit you are, you’re gonna suffer.
I punctured for the first time after riding 5 sectors, the second time after 14. I’ve got to admit that I became nervous then. I still had a five star rated Carrefour de l’Arbre sector ahead of me and no more spare tubes. Going there was a bit like playing russian roulette. It was a mental struggle. In the end, I gave up last two short sectors after Gruson and went straight to Lille.
All in all, I rode for almost 6 hours and covered 150k. This seems quite easy, doesn’t it? In fact, it was one of the most brutal rides I did. I’ve ridden many gnarly roads. I’ve done quite a few mtb trails on my gravel bike. All my experience from riding every possible bad road meant nothing there. For all of you out there who think they know pavé but didn’t ride the Paris- Roubaix course, I can only say that you know nothing and you should try it out.