Words by Joe Staples — Photo by Chris Milliman
If this doesn’t make complete sense, then you understood it.
Imagine a long hallway in an office building, the kind you would usually see an old photocopier/fax machine and a plastic pot plant in. Got it? Ok.
Now take that furniture out and instead get 4000 motorbike helmets and place them on the floor so they fit snuggly edge to edge.
Now get some rocks and put them anywhere you want. Really, anywhere, I don’t care. Now get a bike.
No not that kind.
Nope, not that one either.
Get your road bike. Sprint as fast as you can towards them. Now imagine the Jackass, guitar sting “diw-niw-niw-nee-niw”. Great, now bunny-hop up and see if you can pedal to not lose any speed and make to the other end of the hall without killing yourself. That is what riding pave is like.
There is no slow motion, it’s not black and white. There is no Bach Cello suite. It’s stupid and fucking scary.
You’ve probably ridden cobbles before, don’t think this is that. Cobbles are not pave.
I lived in Holland and they have cobbles. I had no idea what pave was until I rode it.
Maybe no one knows until they get to Troisvilles.
In a cross race you can see the course. You know what is coming, you are prepared. When you get to sector 27, the first sector of Pave in Paris Roubaix in Troisvilles you have 100km of road that has calibrated your legs to lull you into a familiar rhythm. Heading into this section full of optimism and pleasantly surprised that the approach is a slight downhill you will probably think “great that will help me ‘float’ over the pave just like the pros say. 28mph should be enough right?”
Wrong, 28mph is insane. There is no way to be in control. Your head cannot fathom how much you are being flung around without crashing.
Your shoulder, knees and wrist feel like each is strapped into it’s own Meuller fat jiggling belt. Your head is vibrating so much your eyes are having trouble focusing. You are waiting for your forks to fold, you wheels to taco, your steerer to snap [no giggling at the back. I was in the USPS team car with George’s Dad when that happened. It was brutal. He went silent for a minute and then simply said “that’s bike racing”].
You are going way too fast, you know that now. You want to slow down but you a] know that you will lose any float you might have once had [you didn’t] b] don’t have the balls to remove a single fingers from the bar to the brake. Your hands are on the drops aren’t they?
It’s not romantic, it’s not epic. It’s fucking scary.
Then when your brain clears enough space from this primordial panic to let in a real thought and the first one that appears is the memory that Troisvilles is only a three star sector [out of five] and then that after this there are 26 sectors left.
Riding Paris Roubaix is horrible. And fantastic.
And after you ride it, when you watch it on TV [or an illegal web stream].
It’s not like watching a sport, it’s like watching a horror movie.
And I love this horror movie.