Done and Dusted



Quite literally.

Be either really excited or completely confused, faithful readers, because this is one of those once annual iamtedking race reports.

Easter Sunday 2012 marked my second Paris-Roubaix. The first time around one year prior I was coming back from a mind-bending few weeks of knee tendonitis. Steeped in heavy frustration, Roubaix was my fifth race in 2011 after a month off the bike followed by a few weeks of very easy spinning. Take it from me that there’s nothing quite like jumping into the biggest Classics of the year, where everyone around you is chomping at the bit like a pack of two-hundred rabid wolves, and you’re the sheepish rookie popping up in the middle, unbeknownst just how gnarly these races are. Ready… aaaaand go!

So fast forward to yesterday – every chocolatier’s favorite spring holiday – and I’m in an entire different league. The fitness is there, the focus is there, and my hands are getting that calloused, “Belgian chap” from riding three weeks of cobbles. That said, I’m still hesitant to call my spring campaign experienced having now completed just one full spring of northern cobbled Classics, but the learning curve is steep, and slowly but surely it’s coming.

Also worth noting, we don’t do what many other teams do: recon. We don’t stay the weeks between races and scope the courses. We don’t blast through pave to test different tire pressures, which lines to try, where to tape your fingers to prevent the blisters. It’s six in one and a half-dozen in the other, because while half the peloton is stuck in the same dank hotel in overcast Belgium, I’m home reaping sun and glassy smooth pavement while at home in Tuscany. But remember that aforementioned learned curve? Turns out you gotta study in order to ace the test. Sooo maybe it’s more like eight in one and half-dozen in the other.

First section of pave? Flat tire. Crud. We’re now 100km and a hair over two hours into Paris-Roubaix. Heads up fellas, the boys are now coming out to play. Riding cobbles with a front flat is a similar sensation to hydroplaning your car over those WAKE UP rumble-strips on the side of a highway. With your eyes closed. While getting punched in the junk.

Anyway, fresh new wheel installed, I speedily jumped back in the caravan around car number 25 out of 25 and proceeded the slow and steady chase. While catching up to the peloton is obviously a priority, blowing my wad sits low on my to-do list at this point in the day. 160km to go, which of course is a proper race unto itself, my stunning experienced showed in this slow and steady return to the pack of wolves.

Zoom zoom zoom, I make my welcome return to the peloton complete with fanfare, cars celebrating by bottoming out aggressively, and having ingested ample dust kicked up from the cars to kill a lesser man. Around this time, one of the most memorable and horrific anecdotes of the race occurred. Out of the corner of my eye on a cobbled descent (yeaaup, there’s ample up and down in P-Rx), I caught sight of a rider hit a bump awkwardly, have his rear wheel pop up as he slowly rotated forward while his front wheel still rotated normally along the pavement – his bike is just at a 45 degree angle with rear wheel half-way to vertical. Maybe two seconds after lift off and with very few options left, he hit the eject button causing him to Superman off his bike from a full six feet in the air… at 40kph… onto cobbles. That’ll scare you straight: Focus Ted, focus, focus, focus, dammit!

More crashes ensued. Heck, this is Paris-Roubaix after all. Wind, gutters, cobbles, flats, mechanicals, and at this point we’re no longer 195 dudes who started back in Compiegne, we’re maybe 80 guys chugging along in the front group. Remember when I talked about recon? Meticulously learning the ins and outs of the race? Something to the effect of, “When you enter the town of So-and-So, you will go through one roundabout and then about 250 meters later you will see two white houses with brown trim on the right. Be absolutely sure to be in the top twenty spots in the peloton there or your Arenberg will be hell.”…? Yeah, it’s around this point that those lessons turn out to be crucial.

As a related aside, this reminds me of something our very seasoned Italian bus driver said to me when he picked me up at the airport for Paris-Roubaix less than 48 hours before the start of the race. To win in the north, you must live in the north. Sage words Luigino. You all can all stew on that for a while.

Anyway, when you’ve never even heard of the town of So-and-So, let alone know that there’s a roundabout, least of all have any idea where these white houses with brown trim are, you’re at the mercy of whoever is driving the peloton at this ferocious pace. Politely asking for them to slow down a touch so that you can prepare yourself for Arenberg just doesn’t work. ‘scuse me fellas, but I’ve never actually ridden Arenberg before. Never even seen it either, in fact.  Mind if we stop at this bar ahead, I’ll pay for a round of coffee, and then slowly group ride it all together?

Apparently they didn’t hear me.

