Paris-Roubaix Randonnee - Sunday 11th June 2006
Report from Bob Wade
Yes, I am wearing a pink skirt, all in the cause of charity.
The initial idea of riding one of the toughest bike race courses in Europe on a fixed wheel bike seemed mad enough, even if it was to raise money for charity. Then an Australian work colleague made me an offer I couldn't refuse: if I ride it in a pink outfit including a pink skirt, he would double his pledge and persuade others to do so too, which most duly did.
4am by any stretch of the imagination is not a great time to get out of bed, even if it is to drive your mates to the start of the of the 260k long ride, but someone had to do it. I headed back to the hotel to pick up my group and hand the the support van over to my wife, Gill, who was going to be our guardian angel for the rest of the day, dispensing food, drink and encouragement as and when we needed it. We loaded up and drove to Bohain - the start of 190km stage. We were ready to roll at 8am, John, Nick, Richard and myself and that was the last I saw of them until the finish.
There is 15k of tarmac before the first stretch of pave at Troisvilles, which is a reasonable warm up before the fun starts. Even the small hills seemed easy despite my lack of gears and I knew I was in for good ride today. There it is, a left hand turn off the road, a Sunday in Hell starts here. Amazingly enough, not being able to stop peddling on the fixed gear actually seemed to help get over the cobbles. Well, it did for now, but maybe not after another 26 sections.
The next 18k slipped by with 9.2k of pave seemingly not capable of slowing me down. Hitting the first control point, Gill filled my water bottles with energy drink while I adjusted the headset and put the lock ring on the rear sprocket to stop it unscrewing while using it to control my down hill speed. At this point Stu, Andrew and Nigel riding the 260k stage caught up with me. The next set of pave seemed even easier after the brief stop, but on joining the next section of tarmac my rear wheel locked up and I did a 10 metre skid that any 12 year old kid would have been proud off.
For some unknown reason, the drive side spacer/cone had tightened into the hub, grinding it and jamming it into the edge of the hub body and tightening the bearing. Although in the middle of the sprawling French countryside, I was very fortunate to have this mechanical outside a house where an old guy was washing his car. And doubly fortunate that he was totally unfazed in dealing with an English guy in a pink skirt who couldn't speak much French. But he had a tool kit, and was happy to help me sort out my hub so it was ride-able enough to get me to a point where Gill could meet me and hopefully I could fix it with some proper bike tools. Whatever happened, I wasn't not going to finish the ride, even if it meant riding the hub to destruction, as long as it lasted to Roubaix.
Gill was already at the second control point and it took a while to get back and actually find me, but I got the hub running again and returned to riding, realising I had lost about an hour and half. Despite such a well way-marked course I missed a turning and added an extra 8k to the ride finding my way back. Doh!
By mid-day, it was starting to warm up - 33 degrees, and it was a matter of drinking enough to stay hydrated with 140k to go. I think I must have drunk my way through about 6 litres of fluids.
The next set of pave was the famous Arrenberg forest. It had been announced back in April that these fearsome cobbles had been re-laid to make it safer for the pros to ride this section. A very suspicious Gendarme agreed to take this photo: And just what are those Italians wearing?
Re-laid? my arse! Having ridden the 260k version two years ago and riding all the cobbled sections in full, I opted for the pros line this time - the gravel track along side the wildly haphazard and very lumpy cobbles on this 2.4k section. So still 100k to go with 27.7k of pave.....
A great comedy moment somewhere between here and the next set of pave as a guy who's been drafting me for the past couple of kms obviously thinks he's been riding behind a fit Amazonian woman in a pink outfit, draws level with me and then realises I'm a bloke. A total look of shock on his face!
Strangely enough, given the distance left to ride, it all gets a bit blurred from here on in: Cobbles, tarmac, drink, eat, cobbles, drink, tarmac, eat, drink, cobbles, text message: everyone else has finished. I'm happily managing 30 to 32 kph on the tarmac sections and just over 22 kph on the pave given the gearing I have, and my legs are still feeling fine.
The countryside is decidedly flat here and is a weird mix of light industrial estates and open farm land but includes the famous windmill, seen in so many photos of the race.
After the last control point there is a trail of suffering riders, who I am sure must feel a lot worse for being passed rather swiftly by a guy on a fixed gear riding in a skirt.
Although Richard, one of the guys also riding and sponsoring me, has pledged 10 for every crash I have, and 20 for a broken collar bone, I wasn't planning to take him up on his perverse offer: even for charity. However, I clipped the edge of a cobble stone hidden by the grass on the verge and took a tumble into the field along side the pave. My left foot fortunately unclipped from the pedal as my calf cramped up, but I was able to grab my foot to stretch out the cramp and get back on the bike - result! an extra 10 quid! There's 20k to go and there's a long stream of riders walking the pave with fixed stares in their hollow eyes.
Its nearly over and I'm flying, spinning at well over 110 revs a minute and feeling fine. Under the ring road and into the Roubaix suburbs, passing riders in front of me, even the riders jumping red lights while I stop, I catch and pass them before the next set of lights. And then there's the right turn into the sports complex, leading on to the velodrome......and a bloody camper van. I cut past it on the right and switched quickly to the left to miss the car that it stopped for, and then sharp right again to enter the velodrome, out of the saddle and sprinting, winding it up for a lap of the famous track and the finish line.
That was great, truly great fun and who cares that I rode it in a pink skirt? Not me, not my wife, not my mum and not my team mates. But the charity that will benefit cares. It matters that I and my sponsors care enough to do something odd enough to support people to get on with their day to day lives, which on the whole, can probably be harder at times than this ride will ever be.
Should you care, please access this link www.downs-syndrome.org.uk and donate directly or contact me and support my riding during the UK National Bike week (June 17th - 25th 2006) where I will add a further 380 miles ( 600k) to my total pledge of 500 miles (800k) .
Well done to my fellow riders: Andrew Davison, Stuart Cleevely, John McDowell, Nick Harris, Richard Somerset and Nigel from South Downs cycles. And big thanks to Gill from all of us.