Roubaix / Flanders weekend PDF Print E-mail
Written by tingtong   
Saturday, 22 April 2017 12:25
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A couple of weekends ago we completed a little trip over to flanders and Roubaix to do our own back to back Ardennes and Cobbles weekends.  The flow of both weekends were both pretty similar, drive over the friday, eat drink, ride the sportives of 90 miles the Saturday, then watch/chase the race on the Sunday.
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Having recently acquired a new car and roof rack system, gone is the Kangoo and in with the Skoda I was keen to try out the new setup which will take up to 7 bikes, For Flanders we had 5 people and Roubaix 4 plus one being the tandem!  With everything strapped down we were off.  Drive down to the Eurotunnel was a couple of hours and driving the other side less than 2 hours.
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Getting up early is not one of our strong points as you have seen in the past, Roubaix last year we nearly missed the start at 11 due to increased sleep!  We were glad that the Flanders sportive offered 4 routes, we originally entered one of the longer routes but this involved a bus ride to the start at ridiculous o'clock so the night before we opted for the slightly shorter route of 90 miles as this still included all the bergs and cobbles but gave us a later start at 10.  Flanders and the West Flandrian region is well known for its little short sharp hills known as bergs, the route of the Tour of Flanders had changed some what the last few years and now incorporates a circular route that centres around the capital of the cycling region in Belgium, Oudenaarde. 
The route takes in about every possible section of Belgian pave, and berg in the region that have become iconic over the years.  Mur, Bosberg, Molenberg, Kemmelberg, Oude de Kwaremont to name a few.  The severity of the hills is such that - if you're not on a clear piece of road or cobble and in the top 15 with clear space then you're walking!  If you dont have clear space it seems the hills are a mutiny since once one person gets off and walks it blocks the way for the rest behind, the hills are quite narrow at the best of times and so provided much entertainment for the locals spectating and watching people attempt to ride up an 18% hill to then get off and walk. 
With about 50 miles done I think most of us were pretty much spent already, the hills and the efforts put in just to get up some of them were ridiculous.  This was going to be a 9-10 hour day at the earliest.  We made it pretty much all in one piece and the beers and medals were awaiting us at the finish be it some what 9 hours after we started.
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Our acommodation B&B passa dia was booked through booking.com and was an absolute dream to stay at.  I think it was one of my finds of the year.  a converted farm house and barn that has been restored to give several rooms each sleeping between 2-6 people each with their own slight theme made for a comfortable stay.  Open all hours honesty bar, free wifi, decent all you can eat breakfast, secure access to garage for bikes, hosepipe and wash gear to even clean your bikes this place was simply amazing. I'd recommend this place as the owners were very easy to get along with, the rooms large and clean and plus they were orientated to cyclists being there and their needs.  Ony word of note, if you go to the flanders region most restaurants and bars are closed by 2030 so motto is eat early otherwise you wont get fed!
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Following on from Flanders the week before it was time to do Roubaix the fololowing weekend.  As I write this article I can now say I am a veteran of 2 Flanders rides, once the old course, once the new, and have now completed my 4th Roubaix trip, this being one of the most interesting.  Our location for the weekend was a Campanille which is a cheap chain of motels in France, i'd probarbly say about on par with F1 or something cheap cheerful and similar.
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Roubaix this year as with Flanders we were gifted with the finest of weather, 22 degrees and sunny.  I've done one Roubaix trip which was my first and we did it in the rain, hail and snow and it wasnt enjoyable on a road bike, infact in the wet its pretty much unrideable on a road bike and i've never felt so inadequate and under prepared equipment wise before in my life, Roubaix never again A) on a road bike and B) in the wet with skinny 25mm tyres.
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So with a decent weather which gave arid dry dusty riding conditions we set off on what is generally a pan flat route of 90 miles.  The ride is so flat that the only elevation is the motorway over pass ramps that you do several of on the ride. The ride from the Roubaix velodrome took in a circular route that headed south and met up with the general route of the pro route down at Arenberg which is where the first sector of pave awaited us, the first 2/3 of the route is generally B roads and access roads which though it was a nice quiet ride it was miles of nothingness that you're riding to just get to the pave.  No one is really riding hard, everyone is saving energy for the pave.  Whilst out on our ride we were lucky enough to see several teams out for the junior paris roubaix who were out with their national teams doing a reccie for their race which was 2 hours in front of the pro race, be it on a slightly shorter course.  We saw Germany, Slovakia, Belgium all out.
