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That’s A Wrap! The 2014 Cobbled Classics

With Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the books, the 2014 spring classics are now over. Although there is a lot of fun still to be had this season, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary racing that was witnessed during this year’s monuments. Katy, a Trek dealer at Corley Cycles, was gracious enough to share her experience from Paris Roubaix. With true British wit, her thoughts vividly illustrate why every cyclist should experience the pain and glory that are the Belgian cobbles.

Ok where to start…It’s the beginning of March, the phone rings. It’s Mark, our Trek account Manager, offering up an amazing opportunity to have an all-inclusive 5-star trip to Paris-Roubaix. A swishy hotel, tour guides, VIP tickets, the list of “wow’s” goes on. Trek had kindly offered Phil a place on this exciting trip.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Our resident king of the Jollies (Phil) happened to be on a “jolly” in South Africa participating in Cape Argus and being wined and dined by Cervelo.

Heard the phrase, you snooze you lose? Never so apt in this case.

It was left to myself and Nick to argue over who would go. This argument involved me telling Nick that he should go and Nick telling me that I should go. Seriously, what’s wrong with us?!

After some [not so deep] thought but mainly logistical workings out—the daughter, the dogs, the shop, and the husband…not necessarily in that order—I took the opportunity and accepted the invite.

Mrs. Excited from Milton Keynes!

Friday 11th April. All set for my trip, smooth Eurostar, great breakie, easy transfer to Kortrijk, time for some shopping, and all finished off with a nice spin on the Trek Domane 5.9 that Gabe from Trek Travel had set up for me.

Here is where the dilemma started (to be precise, 9pm just before dinner). Since the March phone call I was doing the 45-mile route, taking in 6 sections of cobbles including the infamous Carrefour d’labre. To be honest I always knew that 45 miles was a bit short for me but the jump to the 90-mile route was never going to happen. I can count on one hand the amount of times my bum has been on a saddle for that long, all of these rides have taken place in Majorca on smoother roads, in the sun, and in a whooshing peloton.

A quick decision: do I eat for 45 miles or go to town with the Chateaubriand and Dame Blanche. This is me and food we’re talking about…90 miles it was!

An early start, time for a power nap on the bus before myself and 22 other lucky Trek customers arrive in Roubaix. We arrive to thick fog and a temperature of 2 degrees. I’m not sure about women being indecisive, but as the only female with 22 men, I left them to worry about clothing choices, take jackets on and off, apply copious amounts of Chamoix cream and generally faff while I stuffed my back pockets full of food and wondered what would be ahead to me.

We rolled out from Roubaix, myself and Mark Jaggard had made a pact to keep a steady pace of around 16mph. This in theory should be achievable for 90 miles. No heroes, just get round. After all, our theory was “We’re on holiday, right?”

After 2 hours and 15 minutes we had averaged 19.5mph and we were getting close to the Arenberg Forest—the first section of Pave. Boys will be boys! In reality it did bank some easy flat miles very quickly.

We arrive at Arenberg. Gabe had positioned himself perfectly, we met him with a big smile, and he was chuffed to bits to see me here. I think deep down he expected me to head for the cut off point some 15 miles prior to the Arenberg.

We offloaded our gilets, topped up with extra fluid, took a big deep breath, and hit the cobbles. Nothing prepared me for it. Everything shook, the speed that I carried in to it from the slight descent soon declined, and here unlike later sections there was no easier line. With white rope fencing off any slightly smooth line, it was a case of sticking it in the 50-13 and holding on for dear life.

At no point was I going to feel smug about passing hoards of riders with puncture; karma will always bite you on the bum.

I got through the Arenburg Forest still smiling and enjoying “my holiday”. The rest of the day was spent looking at my top tube and working out how much relief I’d get on the roads before the next pave section. My sticker had 18 pave sections all with stars categorizing difficulty and also denoting the feed stations, or my name for them—waffle stations.

Coming from an MTB background I’m pretty good at picking a line. On around 7 sections of Pave you could ride in the verge, half on the grass and half on the gritty, less cobbled edge of the road. We were ticking the secteurs off surprisingly quickly. Bunch riding was virtually impossible, on each road section you would just about create a group then before you knew it more pave and yet again you were on your own, left to fight your own personal battle.

I had one “moment” when the group of four we had created diminished to just myself and Mark (aka the cobble monster). We were in theory about 8k away from the next and last waffle station. Hunger, shakiness and my sense of humor started to wane.

I looked at Mark and stated that if the feed station wasn’t round this corner I’m stopping regardless, consuming whatever was left in my pockets, finding anything that was big enough to hide me for a much needed comfort break and giving my bum a much needed rest. To quote the cobble monster: “oh me arse”. Thankfully there it was; waffles, toilets, water and a rest from the saddle. 30k to go now and after a nice break I was feeling good. The sun was blazing the remaining secteurs were tough, long, and wearing on the whole body.

Mark and I ducked and dived in between groups and before we knew it we were on our way back into Roubaix. No major mechanicals, no punctures, no breakages in bikes or bodies, maybe sore some sore bottoms, but all in all a very successful jaunt. We may have developed a little bit of tourettes combined with a fit of giggles which was fun, but we did it, we really enjoyed it, and we were left feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

Neither Mark nor I had realised that we would actually finish in the Velodrome. This was pretty special, although I am bearing a grudge with Mr. Jaggard. After towing the cobble monster into Roubaix, he went and did me on the sprint for the line. Rude, plain rude.

We were handed our medals, posed for a few photos, then headed straight to a bar for frites and recovery drink (leffe). Here we re-grouped and the story telling of everyone’s ride began.

Back to the hotel for a quick shower then out for more food. Gabe from Trek did an absolutely sterling job of organising every little detail. I’m not quite over the fact that our Saturday night Brasserie was up two flights of stairs though…ouch!

Sunday and a 4.30am alarm clock; I thought I was on holiday? More sleep on the bus meant the ride down to Compiegne went quickly. We all sounded like OAP’s getting up but we made it off the bus without a stair lift. The early alarm was worth it. Up close and personal with the main men and their machines. A fantastic atmosphere and the excitement was building.

The pro’s set off and we headed to St. Python, or Corley corner as it was named on our trip last year. The peloton flew through and we were left eating their dust. The reality of how quickly they ride over the cobbles in relation to Joe Bloggs really hit me. The power and strength was phenomenal.

Our bus had a TV so we watched the race unfold, devoured our baguettes and headed in the direction of Roubaix. VIP entrance, trackside seats, beer and nibbles. Oh yes, yet again we were spoilt. My family arrived to watch with me; the race was really heating up and the day was perfect.

With 10k to go, Amelia and I got one of the best seats in the house and our tummies were full of nerves for the powerhouses that were about to hit the Velodrome.

Terpstra had attacked and at first we thought there was no way he would hold that gap, but the velodrome was nearing. He could actually do this…when he hit the track the stadium erupted. His wife was directly opposite us and the emotion was overwhelming.

Quick Step had done it. Not in the form of Tom Boonen, but Niki Terpstra had won the Hell of the North! Cancellara was in a small group just behind with Geraint Thomas, Peter Sagan, Brad Wiggins et al. A good sprint completed an awesome race…one not to be forgotten.

My holiday was fantastic, the Trek Domane I rode handled every cobble superbly, and the weather was on our side. I highly recommend a trip to see The Queen of the Classics; it is one event that every cycling fan should experience.

See you on a 2015 spring classics trip!

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