Paris Roubaix Weekend

Published: April 12th 2017
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After a bit of Lunch I set back off to Aldi’s to pick up a few more supplies, followed by a bit of a walk around the woods. By the time I returned, the site was full, and a couple of Brits had arrived. The first were Francis and Kim, who were first timers to the Paris Roubaix but had followed the TDF for years in their motorhome. The others were Miles and his wife, he was trying his hardest not to turn his week here into a cycling holiday, as his wife was not as passionate about cycling, but was warming to the idea of motor homing. The next day I woke fairly early with the intention of riding to Roubaix to check out the velodrome, the finale of the race. But with no way of knowing how to get there I had to cable tie the Tom tom to the handle bars, and prey it didn’t bounce off at the next pothole. When I open the door, the site was covered in thick fog, so I put all the lights on the bike and dug out my thicker hi vis cycle jacket, only to take it off again, half way there, as by this time, the sun had risen, turning the day into the hottest of the year so far.

Now unfortunately Tom tom believes the Roubaix football stadium is a velodrome, so me not realising this, set it as the destination. I crossed the border into Belgium, even though the race wouldn’t be going through it. It also sent me through the city of Tournai, which has cycle lanes in places, just not where I needed them, and though it felt very awkward riding in dual carriageway roads with the main traffic, under Tom tom instruction, the cars were all very considerate and never pressured me to cycle else where. Eventually though a cycle lane appeared to go off to the side in the right direction, so I ignored the sat nav and took that. Though I’m knocking the tom tom, it did send me down some of the nicest roads I’ve ridden, and even showed me a cobble section in Belgium which was fun to ride. Once at the Stadium, and realising this was wrong, I searched again and found the correct listing for the velodrome, which was 8km away, back in France.

Luckily Roubaix has a huge number of cycle lanes, so it worked out to be a nice quiet ride to the Velodrome, even riding along side a canal. Unfortunately the actual velodrome was closed, but the sportive was on, so I used their secure bike parking and baggage holding, then went for a walk around. I found the temporary velodrome in the nearby Rugby club, where the race would finish on Sunday, and the sportive was ending today. After a bite to eat, I headed back, this time on a more direct route back to camp, that didn’t cross borders or send me through cities, but it did have a hell of a lot of cycle path. The sportive wasn’t giving away free drink refills like the British ones do, so I was out of drinks for the first part, till I found the next shop on route. This happened to be a Lidls, and seem to start a trend, mainly because it was so hot that day, I ended up stopping at every Lidls on route for drinks, or they just happened to be in the right place when the bottles were empty, plus their air-con was a nice break from the heat.

Once back, just about everyone want to know the ins and outs of my ride, with gasps when I told them the distance, which made me smile. Though I was really starting to feel the fatigue of the days heat, so it was just nice to wash and eat. After this I headed down to see Francis, who sat me down before it was time for his tea, and began educating me on how to find all the free parking spots here and the UK. Then while they ate I wondered off to see what had been set up ready for the big race. One thing that also made me smile was the interest my little van created. I thought that being small would make it a bit more inconspicuous, but no, being so tiny made just about everyone in the site, and the town, stop and double take, or start asking me questions about it. This was even the case for a Belgian TV program, who stopped to pose next to the van, and pretend that it had a 2 stroke engine (according to the Belgian couple who showed me the clip and translated).

Sunday was Race Day! Which I started off in a very lethargic manner. Whether this was because of the heat of yesterday, or I was just in a lazy mood I’m not sure, but I didn’t surface till mid day. Which didn’t overly matter as the race didn’t really start till then, and wouldn’t reach Arenberg for a good couple of hours. When I did finally head out, I got a shock as the place was now packed! Two coach loads of drunken fans had arrived, carrying cases of beer each, along with the whole town, and many more from elsewhere. This made watching the race on the big screen a bit of a mare, as it was already hot and getting hotter, and with massive crowds, I opted to wonder off down the cobbles to find a good place to stand. But rather than standing around there for hours, I headed back to the van and ate some lunch till nearer the time the race would get to here. which worked out well, as with all these cycle races, the competitors fly through, even when being bounced around on cobbles.

So after the majority of riders had passed, everyone started to leave, thinking that it was over. This meant that the police no longer tried to contain the spectators on the path, and allowed everyone to walk on the cobbles to get back. They then got caught out by the stragglers who then had to fight their way through the crowds that where now all over the place. Even the police had got caught out as they would blow their whistles to clear a path, then once the riders had gone they ignored everyone again, only to then find a another bunch of cyclists appear. When the final vehicles had driven through, I headed back to the big screen, but by now there was no where to stand, so I headed back to the van to see if i could find the race online. This was a good plan, as five minutes after I left, the big screen went pop, nearly causing a riot.

Most the motorhomes headed off after the race, but I stayed till the next day just so there was no pressure to get back. And so after another leisurely morning I got up and prep’d to go. As Bob had done so well driving down, bar the odd hill climb, I decided to try a bit of motorway. Well I did when the sat nav had finally woken up and told me I was driving the wrong way. This started off ok till I got closer to Lille, and then the head winds started, so Bob got smacked all over the place and speed became ridiculously slow, so I got off and avoided motorways again. Now whether getting a silly O’clock ferry had taken its toll on me more than I realised, or the route I was now on was just a better one, I don’t know, but the trip back to Calais was a breeze. So much so I was at the port six hours too early. Then to top it off, the customs checks and queues were also a breeze, so much so, that when the service lady told me to cough up another £45 or go back out and wait till 7pm, I handed over my credit card.

Now boys and girls, what did I learn. Well I managed to forget my camping chair, forgot a towel, didn’t take enough water (luckily they brought a container out for the site the next day), had more alcohol in my fridge than food, so had to have an omelette Sunday, had managed to pack 3 T-shirts that were way too small for me, and very nearly ran out of boxers. The £5 Aldi folding bucket for waste water worked brilliantly, but the £5 folding step, Also from Aldi’s, was dead by the end of my stay. Also when you fit an anchor point to the van to chain the bike to over night, make sure the lock will actually fit to said anchor point! I think there were many other things that I swore about not having too, but the biggest worry I had had before leaving, was whether the 30 year old motorhome, that hadn’t been tested on a run this long, was going to make it there and back, and happily the answer is yes. So all the pre-mechanics I had done to Bob, had all been worth it in the end. Got to say the best investment has been the solar panel, as this kept the batteries, and all the electronics charged. I did also say to myself I need to minimise the stuff I had taken, but the problem is that I used everything I took, and to be honest its more about working out a way of storing things, but still being able to access them easily. As the storage under the seats is plenty, but you have to dismantle the seat cushions in order to get to them.

All in all the trip was a blast, and once I’ve finished fixing the land rover, and my washing is all dry, I’ll start my UK leg of the trip.

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