Taking on Paris-Roubaix: How To Ride The Cobbles

 

Laura Scott gets some expert tips on how to prepare for the Paris-Roubaix bone shaker...

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When talking about racing on cobbles, there is one race that comes to everyone’s mind – Paris-Roubaix. 

Why? Because, quite simply, it’s a beast. The 160-mile Paris-Roubaix race includes 30 miles of cobbles spread across about 25 sections ranging from 400 metres to almost two miles.

To put this into context, the 165-mile Tour of Flanders has (a mere?!) 13 miles of cobbles, so it’s no wonder that the professionals fear and revere it: “Paris-Roubaix has given me punctures, broken derailleurs and lots of crashes… It gave me a hole in my knee through which I could see my kneecap and grazes all over my face. [But] I still cherish my cobble-trophy… like no other trophy I have,” says Dutch pro, Koen De Kort.

©ASO/GOLAZO_Belg_Stockmann

©ASO/GOLAZO_Belg_Stockmann

But that’s exactly why it’s one of those unmissable sportives, the ones you have to ride at some point of your life. Or… at the very least, live through the pain and ecstasy through someone else. Someone with just the right amount of bad-assery and bravado. Someone like Laura Scott, who rode 2,200 miles of the iconic Trans Am race with a dislocated shoulder and fractured collar bone.

Here, she shares the tips she’s unearthed as she prepares for the challenge…

Two hours later I was lying on the floor trying not to be sick

Tips and technique
“Just over a week ago I was asked if I wanted to take part in the Paris Roubaix challenge, a sportive that gives keen cyclists the chance to ride the famed cobbled route the day before the pros. I figured it would be a great opportunity to see just how much my body can handle being rattled in one day.

“I have to admit that over the winter months while I’ve been in Canada, I haven’t been able to get outside on my bike as much as I would like – Canadian winters aren’t very forgiving and riding in minus 15 degrees just isn’t for me. So, after signing up, I jumped on Zwift to give the Mat Hayman Paris Roubaix winning workout a try. Two hours later, I was lying on the floor trying not to be sick.

To get some advice on how to prepare, I reached out to my coach Dean Downing – a former pro who rode for Rapha Condor and Madison-Genesis – and Björn Thurau – the German pro currently riding for Kuwait–Cartucho.es – who has ridden Roubaix no less than four times. Here are their top tips for riding the cobbles for the first time. 

©ASO/GOLAZO_Belg_Stockmann

©ASO/GOLAZO_Belg_Stockmann

Bjorn Thurau

  1. Upsize your tyres. If it is your first time riding the cobbles you will want a minimum of 28-30mm in order to feel more comfortable!
     
  2. Never hold your handlebars too tight. Your instinct on the cobbles is to grip the bars tighter, but all that incessant vibration will cause your arms to cramp up. 
     
  3. The 172km route features 25 sections of pavé (French for cobbles), so it’s really important to find the right gearing from the beginning of each sector. If you need to change your gear on a sector several times, you never will find the right rhythm again. It is also best to ride in the middle of most sectors, as this is where the pavé is easiest to manage.

Dean Downing

  1. Think about the correct tyre pressure. Sounds crazy, but lots of riders would put 110psi in the tyre because that’s what it says on the side of their tyres. The pros normally ride around 60/70 psi.
     
  2. Those cobbles are hard on the hands, so get some new bar tape with a softer grip, or simply put two rolls of soft bar tape on. This will give your hands a bit of a softer feel. Every little helps.
     
  3. Try to ride bigger gears over the cobbles – 1 or 2 sprockets more than you would for the same stretch of road on the flat. If your gear is too small and you’re pedalling too fast, you’ll bounce around more and traction will be difficult to find if you slow down too much.
     

Final thoughts from Laura
“I can’t wait to ride Roubaix for the first time, but in the meantime I’m ordering some wider tyres and extra bar tape.”


Follow Laura’s Paris Roubaix adventures and antics here

Want to tackle the cobbled streets of France and Belgium. Here’s how to travel with bikes with P&O Ferries

 
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