Andrea Hofling prepares for the Paris-Roubaix - Road Cycling UK

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Andrea Hofling prepares for the Paris-Roubaix

Andrea riding the rough stuff

The Paris-Roubaix counts as one of the great classics (if not the greatest classic of all) and it has a mystique about it unlike any other cycle race. They call it the Hell of the North with good reason and Eddy Merckx (nick-named the cannibal) has won it an astonishing number of times in his day. Even the showers at the finish in the Roubaix velodrome are notprious as well as legendary for their spartan comfort levels.

What makes the Paris-Roubaix so ‘ard are the 45k or so of cobbled roads (which have been declared a national monument recently), the infamous pavé. Riding over them is technically very difficult, and even if you don’t fall off, you suffer terribly from the rather bumpy ride – all your muscles are continuously vibrating and on top of that suffering the impact of the odd uneven cobble sticking out. People who’ve done it describe the pain in their wrists and hands as excruciating for days after the event.

As the pavé sections are basically farm tracks, it can get incredibly dusty in dry weather, but the real hell is when it’s wet – the soil in the large gaps between the cobbles turns to slosh and the soft mud paths either side also become unridable. Most TV watching cycling aficionados have seen the weary mud covered figures at the end of a wet Paris-Roubaix – more like Napoleon’s retreat from Russia than a cycle race.

When somebody said to me a few month’s ago, hey d’ you fancy doing the Paris-Roubaix this year? – Why, of course I said yes without hesitation!

Now the dreaded event is rapidly approaching, and in the cold light of day I do feel like someone who has rather rashly sold her soul to the devil. I am a relatively fit cyclist – when I’m fit, after a training camp or having raced at Beastway for the season. However as things stand at the moment I’ve been doing neither, at least not yet (it’s May 9th, the Paris-Roubaix is June 11th!). My more or less regular winter rides of 50 odd Km seem puny compared to the Paris-Roubaix’s 260 ,190 or 120 kilometres with 45k and 28k of pavé respectively.

A close up of the infamous pavé

Also I’m of a very slight build, so my only real strength is climbing short steep hills. I suffer terribly on the flat, especially with a head wind or up long uphill drags. To paraphrase what Eddy Merkx said about Tom Boonen in Cycle Sport Magazine: he has the ideal morphology for riding the cobbles – being the same height as Axel (Merckx), but with a large chest, short legs and a very low centre of gravity, giving him a high level of stability on the cobbled sections.

I’m the exact opposite of this description in every respect: I’m a long-spindly-legs-short- upper-body-seven-stone weakling. As I’m reviewing my prospects, it is gradually dawning on me that I’m about as fit and as well prepared for this feat of endurance and sheer strength as Jade Goody was for the London Marathon!

Anyone out there got any advice what I should do in my predicament? I’d appreciate it very much if you would drop me a line in the SheCycles forum! I have already paid for the trip, so simply not going is not really an option!


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