The Hell of the North.
The event began in 1896 and paused for the World Wars. After WWI, journalists and organisers visited the route in 1919 to see how much of the route had survived four years of shelling and trench warfare. They reported in L’Auto, the newspaper that launched many of today’s biggest races, including the Tour de France:
"We enter into the centre of the battlefield. There's not a tree, everything is flattened! Not a square metre that has not been hurled upside down. There's one shell hole after another. The only things that stand out in this churned earth are the crosses with their ribbons in blue, white and red. It is hell!"
There are many stories about how it became known as The Hell of the North, but the link to this newspaper exert seems most likely. Today’s event is perhaps the most prestigious of the one-day races on the calendar. It takes a very special type of rider to race it; not just survive it!
What still creates such a horrendous course for a bike race are the 27 cobbled sections, which total 55km. And these are not the neatly laid cobbles of a pedestrianised town centre. Some of the cobbles date back to Napoleonic times and on a day-to-day basis are only used by farm traffic.
I first saw Paris-Roubaix in the 1980s when the hero of Irish cycling, Sean Kelly, was throwing himself and his bike over the cobbles. He won twice, 1984 and 1986, but I was very young then, having been born in 1979, and was only learning to throw my leg over a bike at that stage. But King Kelly was still riding in the 90s when I started racing and his aggressive style as one of the ‘hard-men of the road’ inspired a generation.
Since retiring from elite triathlon several months ago, I enjoyed a few months just riding with friends, running over trails, and sea swimming in the summer. But by autumn, without a target event to work towards, my motivation to get into my training gear was waning. After all, what was I training for?
But while watching YouTube videos of past editions of Paris-Roubaix during sessions on the turbo, I began thinking that it was about time I rode the cobbles! The pro event is on Sunday 8th April 2018, but on the 7th there are three ‘sportive’ distances to choose from. Naturally, liking a challenge, I went for the longest; a 172km ride with the full helping of cobbles. But I like a challenge that verges on the ridiculous. One that seems out of reach and, to be frank, scares me a little. I need the fear of thinking, “maybe I won’t be able to do it!” Without that fear of failure, I can’t get motivated enough to really put my heart into the training.
So, to add to the 172km and 55km of cobble challenge, I’ll be riding it on a steel single speed bike.
My work as a healthcare consultant means I frequently work in different areas; often far from home. I’m currently working in Oxford, so a normal day means getting up at 5:30am, driving 70-miles, and then getting into the gym for about 7:15am. This allows me to get a quality session done first thing, so even if I miss the evening session (not uncommon to be stuck on a motorway for several hours!), I know I’ve got my key session in the bag. Weekly training hours are about 8-10, which after a long time putting in close to double that while racing elite tri, this sometimes feels like I’m slacking!
An example week looks like this (this was from week ending 17-Dec.):
- (am) Bike, 77-min on the turbo with 5x 1-min and 5x 45sec intervals, max. effort, all with equal rest intervals.
- (am) Gym, 35-min high intensity weights session.
- (am) WattBike, 35-min with 20-min at 95% FTP. (pm) WattBike, 55-min with 5x 90sec @ 120% FTP, 5x 30sec @ max effort, all with 90-sec rest intervals.
- (am) Run, 40-min with 6x 2-min @ 16kph/6min.mile, all with 1-min rest interval
- (am) Gym, 35-min high intensity weights session.
- (am) Bike, 75-min on the turbo with 60-min tempo riding.
- (am) Bike ride with the club. Freezing cold! No-one in the mood for a long one, so we did a 60km hilly loop around the Hertfordshire lanes.
I’m just keeping my running ticking over and on the bike, because of a combination of being time poor and the snow/ice, I’ve been doing a lot of shorter, more high intensity indoor sessions.
Over the next few weeks I'll update on training and progress as I head towards the event on 7th April next year. Training through the British winter is always a challenge, so it's good to have a big goal to keep me focused.
About the author:
Garrett Turbett qualified as a personal trainer in the 90s with the YMCA and later furthered his education with the ACSM and a Masters degree in Sports and Exercise Science from London South Bank University. After several years working in the Health & Fitness industry, he entered the NHS and has worked in a number of senior commissioning and public health roles. He was recently awarded a healthcare scholarship to study for an Executive MBA with Warwick Business School. He continues to work in the healthcare industry as a private consultant. When not working or riding his bike, he is teaching his 4-year old daughter to ride her bike; getting stuff thrown at him by his 10-month old son; running with his two huskies; or enjoying some of his wife's baking.