What it Feels Like to Have Cycled through the Hell of the North

by Chikashi

The Paris Roubaix sportive was the most physically demanding ride that I have done.

Luck has much to do with the final outcome, as one sees every year in the professional race. You can be fully trained up and psychologically prepared. You or your mechanic can prepare the bike to the best of your abilities, using an intelligent selection of components. And yet, things can go wrong despite everything. It is like the road cycling version of Dakar Rally. If your bike does not fail, you are lucky. If you do not crash, you are lucky. I am told that this year a member of the London Dynamo Cycling Club crashed on the Arenberg path and got hospitalised to have his knee put back together. I was lucky.

Blister Paris Roubaix 2013

Even though I was lucky, I found out that I did not end up with an exhaustion that is typical of other demanding rides. The blister shown above developed and then popped on the umpteenth cobbled sector. The funny thing about the blister is that it is the only visible consequence suffered by my body, but it is also the least of it.

The physical sensation I experienced after the ride can be compared to a blend of two previous experiences. One is from a particularly demanding day of training when I was a practising martial artist decades ago. The other is, during my youthful teenage years, when I had a little disagreement with someone that turned out to be much quicker than me, and I ended up sliding down a flight of stairs on my back after receiving a few admittedly beautifully delivered punches and kicks in the solar plexus and kidneys. These two types of aches and pains tend not to come about simultaneously in equal measures; you normally get more of one than the other, or one but not the other. Paris Roubaix delivered both to me in equal measures. For 2 nights following the ride, I had some difficulties finding a comfortable sleeping position so I kept waking up throughout the night.

‘Beaten up’ would be a succinct way to characterise what it feels like after the Hell of the North, but it’s a bit like describing a praliné from Hanselmann as ‘sweet’. It’s slightly more nuanced than that.

I am sure that those who are highly skilled, experienced and very fit have it easier than me, but if you are contemplating riding all the Paris Roubaix cobbled sectors in one go, then it is quite possible that after the ride you will feel as though several people used you as a punching bag whilst you were doing a long session of resistance training. But don’t let that hold you back. Rolling through the cobbled sectors at speed (before fatigue sets in, that is) feels like defying nature. Arriving at the Roubaix Velodrome and doing a lap after a long day on the cobbles is incomparable.