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Hell Part Three
Returning for its third (and thus far dampest) outing, Rapha’s Hell of the North saw a throng of riders convene at the Highgate village sign-on.
A tribute ride to Paris-Roubaix, the challenging 80km route combines roads, bridleways and farm tracks (oh, and some deep forest and ravine crossing for good measure). Rapha's version was, once again, held on the same day as the pro race, which this year saw Tom Boonen claim his fourth L‘Enfer Du Nord in emphatic style. Cementing his reputation as a genuine ‘légende belge’, Rapha's version of Paris-Roubaix offered a typically British slant on the race that sorts the hardmen from the boys.
No less than twenty sections of what has become affectionately termed “gravè” awaited the hardy riders, rewarded for their commitment to an early start by cruelly grey skies complete with a steady sideways drizzle for the first 60 minutes or so of the ride. Nary a foot was spotted overshoeless, and a healthy coating of mudded road-spray graced most participants backs as the first grave section approached.
I maintained a light grip on the handlebars, eternally thankful of their double wrapping and powering a slightly larger gear than usual. I recalled all the advice extolled by riders about ‘floating’ over the cobbles. Patrick Lefevere famously proclaimed Pozzato to have such finesse on the cobbles one could place a glass of water on the riders back and he would return with the glass completely full. Sadly I probably lacked a modicum of Pippo’s control as I blasted and slipped through the loose shingle, arms aching from controlling and urging the bike upright, my eyes darting around to locate the smoothest line to follow. Bike control became an essential skill, requiring every effort to keep the back wheel skidding out, made harder by the short punchy climbs with the tough stuff underneath.
In the 2010, despite the splendid beating rays of the warming sun promising a glorious day in hell, I had the misfortune to amass an impressive total of four punctures. My tyre choice fell victim to the gravè, forcing an abandon as we limped back to the Black Horse for some big screen race action. Lady luck wasn’t also elected to hurt my companion, his rear derailleur hanger managed to shear off cleanly, deep in the heart of a woodland descent.
With the 2012 version it appeared that truly third time was indeed a charm, with only one small flat between the pair of us for the entirety of the course. We counted our collective blessings, as for the first time in three attempts we rolled into the finish HQ without major incident. Sadly the same could not be said for Sylvain Chavanel over in France, unable to rejoin the select group after suffering a flat in the latter stages of the race over on the continent.
Then the muddied, stomping aspirant rouleurs descended en masse to the Black Horse Pub in Barnet. Traditionally wrapped hot frites and a Belgian beer, along with the accompanying big screen coverage of Paris-Roubaix made for the perfect post-ride tonic. Fatigued hands applauded and spectators cheered in earnest as the tornado sealed a flamboyant win by outgunning every rider in that race. The lycra may have been dampened on Sunday but spirits certainly were not.
- @brettrothmeyer nice cap drawing by the way!
- @Jack_Sadler @raphacondor We’re honoured to have you riding for us Jack.
- RT @dean0downing: I had 6 great seasons with the @raphacondor team, thanks to all at @rapharacing for the support through out. http://t.co/…
- @dean0downing @raphacondor Thank you Dean, it’s been an incredible journey.
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- The #oneoftheseplease wk 3 includes some outdoor products from the likes of @polerstuff - Kletterwerks - and Filson: http://t.co/SG3aSEcjxN
- 2014 will be the last year that Rapha will be part of @raphacondor JLT, concluding 9 fantastic years as co-owners. → http://t.co/11e5ZxOdoC