Report - How to ride Roubaix and get paid
What? Another Roubaix guide with mentions of double bar tape, stupid tyre pressures and THE FAMOUS ROUBAIX PAVE written in bold capitals every other sentence. The internet is full of all these cliches. I know because before I rode the cobbles for the first time I read them all. My setup was all wrong and what should have been a great day became a tough one. Exactly the sort of 'epic' you read about, but all of my own making.
Fast forward a few years and I try and hit the cobbles as often as I can. I'll shoehorn a ride in anytime I'm anywhere near the area. Even if its just 3-4 sectors I call it riding Roubaix. I've heard it said that the sportive in April isn't the proper ride and the super long full sportive that's held every two years is the real Roubaix. Total bollocks spouted by the usual pretentious cycling wankers. The race is the real Roubaix. Everything else is just play riding which I'm fine with. I love riding a sector of cobbles, thinking back to previous races and of course looking ahead to the next one.
So when an opportunity comes to ride the pave there's no way I'm not going to take it. After our 2017 season had finished for the winter I was working with a premiership footballer based in the North West. Every chance he had to return to his home country he would. Any day off and we'd go straight from training to the airport.
Late in November, he got time to head home at the last minute. The call came in that after training they were being given an unscheduled day off. The only flight available was from Heathrow that evening and then returning back late the next day. Rather than having to return to Manchester and then drive all the way back down south again for collection. I'd be getting paid for the waiting time and a hotel near the airport. My first thought should be to fuel up and get my arse to the training ground. But I ride bikes and that's not how my brain works. I went straight on my Eurotunnel account and booked a tunnel. I had my summer bike in a bag so I threw it in the car with some kit and set off. Roll on Roubaix.
After a long day of driving via Heathrow I finally got to my usual sh*thole hotel in Hem near Roubaix late that night. As always, I emptied absolutely everything I possibly could out of the car. I've been in town when vehicles are getting smashed into for anything let alone bikes. They don't put that in the Roubaix guides.
I got ready to roll out at 9am once traffic had eased off. People always ask what you should wear but it's just the same as any other ride. You dress for the conditions. The only piece of clothing I always wear is a gilet over the top of whatever else I'm wearing. That way nothing can fall out of pockets. I packed the usual tubes, c02, pump, chain link and tool plus some dragibus haribo. If you haven't had that type of haribo then you haven't lived. They work better than any gel.
Then it was a quick check of the bike and I ramped my tyre pressures straight up. If you do this ride then have your tyres up until you hit the first section. Why ride 50-60km of tarmac with stupidly low tyre pressures.
My plan was to ride most of the last part of the race route from the Arenberg Forest back to Hem. I've learned the roads over time so have a nice easy route to get there that passes a couple of bakeries if needed. The drivers in the area are pretty similar to the UK. You need to have your wits about you and stick to any bike lanes where possible.
Just before the Arenberg, I stopped for my usual pee, drink, lower pressure a bit and remove gloves. I always hit the Arenberg with high pressure. I'm going to get smashed up whatever so a few psi won't make a difference. I'd rather lower it when I feel that it's needed. Plus there is a right drag of tarmac after the Arenberg when you've just been going full gas.
Weather conditions really were absolutely perfect so I could take my gloves off. I wouldn't ever double tape anyway as it doesn't work for me. I want the smallest contact patch possible with the bars. Gripping thicker bars and wearing gloves equals blisters. However please don't take my advice on this as it really is personal preference and comes from experience.
The condition of the pave was probably the best I had ever ridden. It had been dry for a few weeks and with the colder weather they were absolutely spotless. Luckily a farmer had spread muck over one area so my bike and kit could get dirty and make it look like I'd done a proper hard ride and have a bit of fun on social media.
Once a few sectors were done it was time for the now traditional beer/coffee stop in Beuvry la Foret. We've been visiting this place for about twelve years and always get the same lukewarm welcome which is why we never miss a visit. The people in this area are tough. Make sure you try and speak some French.
Normally it's on to Orchies for chicken nuggets. MCDONALDS? yes, or Mcdoh as the locals call it. You get served fast, can keep an eye on the bikes and they have decent toilets. Going to a cafe doesn't work on this ride. There is also a bike shop opposite the Mcdoh. This is the only bike shop on the actual route.
Anyway, I decided as I was on my own I'd skip nuggets and head to Aix where there is a frites stand. Then it was a shortcut over to a few more sectors before the Carrefour de L'arbor and the finish in Hem. I was on a bike with 23mm summer tyres, my climbing wheels and was pretty tired from the journey. I'd just done 111km of a ride you are supposed to spend ages preparing for and hadn't been shaken to pieces with the bike performing brilliantly.
It was then time to hit the road again and I was back at Heathrow for 6 pm and a nice sleep before airport collection and another long drive. My passenger had no idea of where I'd been.
The next day the Trek Factory team were on social media posting pictures of the riders doing a Roubaix recon ride. I reflected on an awesome day of riding and wondered when the next visit would be.
You can read all the guides, believe all the hype but there is no substitute for getting out on a bike and just riding. Being paid for it was just the mayo on the frites.
Here's the ride - https://www.strava.com/activities/1285886433
Join our club for details of rides, event updates and more. We just ride bikes. No moody photos. No epic b*llshit - https://www.strava.com/clubs/polocini