Hell of the North
April 8, 2012 — My first professional Paris-Roubaix happened much like my first U23 Paris-Roubaix. I was out the back of the race exactly half way through. Bad things happened, but in a race like Paris-Roubaix, that happens more often than not.
Riding over the Paris-Roubaix course is the most unpleasant thing you can do on a bicycle. The 50+ kilometers are the bumpiest things you can ride a bike on. There are holes, gravel, dips and crevices. During the race, there are crashes on every sector. Water bottles bounce out of their cages and explode on the ground. Riders go backwards through the field trying to ride a flat. The peloton shrinks every sector. It’s a beautiful race, and everything that makes it terrifying is what every good Roubaix rider lives for.
The race is not won by positioning well, but it is always lost by positioning poorly. Nothing good happens out of the top 20; everybody knows that. There were 27 sectors – or 27 decisive moments where a lapse of focus could end your race. In my opinion, just about anything bad that happens to you while you’re at the back is your fault.
I’ve had great and horrible experiences at this race. With Roubaix, it is either one or the other. This year I was flawless the first 45k. I was following the accelerations in an attempt to get in the breakaway. Then a bad thing happened. I hit a tall narrow traffic median and ran into and became attached to another rider. We somehow came to a stop without hitting the ground. My rear tire was off the rim and my rear derailleur bent sideways, yet I stood there unscathed (almost). If anything, it was a big mistake on my part but also some luck.
After the bike change, it was a long process of getting back to the field. Since the break hadn’t gone yet, the race was full gas. The caravan can be really easy to get through on a flat straight road, but when going through towns and up and down hills it is a nightmare. Saying it took a long time would be an understatement.
I was tired and frustrated when I got back to the field. We hadn’t hit the first sector yet, and I’d already been on the gas during the only easy part of the race. I got to the front of the race right before the first sector but couldn’t keep focused long enough to stay there. To do well at Paris-Roubaix, you can’t make any mistakes, and I already made a big one.
I survived a few more sectors before I got my rhythm back. Then my race ended completely with a flat tire early in a sector. There was nobody there from the team with wheels, and it took a long time for the team car to get to me. I was at least two minutes behind the field when I got the new wheel; my race was over.
Once I got in the team car at the second feed zone 175k in, I noticed a decent sized wound on the inside of my left knee. I was confused. It looked far different than the mark the stem bolts on the steer tube would give you. When I got home that night, my roommate Alex knew exactly what it was from – the front tire.
I wish I could have been there at the end to see the decisive moments like when I was at Flanders. It’s never fun to arrive at the finish in a car. In the past six weeks of racing solely in Belgium without any major crashes, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in regard to pack riding and positioning, perhaps too much.