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The pave was really what we came to Roubaix for, its all about the pave.  Unlike Belgium the French cobbles are not fast and flat, but uneven, massive gaps between them and quite frankly hideous to ride over.  The pave sectors are basically short farm tracks from anything from 300m in length up to 4km long.  Some of them are in better condition than others such as the Arenberg which was relaid in 2005 after several bad accidents in previous editions, the worse sections such as Carrefour d l'Arbre prove to be a tricky challenge in their own right with shoulders to the sections completley missing and areas where complete cobbles are missing or have big enough gaps to lose a whole front wheel down them.
Who killed the tandem?  Well they gave it a good try!  This year Jon and Paul decided they would do Roubaix on the tandem, last year on normal bikes wasnt enough of a challenge for them apparently.  They decided they woud use the tandem with double wrapped bar tape and the training wheels which were 36 hole plain gauge tied and soldered spokes to avoid loose broken spokes flapping, plus it also has the effect of making the wheel stiffer.  the choice of rubber was the same as I was using on my cross bike, the trusted 32mm conti gatorskin folding tyres.  Anyone doing roubaix on a bike that will take these tyres i'd highly recommend them as on a standard road bike setup I was running 45psi in the font and 50 in the rear and it was like riding a magic carpet on the pave, paired with a cheap £15 pair of suspension forks of a city hybrid bike I was in total comfort all the way.  The tandem we had to use a little more pressure of about 100 in the front and about 110 in the rear.  How did we decide on the tandem pressure?  By the fact we nearly killed the tandem on the first sector of pave on the Arenberg!  Riding the first 2/3 of the route its generally the done thing at Roubaix to ride at road full presures, then stop before the pave and readjust to lower pressures for all the pave sectors which generally all are grouped in the last 1/3 of the ride. 
Mistake was made with the tandem that would seal their fate of a triple blow out on the front wheel and the ability to then fold up one side of the rim braking surface all in about 3 seconds flat.  Well done boys.  I passed them on the Arenberg as hell yes, I was going for the strava timed section on the route, no stopping to help them for me :-)  Anyway they emerged about 20 minutes later at the end on the Arenberg wheeling the tandem to the area at the end with a front wheel looking decidedly BENT.  We found a local Belgian that didnt speak French, guess we should have tried English before we took 10 minutes explaining in French that we needed pliers to unbend the rim, i guess he understood what we wanted when Paul held up the wheel and the Belgian was shaking his head in disbelief when he saw what they had managed to do to the tandem rim!  Anyway out of his tool box emerged a set of mole grips and some pliers and we eventually fasioned a resemblence to what would have previously been known as a "front wheel" in a previous life.  Tyres on and 3 innertubes later when we found out all our spares were actually duff we set off again and continued.  The other sectors of pave proved thankfully uneventful and less exciting than the issues of the Arenberg/wheel gate.
Roubaix was another 9 hour ride and sun tan to match, some good miles in the bank.  One of the arrtactions of the roubaix/flanders weekend is the ability to do the rides on the Saturday and then see the pro races on the Sunday.  For Flanders we had the womens race 2 hours ahead of the mens pro race and for Roubaix the espoir race come through before the pro mens race so lots of things going on and not just 1 race either which was nice.  For Flanders we decided to watch from the town centre in Oudenaarde which was pretty good as we got to see all the womens team buses and vehicles since this is where they started in the morning.  The mens race also came through there on a lap before finishing just out of town.  In the centre there was loads going on in the main square of Oudenaarde, street bars selling beer all with big screens showing the race, the Tour of Flanders museum in the centrum area which also killed a bit of time too.
For Roubaix we did a bit of chasing the race, we went to one of the earlier sectors of pave then darted up the motorway and main roads with quickstep behind us and FDJ ahead at lightning speed to the Carrefour d'lArbre which was a haven.  Big screen was up and it was a really good spot as its late enough on at 3 sectors to go that the race will have pretty much been decided by then all bar the sprint.  we saw the front groups come through, when you think its all over we then saw 'Wanty Group' make their usual appearance right at the back, then the rest of Wanty most of them in the broom wagon and their bikes on the flat bed trailler.  One thing to note was the dead last rider to finish was from Sky at about 50 minutes down, please salute Jon Dibben.
Having done Roubaix and Flanders several times, I feel I have possibly done them enough times and am looking for some other challenges to do, not sure what will be next.  I'd like to do Milan San Remo but at nearly 300km long it would be a massive leap!
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