Sorry its been a while since I last let you know what I was up too. Things have been pretty hectic! I just completed my first Paris – Roubaix and I’m dying to tell you all about it.
First of all there was the small matter of Scheldeprijs last week. Cav was there so the plan was simple. Let a small break go (which we did), control the race (which we did), bring it back for a bunch sprint (which we did), Lead out Cav (which we did) and win the race (which we did) ! Sounds pretty easy, but it’s not. Simple maybe but not easy. Every rider has his job, some ride early on and make sure the gap doesn’t get too big, some lift the pace and chip away at the deficit in the latter stages of the race, some get Cav into a perfect position so he can unleash his sprint and of course Cav finishes it all off!
So Scheldeprijs done and we were off to our next race. I was given an early birthday present when I was selected for Paris-Roubaix. Excited would be an understatement. I’ve dreamed about this race since I first started riding a bike. The sheer craziness of the race and the look of utter exhaustion on the riders’ faces after the finish and the iconic images of so many broken men in the famous shower blocks of Roubaix is just what cycling is all about for me and I was going to be a part of it!
So we headed south and did a short reconnaissance of the final sectors of pavé a couple of days before the race. I was so excited I didn’t really take much in, I forgot how hard it actually was and just went battering over every section like a 5-year-old. So I finished the day pretty sore and ready for some rest and recuperation.
After a nice relaxing few days in a beautiful hotel north of Paris, race day was counting down. After the build up with all the the excitement, I suddenly started to feel nervous – very nervous. We had our race meeting the night before and it was all starting to get serious. The plan was set and we all had our jobs. I had to protect Cav, Bernie Eisel and Matt Goss in the early kilometres of the race, keep them out of trouble out of the wind and position them well for the first cobbled sections.
The race got underway and it was immediately fast and furious. Full-gas attacking, crashes, echelons and all of the usual carnage continued for about 90kms. It didn’t look like a break would go at all. We hit the first few cobbled sections and immediately we had a few problems, Cav had to change bikes, Gossy punctured and Bernie punctured. We managed to keep our cool and come back each time with minimal effort and get in position for the next section of pavé. The first set of cobbles came after roughly 90kms so this is where the fun begins. Each cobbled section marks a step closer to the Arenberg Forest, which is where the real fun begins. If you’re not in front here, you can forget it. So, as you can imagine, and as you can see on TV, it gets pretty chaotic here. Some people liken it to a bunch sprint, but I disagree. In a bunch sprint you have the lead out men and the sprinters fighting for position, here you have the whole peloton desperately fighting for there lives to be in a good position for the entry to the trench of Arenberg!
In the Zone
Those few k’s before were some of the craziest of my life but for some reason I wasn’t scared. I was totally in the “Zone”. I wanted more than anything else to go into that forest fighting and come out the other side alive and still in contention. So we hit the first cobbles at 65kph, I was in a good position, about 20 back. First job done I thought, all I had to do now was stay in a good rhythm and stay strong. Before I knew it BANG! The guy in front of my lost control and went down right in my path, I had nowhere to go, I locked both brakes but couldn’t manage to avoid him and hit him full gas. I didn’t hurt myself so bad but my bike wasn’t in such good nick. My chain was off and my front wheel was dead. I tried to ride on it but 10 metres later I realised it wasn’t going to happen. A desperate plea into my radio for a wheel came back with “we’re on the way” so I waited…..and I waited….. and I waited…. until the cars eventually got through and got me up and running again. All of sudden another plea for help came over the radio from Gossy, he had snapped his chain just a few hundred meters further on. So the car took off and headed to rescue the next stranded soldier!
So there I was full gas through the forest fighting for my life to get back to the group ahead when chaos broke loose in front of me. Boonen had punctured and the whole world seemed to be there. The road was completely blocked, cars, motorbikes and people stood in the way. So my momentum was gone and I had to again fight through the crowd and get myself going again. I eventually came out of the forest and set off in pursuit of the group once again. 30 seconds later the radio came on “Matt, wait for Gossy”…. So I waited, I gave my all to get us back on but we were fighting a loosing battle. We fought with the forest and the forest won!
“Get to the showers”
It wasn’t all over though, I wanted to get to the velodrome, and I wasn’t going to give up. I was lucky to be with the mighty Gatis Smukulis, my team mate and good friend. He had the same idea as me; “let’s get to the showers” he said. He was referring to the shower blocks of Roubaix. We fought on, the sections of pavé counted down, battering us more and more as they went on. Somewhere along the way we caught up with another good friend of mine, the British champion Geraint Thomas. We were both so dead we didn’t utter a word. We got to the final section and I was in pieces, I wanted to stop and get in the car but I couldn’t, I had to get there.
Got there I did; after what was one of the hardest but most enjoyable and memorable days of my life, I had made it to Roubaix!
What a race!