Paris Roubaix Challenge – Liberty’s perspective

Roubaix, Roubaix, Roubaix!

roubaix logo

Most cyclists have heard of the Paris-Roubaix race but where on earth is it? Well in North-Eastern France on the border of Belgium (not in Paris!).

When discussing a suitably crazy event for Spring 2014 it seemed like the obvious choice…. providing a serious challenge for Victor & Liberty along with friends, Graeme and Kate.

Laden with wheel bags, suitcases and enough inner tubes to keep the peloton going we set off from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Lille.

Words of advice ringing in our ears…

• Wear padded gel gloves (this is one I should have opted for… see later blister horror pic!)
• Double type handlebars (see above!)
• Minimum 25mm tyres (with reduced pressure)
• Grow some balls / watch your balls!
• See a shrink…’have you honestly heard about the Paris-Roubaix?’

With much trepidation we arrived in Roubaix and made our way via tram to their basic but helpful IBIS hotel.

Carb loading at the local Italian was the obvious choice that evening.

After much deliberation we laid out our kit. Victor went for a Classic Castelli look and I (well we are in France after all) opted for stylish French chic courtesy of Café Du Cycliste.

Finally, we were ready for action. Along with hundreds of other participants who were doing the full 170km route we had an early 4am start. Breakfast in the hotel was hard work but we forced a few pastries and café au lait down. Kate and myself were the only women amongst scores of men as we cycled across Roubaix in our very own ghost peloton to the Velodrome where a bus and bike loaders made their way to the village of Busigny for the start.

eerie buses

Most slept on the bus .. it was 4.30am after all. Not sure Victor needed bins at this time in the morning, but hey when they are Zerorh+ why not!

Victor asleep2

Two hours later, bikes were unloaded and quelle horreur …. une catastrophe.  Bleary eyed, another participant (or was it Victor!) had inadvertently taken the wrong wheel – both being the same brand. Even at that ungodly hour, it didn’t take too long for Victor to realise the tyre was a) a different size and b) had a different tread pattern, so therefore c) it definitely wasn’t my tyre! No worries, we thought, just ride with a nice cushioned front tyre. Mild panic set in when it became even clearer that there was no chance the new tyre would fit.

Panic stations, as no bike shops would be open, no sign of promised Mavic support, and literally 100’s of cyclists waiting for the start!

Luck was definitely on our side. Who’d have thought I’d be able to spot a Vredstein Fortezza from a 100yrds! Amazingly, amongst the throng I spotted the unwitting ‘switcher’.

roubaix start

Phew…. tyres sorted. We were off… the local mayor shot his pistol in the air and, setting a precedent for the rest of the 170km myself and Kate set off with ‘bravo les filles’ and ‘chapeau mademoiselle’ ringing in our ears. No doubt the reason for such attention and applause was because we were only a handful of women doing the long course.

A chilly start, I was grateful to be wearing my Café Du Cycliste Lou Lou cycling knee & arm warmers and chic Madeleine gilet. It started pacy on the tarmac, then the first segment of pave hit. All segments receive a star ranking and though this one was only a 3 (5 being the hardest 2 the easiest). It was a cruel awakening as it was slightly downhill and there was a tricky bend.

Bottles flew, as did the fellas on mountain bikes! I very nearly came off but soon got my nerve and balance and got the hang of it (I think)!

After the first cobbled segment a few basic rules were quickly established: –

• Go down the crown of the cobble
• When possible take the rough tracks on the sides (unless you’re a purist but not even the pros do this!)
• Don’t brake unless you have to
• Ride in the biggest gear you can
• Don’t grab the handlebars (hard to do when you feel you’re about to go over the top)
• Get your head down and just nail it!

Interestingly, the pair of us found we were more than able to keep up with the groups of men on the road and enjoyed riding as a group, chain ganging and taking turns to lead. Much encouragement was given by other groups (particularly the club riders) who were more than happy for us two ladies to hop on their wheels.

