Hell of the North VIII : Rapha’s Paris Roubaix Tribute


Paris-Roubaix. The Queen of the Classics. A Sunday in Hell. The ‘Hell of the North’ is one of cycling’s hallowed monuments, a torturous one day race over numerous sectors of numbing cobbles and farm lanes concluding with two laps of the Roubaix velodrome. Rapha organises its own tribute ride, Hell of the North. Now in its eighth year it’s a bone-crunching ride through North London and Hertfordshire finest lanes, farm tracks and off road tracks. All to be completed on a road bike not necessarily designed for the terrain. Three hundred rides take part and for the second year in a row I was one of them.

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Riders gathered at Pond Square in Highgate. I greeted familiar faces and signed on as the morning sun shone down. It was a beautiful morning for a bike ride. We set off excited by what lies in store. The first few secteurs, off road through suburban parks, were handled with ease. On the first challenging secteurs, a gravelly off road descent through woodland forced one of our group onto the ground, the pain visible as he tumbled into a dried up stream bed. As we ticked off the challenging off road sections, it is clear that for a lot of riders this ride was much tougher than they had expected.

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Sectuer 21 was a tough sector with a gravelly ascent and descent that tests both my legs and bike handling. The punctures were starting to add up in our group and the fallen rider fell again, this time spooked by a passing horse. The moments riding along the flat gravel tracks dust flying in the air were incredible. The sections through woods with the sunlight peeking through gaps in trees were sublime. We encountered lots of other riders on the side of the roads struggling with punctures. After a brief detour off the course we arrived at the feed station grateful for an ice cold Coca-Cola and some tasty treats.

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Soon after, another puncture for our group, only this time it took quite a long time to change. The wait was improved by having stopped right outside Arsenal’s training ground and the slightly surreal experience of seeing players and their expensive cars speeding past. We realised at this point the kilometres in the real race were rapidly ticking down and we were not progressing quickly enough to catch the conclusion. So our group decided not to do the whole loop and aimed instead straight for the pub at the finish line.

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As the sun continued to blaze we made it to the pub grateful for a refreshing Belgian beer and some frites. We may not have ridden the whole route but had a great day out regardless. As someone who only rides a road bike, it is great to go off road and experience new types of terrain, it’s an exhilarating thrill. But it’s even better to have a few beers in the sunshine and watch a thrilling bike race with your friends. Respect must go to those riders who soldiered on with punctures into double figures, whilst we were watching GVA power to victory and a huge thanks to the incredible people who organised the day.

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