Paris Roubaix – Pro Cycling’s Breath of Fresh Air

Less and less am I finding myself engaged in stories around pro cycling. The drugs, the cheating, the robotic tactics and the lies. It gets crazy tiresome, and for the largest part I just can’t be bothered anymore. I find it harder and harder to trust race results, and the romance has gone. There are only brief glimmers of hope that shine through:

  1. Whenever Peter Sagan does anything. Anything at all. He could tie his shoes and I would happily live stream that shit.
  2. Whenever Esteban Chavez wins anything. I just want to cuddle that kid – sweetest guy in all of cycling.
  3. Paris Roubaix.

Paris Roubaix is the race I always stay up late to watch. A few mates around with a few beers, and it rules. All of the problems that are normally associated with cycling fade into the background, and a beautiful afternoon, steeped in rich history, takes place, and I watch transfixed to the action. So what makes this race different?

THE SETTING

Farm tracks, forest trails and country lanes. Paris Roubaix is a back roads tour of northern France. Even the towns the race pass through look goddam gorgeous on the screen. But the cobbled secteurs… They get rated according to how rough they are. There are groups dedicated to ensuring that they are in good condition, but not improved, they need to stay as rough as they always have been. And just to make sure that this race does suck for the riders, they plough the sides of the road, so that riders must stay on the stones. Failing this, the fans will be standing right on the side. The ride on the rocks is so bad that you will see riders riding through thick grass, muddy puddles and jumping ditches. Rough, ancient roads in a beautiful rural setting – perfect.

Cycling: 115th Paris - Roubaix 2017

THE TACTICS

This isn’t a flat sprinter’s race, where nothing happens until sprint trains wind up in the last kilometre, and we see 200 metres of action. This isn’t a long, grinding mountain stage, with teams setting tempo, so that no-one can attack, and everyone watching yawns to death. Sagan put in his first attack with over 100km to go in Roubaix this year, when he put the hammer down in the forest of Arenberg.  Last year the final 15km saw attack after attack after attack. It is old-fashioned, go-hard-when-you-feel-good racing, which makes it very exciting to watch. Teams play a lot less of a role than in other events, and the cunning and strength of the rider is what brings the reward.

THE RIDERS

I find the guys who race these events to be the most relatable. Climbers and GC riders are crazy lean, body shapes that are so far away from the norm, they are practically a different species. But the men bulldozing across the pave are much more likely to have a height and weight that you’d find on regular people, just walking down the street. Sure, they put out enough wattage to power a sports stadium, but they are a lot more ‘normal’. It makes me feel a lot closer to the action, to see people who look like regular guys.

THE SPIRIT

Last year Matt Hayman apologised for beating Tom Boonen, the sentimental favourite… Tom just smiled and said how happy he was for Matt. Then there’s the most likeable man to have ever ridden a bike – His Lordship Peter Sagan. These guys smile, they present well to the press, they often talk each other up. In other words, they just act like normal blokes, riding bikes for fun. They respect the race too. For many it is the highlight of their year. Even former pros, who still work for teams, will be heard discussing that they don’t miss having to suit up at any race, other than Roubaix. I heard Robbie McEwin talking once about how on his first race he missed the cut-off, but evaded the Marshall so he could still do a lap of the Roubaix velodrome to finish. The next year, he did all he could to make the line within time. A world class sprinter, with no hope of winning, he just wanted to respect the race and finish. That’s not even mentioning that the winners get their own shower for life, and the trophy is a cobblestone.

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THE FINISH

In an open-air concrete velodrome… It is so goddam majestic. Maybe a rider enters solo, and gets a stunning victory lap. Some years it comes down to a two-up sprint, complete with cagey track-stands as the riders eyeball each other. Other times it’s a sprint from a reduced bunch, where the final surges are more akin to the wild swings of a heavyweight bought pushing into round 15. The best 15km of racing ever are the last 15km of the 2016 race, with 5 riders trading one attack after another. The cobbles have roughened up the riders so badly, that by the time they reach the velodrome, a slow wind up is the best they can offer.