So zooming through So-and-So, zipping through the roundabout, I was soon presented with a dilemma: go left and crash, go right and crash, or proceed straight and do not crash but stop entirely. To the delight of both my skin and bones, but to the chagrin of my speed and momentum I opted for straight. Thankfully a mighty sprint caught me back up to the peloton just as I caught sight of a whole bunch of trees, an enormous throng of people, and a banner that read, “Sector 16 – Arenberg”. Cripes, if only I’d known.

The anxiety is palpable as we hit Arenberg forest. It’s what I call the square peg, round hole syndrome. Even with what’s left of the decimated peloton, everyone wants to be at the front of the race. Simple physics on small, French farm roads prevent this from being a possibility. But darn it, you may as well try.

My aforementioned stop-start at this very inopportune time resulted in a crazy first ever trip through Arenberg. The crowds are deafening, the pace is maddening, and the cobbles are about fifty times more absurd than you could ever imagine. In retrospect, the word that strikes me as most fitting is unnatural. These roads are made for four wheel drive farming equipment – not for bicycles. Again, square peg, round hole.

Exiting Arenberg, the racers riding in ones and twos around me naturally melded together to form a groupetto. Still amid a caravan of cars and with the peloton still in sight, we optimistically chased. And chased. And chased. And twenty kilometers later, with now only a helicopter hovering in the distance and dust swirling somewhere up the road to show where the peloton was consistently riding away from us, we settled into the silent rhythm of a groupetto just riding to the finish. Our jobs complete at this point of the day. Protect a rider, offer assistance with mechanicals, maybe have ridden and been shelled from the breakaway. From here, just finishing the race and a shower is our day’s main goal.

The remaining pave sections ticked down into the single digits. The crowds still cheered with (nearly) the enthusiasm as the lead group. Bells ringing, shouts and whistling with the vigor of… err of proper, well-lubricated European cycling fans.

Then among one of the few pave sections left to pass, a cobble deflated both my tire and me. Psssshhhhht. I rode the rim for a while as I waved goodbye to my groupetto. Hoping a support car or team vehicle would come along and offer their services, it was not to be. A few kilometers later and still no support in sight, the only car that came along was a family of three generations of Belgian fans who were here for the race. Fine tuning the radio to catch news of their native hero Boonen riding to victory, grandpop, father, and son meticulously studied maps and GPS to get us precisely to the velodrome. Warmed up by a thermos of coffee brewed that morning but still piping hot, they were just the friends I needed to sooth the soul. And give me a lift home.

Paris-Roubaix. Simply awesome. Enough said.



Comments

  1. Kevin Irvine

    Chapeau, Ted! Saw you go by a couple times and it made the trip extra special. You rock (and cobble, too)!

    Reply
  2. plum

    Ted I often consider the inner dialog of juiced-up primadonna pros when I read your stuff. Their perspective. Mostly I picture thought bubbles of rambling stupidity.

    You write well & I’m glad to have access your perspective. You and I have nothing in common from a performance on the bike perspective, but we do share the same human experiences on a bike, and that is always fascinating and reassuring to me; I realize this whole bike thing isn’t a waste of time after all. At all levels, we all suffer, we all seek the same relief.

    Reply
  3. james

    Thanks Ted. Even after a full morning of reading PR articles, yours is the best. Better luck next year!

    Reply
  4. Chad

    Great writing Ted! Now that I know about the round about and the white houses w/ brown trim you’ll know where I’ll be sitting watching the race. And I didn’t even need to recon!

    Reply
  5. ben yates

    great writing ted – really enjoyed it. By the way, so you on the french telly when you were at the front of the peloton at one point – the announcers mentioned you, “edward king”

    Reply
  6. Tina Micheal Ruse

    Ted, you give us Americans great in site to these races.You have a writing career waiting after you hang up your wheels.Thanks so much, and oh, better tell that boy teammate Sagan if he wants to be a Classics stud someday get his ass north on a team that cares.

    Reply
  7. Cindy

    Love your blogs! Very visual. Thanks for making me feel inspired yet again. :)

    Reply
  8. FAT2CAT

    Fantastic read…and I should know, as I’m a longtime former editor.

    I’m surprised, though, that you were unable to find a wheel in order to finish. Is “liqui” Italian for “lame?”

    ;)

    Reply
  9. Marco A

    So Boonen does his best Spartacus and wins his 4th Hell of the North. No small feat indeed, read all about it on other sites but I gotta say I enjoy and look forward to reading all about your antics, tactics, realizations and perspective w/in the peloton even more. California dreamin’ awaits, see ya at the top of Glendora Mountain Rd. Yo soy Teo Rey :)

    Reply
  10. Izak

    Thanks for the taking the time to write this! I cant even imagine the beating those road are capable of producing. Take care Ted & better luck next year!

