Paris Roubaix: And there it was….gone.

Where did it go? Where do you start? At the beginning I guess, when participation ended before it started, with a slip, a slice and 10 stitches in my left hand on the eve before we left.

Clutching the cardboard box containing the pump, the leatherman blade was slipped under the zip tie. My mind was elsewhere. ‘box of cycling bits sorted’……’Spare tubes! Get spare tubes’…….’Cereal bars’…..’Maybe some of those istonic….Argh!’. The zip tie exploded, the blade was released and my left thumb sliced from base to knuckle. Blood poured to the floor.

Yep. As ever, too busy. Lack of concentration on the task in hand, left the hand employed, in tatters. 1o stitches put paid to an all out assault on the cobbles. It could have been worse of course. I’d missed the tendons and some some super fast stitching by St Josephs’s hospital – I paid for the pleasure, but it was cut and stitched in under an hour (strong stomach? image here) – left it in the best possible nick. But I couldn’t use the back brake comofrtably, hold anything tightly and the risk of opening the stitches, too great. Ever tried riding the cobbles when you can’t hold the bars properly? It isn’t easy. So I tentatively rode the 70km option with two newbies and a seasoned accomplice. After 50m of the first cobbled section I knew the right decision had been made. A disappointment, but ces’t la vie (and the company certainly compensated hugely).

Staying in Belgium with my riding buddies is always (always) a privilege. Our sortie’s across the border into a France the highlight. But despite my ride sliding into ignominy the trip was glorious. Sun bathed the lowlands almost the entire time. It was good to see my fellow long course riders finish their rides in relative good nick (including Julian, still recovering from a horrendous caving accident and upbeat in his assessment of the cobbles as ‘Good physio’). We found some new rides to satisfy our pre/post-event cycling thirsts. We found even more Belgian beer we hadn’t tried (or could even pronounce) and cultivated a taste for it (natch. We’re athletes). And of course the main event was a smorgasbord of drama, served on a platter of heritage. Matt Hayman’s win will go down in Roubaix folklore as a moment to relish, the day that Boonen and Cancellera were taught the meaning of playing the long game.

Given my chequered history with Paris-Roubaix, I don’t think I’ll be back next April. But you could certainly talk me into completing another spring classic. It’s simply too good an experience not to. Ghent-Wevelgem anyone?

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