However, as soon as we hit the pave sections we were overtaken by scores of powerful men tanking it across the pave. Soon it became a game of cat and mouse with the MTB crew as we overtook them again on the tarmac, then they hurtled past us again on the pave.

Feed Stations and Organisation

Extremely well marked and marshaled, traffic was stopped at junctions and all sections were well flagged with no danger of getting lost on the route.

Surprisingly, the food at the stations (of which there were three) was pretty average. Expecting at least the odd French savoury, a hopeful croque monsieur perhaps?… we were a bit disappointed with the honey-theme, leaving us craving for savoury by the end of our ordeal. The only positives were the fresh oranges and, desperate for salt, the Ritz biscuits!


The only other negative about what was an impeccably well-organized event were the dearth of toilets! While the men could utilize the outdoor urinals (well at least if they weren’t shy!) the women had to queue for the single toilet (which was being well used by needy men… say-no-more!)

Probably the most famous set of cobbles in the world…. Trouée d’Arenberg


A category five segment these fellas are fierce! 2.25km of bone shaking, back-breaking pain may not sound particularly long (longest are 3km) but boy did it feel it! Beautiful, tree lined, historic (from Napoleonic era) familiar to most cycling lovers and indeed to those who have visited these historic part of Northern France, these are some of the most famous sets in the world… but unfortunately no time to enjoy.

Did manage to grab quick photo shoot at the end! Feeling really good and optimistic with loads of encouragement from other riders and spectators, we felt we could successfully tackle the pave and nail this ride… easy!


Endless cobble segments followed…

As the day progressed the sun shone and the dust flew! The course must be hellish on a wet day but even on a beautiful day the weather threw up its own challenges as sections become dust filled and tyres struggled to grip effectively.

Cobble section after cobble section in short succession soon battered any complacency out of us. I foolishly removed my gloves at one point. Victor had snaffled a pair of Castelli… and suffered not a jot… I thought I would stick with tried and tested old faves…and this was the result!


Now it really was time to ‘mtfu’ and get my head down..

dusty cobbles

The last 70k was tough.

The final timed segment was probably the toughest of the day – the longest, the most technical with moss between cobbles, no edges to ride on and hard sharp rocks jutting out it was a case of head down. No banter at this point.

Time to harness anger and nail it. The last few hours are best forgotten!

The finish


liberty finish


Then finally onto the finish – a historic entry to the venerable Roubaix Velodrome where a lap of honour was a fantastic finish to an incredibly hard day out in the saddle!




A well-deserved beer was enjoyed in the bar with all of the legendary winners of this historic race gazing down!


There are other shorter routes but I’m made up that despite limited training and suggestions that neither I nor my bike would survive, we nailed it…


After eating the biggest steak ever and drinking copius amounts of Leffe and vin rouge they agreed never to do it again but to tackle Tour of Flanders route next year :-0

* Out of 3600 entrants only 166 women (52 in the long) participated in this event. Hope to see more next year as women are truly great at tough endurance events such as this (only have to look at MTB and indeed marathon, fell running scenes to see this is the case).

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7 Comments on Paris Roubaix Challenge – Liberty’s perspective

  1. Interesting. Chapeau ladies!

    Didier | April 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm () ()
  2. I did it as well, it was the hardest thing I have ever done but it was brilliant. The support from members of the public and other riders was great, I found the last 2 cobbles sections really tough and muttered to myself “never again” that lasted for all of about 2 hours, I will be back

    Mavis Evans | April 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm () ()
    • Absolutely. The last few segments were truly horrendous, especially the final timed one. Victor is still on the fence about doing it again but I’d love to have another crack!

      victorandliberty | April 19, 2014 at 6:57 pm () ()
  3. My daughter did it piloting tandem with her chap, and 5 other solo riders!

    Hilary todd | April 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm () ()
    • I saw her! Now that is what I can an achievement.

      victorandliberty | April 22, 2014 at 1:29 pm () ()
  4. My daughter did it piloting tandem with her chap, and 5 other solo riders!

    Hilary todd | April 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm () ()
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