    Reply
  11. Dirk-Jan

    Great effort Ted – saw your tweet about attacking the middle of the peloton to make tv coverage. As I don’t tweet I didn’t reply but rest assured – Sporza (Belgian TV, also followed by a lot of Dutch cycling fans because of the more knowledgeable commentators) noticed you and your name got mentioned, I think three times. The last time was when you were hanging of the back of a group – maybe just before the Arenberg forest – and your name was used in vain to comment on your position in the race at that moment. But your strategy worked! Bummer you couldn’t get a new wheel to finish on the velodrome…
    Have a good rest and a great continuation of the season!!

    Reply
  12. Mark

    Need some more suited rubber. Rumors Fabian would use some unlabeled hand sewn conti’s 28 width.

    Reply
  13. yenrod

    Is that all y’did – 130mls – I done 300kms before breakfast even prior to having my tea & corn flakes ! ;)

    Reply
  14. Pat

    Well played sir. Kinda mind numbing, not being able to finish. It probably sucked to write this down, but its good for the soul. Thanks

    Reply
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  16. Steve Fortier

    Great stories, as always. Thanks for bringing us into your experiences.

    Reply
  17. Eli

    Yeah, I think we all saw you on Sporza, sic Michel Wuyts :”Ted King, hurting in the back.. Ted King, King no more…”
    It’s all in the learning, but you don’t need to live in the north to win in the north, you just need to go race in the north… a lot. You’re built for cobbles, now make yourself believe it too. Great to see you in the biggest races in the world, hope you get a free role in some of the second tier races this season. All the luck and succes to you in the upcoming races and Tours.

    Reply
  18. Steve M

    Great race report, Ted. Grateful you took the time and devoted the energy right after such a huge, exhausting event. I must have watched the wrong channel because my coverage (versus) had two hours of Tommeke and practically nothing else! Really appreciate the insights and glad the folks in the car took care of you. Cheers and continued success! Steve

    Reply
  19. Colin Kennedy

    Ted, you’re the king of the wrap to the great event! Wished to hell the damn Universal TV coverage would have included the first part of the event so I could have caught you in the peloton. I hope La Squadra appreciated your work. Hopefully next year you’ll get to recon.

    Reply
    • TDog

      Subscribe to Cycling.TV on the web. Over three hours of commercial free P-R coverage and great commentators (one was Alex Dowsett of Team Sky who brought great insight particularly as his mates were on the sharp end of affairs). Best outlet for Spring races. Universal is a last resort. Rather watch some bootleg stream in Flemish.

      Reply
  20. Julie (@momcycfan)

    The first paragraph when you describe riding on the cobbles was fabulous. I throughly enjoyed reading your recap of Roubaix. It gave me a sense of what its like. I get that you can’t imagine what its like.

    Reply
  21. Kyle

    “…With your eyes closed. While getting punched in the junk.” Perfectly describes the indescribable absurdity of it all. Thank you for writing about the race. Best to you for the rest of your 2012 season and beyond! I’m one of the many who will implore you to go fast on the smooth roads of Cali…

    Reply
  22. Karen

    Your sincere description of your race makes my own experience in being there that day in the Arenberg Forest so much more complete. In a few paragraphs you managed to sum up what it was like from both your side and from the side of being a fan. To see the rider’s shaking consternation over the cobbles in person and then to hear your experience of being out on the road alone and driven back to the Velodrome in a car holding 3 generations of Belgian cycling fans and a GPS system – about says it all. Thanks Ted! I can’t wait to see you race again.

    Reply
  23. Tony Johnson

    Great read again, Ted. Love your work/art/literature, however you view it. Thanks for sharing on Strava, too.

    Reply
  24. TDog

    Attacking the middle of the peloton. I laughed out loud. Two parts heart, one part folly.

    Spotted you on the broadcast. I cheered. A Yankee riding for the Italians over Flemish rocks. It all fits. Next time I’m barreling over the CCC roads in Plymouth, VT on my cross bike I will channel the King of the Cobbles.

    Reply
  25. Joao Correia

    Great piece of writing and riding my man. Thanks for coming out last night and hanging with us at Castello di AMA

    Reply
  26. Brad Sauber

    Great seeing you last night Ted, good to have Italian pasta at it’s best. Thanks for joining us, everyone enjoyed your company! ciao…

    Reply
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