To take part in the first edition of the Paris - Roubaix sportive event was definitely one for the experienced cyclist. Steeped in history, the race réal has defied belief by its voyeurs for over a hundred years and is considered the hardest race in the pro's calendar. Politely named the 'Queen of the classics', its organisers let mere mortals like us ride the course on the preceding day (we had to pay, bien sûr).
We were very lucky to have dry, sunny weather on the day as things would have been very different in the wet. Us cyclo-tourists could do a 140km section of the 260km course, taking in 28 pavé secteurs, including some of the most difficult like Carrefour de l'Arbre on which, incedently, we finished our ride... The pros don't call it L'Enfer du Nord (The Hell of the North) for nothing.
The approach to the first section of the day was filled with trepidation, my riding partner Riggy hadn't done any cobbles before and there was nothing I could say that could possibly lessen the impact that was about to hit him. To say he was a little surprised would be an understatement; even I had forgotten how bumpy they were, despite having done the summer Roubaix five times previously.
We soldiered on moving from group to group - sometimes 200 strong - and as the day went on we shared the road with just ones and twos.
Riggy and I finished the course in just over 4 hours, then made our way up to Roubaix vélodrome for a welcomed wash at the famous Roubaix showers, where each cubicle is named after a winner - I chose Sean Kelly's.
It's always a very levelling moment when you watch the pros the next day tearing along at breakneck speed across the pavé, going as fast at the end of 260kms as they were at the beginning, it’s just so impressive. All it did was make me want to do it all over again next year!