Pave. Le Enfer du Nord (the Hell of the North). Paris-Roubaix. Last week I began a short description of one of the jewels of the pro-cycling calendar, the one-day classics of April. Sunday the Ronde de Vlaanderen unfolded, one account can be found here. This weekend an even more famous or infamous race is to be held, namely a race from Paris to Roubaix. Pave, or cobbles-stones are included, in 28 sections on the race course. These vary in length between from 200m to over over 3km. These aren’t the even neat brick-like cobblestones found in American cities and alleyway. Pave in this and the other Belgium and spring races is a feature of the European farm-country. These are irregular large rocks. One American racer, on encountering pave for the first time rode on it a bit and remarked, “This isn’t racing, this is stupid.” See the photo on wiki for an illustration. Another feature of the early spring is of course that the weather is uncertain. As the race goes through muddy and rural pave sections and pathways, if it has rained recently or is raining then just completing the race is a challenge.

Terrain affects bike racing in a number of ways. Flat races and/or headwinds keep the peloton together leading to a sprint finish. A strong tailwind can help a breakaway effort. The effect of the cobbles are twofold. Cobbles take power to negotiate. This favors the stronger riders who need phenomenal bike handling skills. Additionally, crashes and mechanicals are common as the pave takes its toll on men and equipment. The pave is often narrow as well and a crash can impede riders behind the crashes significantly. So, to do well those who hope to win must stay at the front. As the most significant poritions of which start with the Arenberg section, which leaves over 100km in the race that means the “contenders” and race leaders need to ride at the front for 60 miles or more. For the non-participants (that is the rest of us) that is a good thing. That means the dueling. The give and take and tactical battles for victory takes place for a long time.

Filed under: Mark O.Sports

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