The road to Roubaix

Hell of the north

The Road to Roubaix is paved with mud and grit and puddles and hail. There’s no escaping Belgian conditions, even if you’ve escaped Belgium. Wind whips around my chainrings. Hail leathers the peak of my cap. Rain water is flung in tremendous arcs from the rear wheel. No question about it. It’s February. Its Wales. It’s the gulf stream taking advantage of its priveldged position as the main determinator of British conditions.

This ride was never going to be lengthy. When wind speeds top 40mph, its – perhaps –  time to hide away. But training doesn’t do itself and part of the ‘attraction’ of Paris-Roubaix is its grittiness. So we head out. First East, then North West, then South. The roads were covered in snaking torrents of water. Fresh Eddies swirled around debris. Traffic is quiet on this particular morning. It’s neither early, nor late, but the weather is a sufficient barrier to keep people in doors. Leaving Cardiff the fields that chaperone the city toward to the coast are waterlogged and brown. The trees bent double. It’s a fitting accompaniment for Roubaix prep.

The cloud unexpectedly clears – glimpses of blue pepper the spaces between pitch black clouds and occasionally luminous lumps of grey cotton wool. The heavens open. At Draethen we pass two riders sitting this one out. We’re surrounded by woods full of fallen trees and the debris of their branches.

Entering Caerphilly, its noted that the moat is high. In these conditions no medieval army would have conquered the castle. We leave Norman history behind and climb to Senghenydd moor. From Normans to Celts; ancient stones were found here and are celebrated in the local church. It’s a constant reminder of the people, landscape and history wrapped up in our route.

At the top, we have a fine view of the approaching hailstorm and it doesn’t fail to deliver; we’re lashed with tiny lumps of ice that sting and bite and bounce. Its over in a few minutes.

Across the way, at Gwaleod-y-Garth we meet the legacy of this weather. Three trees have toppled onto the road, hitting parked cars and blocking the carriageway. With the workmen’s consent, we clamber over and between them, bikes on shoulder just as they were during the recent cross season. There’s a small crowd watching.

Two and a half hours later, we’re back for soup, bread and cheese, tea and homemade cake. It doesn’t get much better than this.

With thanks to Donald and Craig for a fine ride and the Welsh weather for thorough preparation. The Paris-Roubaix sportive will be held on the 12th of April. Hell of the North cycle art available from Society 6 here.

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