Laura Scott: Conquering the Cobbles
Laura Scott shares the scars, bruises and emotions of her bone-shaking Paris–Roubaix race experience
Sponsored by P&O Ferries
I aimed for the centre of the cobbles, picked a gear and pushed down hard. Bidons, multi-tools and all sorts of other cycling paraphernalia were flying all around me in slow motion as spectators screamed ‘Allez Allez'. Remembering what Bjorn Thurau had told me when I interviewed him a few weeks ago, I tried not to death grip my bars and made a move to get around some slower riders. All of a sudden a cyclist was somersaulting off his bike... Welcome to Paris–Roubaix, also known as the Hell of the North and the Queen of the Classics.
When I was offered the chance to ride the infamous route a day ahead of the professionals, I didn’t hesitate. Paris–Roubaix was the first race that really captured my attention when I got into cycling. From the incredible speeds that the pro's take the cobbles to the nail-biting final lap in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome, it’s one of those bucket-list rides that captures the imagination with its incredible history and bon-shaking reputation. I couldn’t wait to take it on!
Having had wrist surgery, a fractured collarbone and a dislocated shoulder all in the last 16 months, I was quite nervous about how I would do on the cobbles. I was definitely ready for a 'vigorous' ride, but I didn't want to risk more injury, so I set about prepping my bike to give me as much 'comfort' as possible.
My Kinesis GF_TI was in much need of some love after being ridden all winter in Canada, so this was an opportunity to upgrade a few parts and get it Roubaix ready. I stuck my Kinesis CX disc wheels on with Schwalbe G one speed 30c, which I ran tubeless to avoid pinch flats. I then used Salsa Woodchipper bars. These are controversial, I know, with many folk not a fan of the flare, but I find the shallower reach works for me and gave me more positions to move my hands about as they got inevitably fatigued on the cobbles.
I upgraded my bb to the Kogel BSA BB with cross seals as these would give me all-weather durability. Finally, I changed my jockey wheels to the Kogel hybrid ceramic, as they have a reputation of being able to run through anything you chuck at them, which seemed appropriate. With the gear sorted, I was ready to ride…
When in France...
The morning of the ride I fuelled myself with practically an entire baguette, then cycled 20km from Lille to the start. On the start line, I was filled with trepidation, so I downed an Americano from the Rapha truck and set off to take on the infamous Roubaix. Eek!
The first 50km takes you through quaint French towns and rolling countryside, lulling you into a false sense of security. I guess it's good to warm up the legs ahead of those cobbles, but all it did was give me time to worry about what lay ahead. I was riding with a few cyclists from London's Islington CC at this point, and we were moving along at a fair pace, my heart rate sitting at the top of my zone 4.
Then I hit it! The first cobbled section you're dropped into is the infamous Trouee d’Arenberg. It was chaos and carnage all around me as I hit the cobbles, but I loved it and found an unexpected rhythm and pleasure in smashing it as hard as I could. My heart rate felt like it was at max and I could hear myself breathing, but despite the drama, energy and bone shaking, the event photographer who was stationed there captured my feelings exactly – I had the biggest cheesiest grin on my face the whole time!
At the end of the section I caught up with some friends. One had broken a spoke and another had blisters all over her hands from holding on to her bars for dear life, but we had made it. The worst was over, or so we thought…
There were 18 cobbled sections we would have to tackle throughout the day. Each one is rated from 2 to 5 stars, but don't be fooled. While the 5-star sectors were usually longer, some of the shorter 3-star sections had far worse cobbles and definitely hurt more.
After the Trouee d’Arenberg, we were being hit with regular stretches of cobbled hell. Some sections were less than a kilometre, some 3.5km. There were gnarly double-cobbled sections, which were broken up by tarmac and designed to trick you into thinking they had finished; the gravel-covered cobbles that your wheels would sink into, and epic dusty ones where you found yourself spitting out grit.
Even with all the adaptations I made to my bike, the constant vibrations eventually took their toll and the last 20 miles were really draining. I could feel my forearms starting to bruise from being shaken like a dryer on a spin cycle.
The final leg
After the last cobbled section, the average speed picked up noticeably as everyone raced towards the infamous Roubaix velodrome. Entering the legendary venue was amazing and emotional, and I sped round going high up on the boards and flying around the top. It was the perfect conclusion to an incredible ride.
Battered, bruised, shaken and shattered, I'd finished. So, would I do it again? In a heartbeat…