Paris Roubaix 2013

All of this adds up to something beautiful. It is not perfect, the race is imperfect, and that’s what makes it great. Riders with a semi-normal physique, riding rough back roads, attacking when it seems stupid to do so, and reaching the finish shattered, filthy and broken. The same could be said of a weekend rides with mates, or a gran fondo finish, and it’s that similarity to regular people that makes it great. The attention turns away from scandal for one weekend, and we all get to enjoy something great.

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Review: 2017 Specialized Roubaix Expert

Specialized have recently come out with a new version of the Roubaix, and thankfully it is a huge departure from the old versiom. The old Roubaix I always thought was a little ugly, even if it has the same name as the mightiest of bike races to be held every year.

The Roubaix looks actually pretty similar to a normal road bike. The weird Zerts inserts that made the whole bike look weird before are gone, in fact the whole bike has been re-designed from the ground up. The Roubaix is a really well thought out bike, with features that speak loudly towards it’s endurance focussed geometry. The most obvious feature is the future shock in the front end, but when you look a little closer you also see the seat clamp a lot lower down the seat tube. The point where the seat post enters the frame only has a rubber seal to keep some water and dust out. This allows a lot more of the post to come into play to keep your backside comfy. The riser hover bars help lift the front end a little more to give that more relaxed feel, expected of an endurance bike. Even the tool kit placed over the bottom bracket is a great little thought, to keep some weight lower, and tuck your spares out of the way.

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The best angle showing the rise on the hover bars I could get on a rainy day whilst babysitting my kids… On the plus side, you now know what my hallway looks like.

I was able to ride the Expert model, equipped with a full Ultegra Di2 groupset, hydraulic disc brakes and DT Swiss R470 wheels.

Immediate impression when riding this bike is that it is smoooooooth. Barry White smooth. Peter Sagan descending a French mountain smooth. Ryan Reynolds running his hands through his fingers in slow motion, whilst wearing just a towel on a beach at sunset smooth… The ugly CB-R seatpost mixed with the re-positioned clamping point means the back end is super compliant. But this is overshadowed by the future shock which easily hums along, soaking up the terrain. I was dubious about how much the shock would move before experiencing the bike, but it is easily able to be actuated when stationary. On the road it creates a very, VERY soft ride. To the point that I started actively looking for rougher parts of the road to ride on. Speedhumps, recessed man-hole covers, after a while I started riding on the gravel verge of the road! But it’s not sluggish like riding a hardtail mountain bike, the BB is still stuff (which is threaded btw, pressfit BB’s can EAD), the bike is still light, and it has road bike geometry. The Roubaix just glides smoothly and comfortably over the road, no matter how rough the road is.

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The future shock is a small spring system that sits just under the stem. At first glance on the bike, it is barely noticeable.

But the bikes still climbs really well. I’m sure theoretically the shock takes some efficiency out of your climbing speed, but I sure as hell didn’t notice, instead I was able to climb comfortably both seated and standing. This is thanks to a massive down tube, wrapped around a very meaty bottom bracket, which transitions to some very substantial chain stays. This bulky core of the frame is what allows the bike to maintain the strength it needs to ride so very well. It is more amazing that the bike rides so smoothly, given how stiff the frame is. Seated and standing with this strong core of the chassis, climbing is as effortless as a you could ask for. Yes it’s not a 6km featherweight, pure climbing bike, but this bike easily accommodates a rising gradient. That’s not even a ‘it climbs well despite xxx’, the bike climbs well full stop.

Immediately after my first little roll, my mind immediately wanted to know what it felt like to get out on gravel, and see exactly how smooth it is. Plus riding gravel is just way more fun than road anyways. I stuck on a set of cyclocross tyres to see if they’d fit, and there was enough clearance – just. I certainly wouldn’t ride like that as standard, but with a damp morning, I couldn’t ride slicks. There wasn’t any frame rub, just no mud clearance with those bags, and I wouldn’t want to be unlucky, and jam a rock in between the frame and the tyre.

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CX tyres totally fit….

Riding this bike on dirt was a revelation. Oh man, that was SO MUCH GODDAM FUN! That stiff chassis, combined with the suspended rider system makes for a really enjoyable experience. Bumps that I would normally brace for were smooth and easy. That agility in climbing transferred to the dirt easily, and the Roubaix made light work of some flowing single track. So I took it onto some much looser gravel, which it rode well. So I found looser and steeper tracks. Yet still the bike rode along with panache. I threw some gnarly old tracks at this bike, and it rode along beautifully. It was a real pleasure to tick off the kilometres. Definitely it is not a gravel bike, in that it cannot take a large tyre (the cx tyre I was using really was pushing the limits of friendship, and not a long term solution), but the way it handled the gravel, this is definitely a bike that is able to be taken on exploring rides, with a mix of tarmac and dirt.

In all of this, is there a downside that I found to the bike? There was just one really. Fast, flowing road descents. On these bends I found that the front wheel was drifting around a little, and I couldn’t properly hold a line. I was able to overcome some of this by changing my position around, and leaning more of my weight forward to load up the front tyre, a little like Caleb Ewan in a sprint. I feel that if I had my time, and it was my own bike, that swapping around for a much lower front end would definitely have helped alleviate some of this problem. None-the-less it was a bit of a downside to the ride. Does that stop me from loving this bike? Not really. I love riding fast downhill, it’s exhillerating, and it would stop me from having this as my only road bike. But with the huge bag of tricks that this bike brings to the party otherwise, the Roubaix definitely overcomes this obstacle.

All-in-all this bike is a really revolutionary package, there is nothing out there quite like it. The engineering that has gone in to create such a bike is outstanding. If you are looking for a do-it-all bike, something to have as a one-bike stable, then this is it. So comfortable, yet so capable. I am a big fan of what this bike offers.

What do you think? Has your ride experience differed? Leave your thoughts below.

 

Jason English – World 24 hour MTB champion

Jason English is the current, and multiple, world and Australian, 24 hour mountain biking world champion. 7 time world champ as a matter of fact. 7 times CONSECUTIVE. He is almost unbeatable in an ultra distance race.
I was lucky enough to complete and Everesting with Jason once (read about that here), and asked him if he’d be happy to have a chat about what it can be like to go through what he does.
Interview by Dave Edwards. Photos from Jason English.

Riding Port Augusta to Adelaide in an All-Day Epic

After logging on to Strava, and seeing a mate, Mark Zanker, had just uploaded a HUGE ride, I asked him what he did the ride for. ‘Just because’ was his answer! What a perfect response. Mark and his brother Brian rode 335 kilometres from Port Augusta to Adelaide together on one massive day, and this is Mark’s story from the day.

Words and images by Mark Zanker

Continue reading “Riding Port Augusta to Adelaide in an All-Day Epic”

Dads and DINKS – Grit Vs Fit

Riding hard and long (ha, phrasing…) requires a lot of fitness, and mental toughness. It’s not really a surprise to say this, and having a deficit in either category will leave you short of your goal. Yes there are definitely other factors that play a part in determining the success or failure of a rider achieving their lofty goals, but of all points, these are the 2 most important.

So it begs the question, which is more important? I’ve been chatting a lot with my mate James Raison a lot about this lately, and we have some different conclusions, which ultimately are born from our different abilities and situations in life. But this is my website, so sucked in James, I get to write the article…

Words and images by Dave Edwards.

Continue reading “Dads and DINKS – Grit Vs Fit”

I’m Tired of Being a Wannabe Climber. I Want to be a Climber.

There is a certain magic to climbing a hill on a bike. When you reach the peak of a hard climb, despite your legs screaming in pain, your lungs bursting, and the struggle of what you went through to get to the top, all that is remembered is the satisfaction of making it. Let’s face it, climbing can be bloody hard, but there are things you can do to make climbing easier. Here are some tips that we’ve discovered along the way to help make you a better climber.

Words and images by Brendan Edwards So Brendan is damn fast on a hill, click to read on about what he has to say on the topic

Overcoming Pain and Suffering

“It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport” – Scott Martin

Suffering is bandied about a lot in cycling. It is a badge of honour that riders will wear when they are seen to be able to accommodate higher loads of it. Some people seem to be able to take pain like they are eating an apple in a deck chair, whilst others put their hand up and say ‘enough’ at the slightest difficulty.

Click here to read on about how to keep going when it seems impossible to do so