The Hell of the North
SRAM Ambassador Anja Kallenbach visited hell. To be exact: The Hell of the North, including the infamous pavé sections and course of Paris Roubaix. Make sure to hold on tight and get ready for a bumpy ride. Enjoy Anja’s story!
Sitting in the infamous showers, located at the velodrome of Roubaix, I noticed a little sign above me with the name Fausto Coppi. You can really feel the history and tradition of this place. I am looking at all the other names of the winners of Paris-Roubaix and I can still not believe it is over. I survived the Hell of the North! No more shaking, no more vibrations! I feel pain everywhere, especially in my hands, which I can’t move anymore. I need help to get my shoes off. Behind me, I have 163km with 29 sectors of cobblestones, which makes a total of 55km on the famous "pavés" of Roubaix.
I knew in the morning it would be a tough day, keeping in mind all the images from the television, where you notice the pain in the faces of the riders. Also, it was a stormy day, it rained for days before and I also expected some raindrops today. But I rode the cobblestones of Flanders before and thought I was prepared mentally for what was coming.
I carefully prepared my bike in the morning. I double checked everything: Brakes, tires, chain, gears and inflated the Zipp Tangente 28mm tires precisely with 5bars. And as I am a lightweight, this was a very good choice, so the tires already swallowed some of the beatings and vibrations. I knew my Zipp 30 Course wheels are rock solid, so my bike was perfectly prepared. No flat tire, the chain never fell off, the gears changed reliably and directly, even on the toughest cobbles, as always. I was never happier to have SRAM Force 1x and especially 28mm tires on my bike!
Before the first sector of cobblestones, I was quite excited. I suddenly turned left and there was an endless street paved with cobbles awaiting me. In the first minutes I thought, that´s not so hard, but then after only a couple of minutes the vibrations go just up to your head, you have the feeling that even your brain is shaking. I had a hard time holding on to my handlebars and focusing on the road. The first sector was even one of the easiest ones, as described in the race guide!
After crossing a main road I arrived at the second sector, this time full of mud and water sections. Avoiding the mud was impossible and it transformed my bike and me into the typical Paris-Roubaix scheme: mud brown. You really have to ride fast in order to avoid vibrations from the cobbles. But the sensation of leaving a pavé section and returning to a normal road feels like leaving hell.
When you think it can´t get any harder, you arrive at the forest of Arenberg! This road is almost 200 years old! It is incredible, your bike is jumping in every direction, it is very hard to hold your speed, as you are climbing on an almost flat road! You get cramps in your hands, trying to hold onto your handlebar. I really thought of rolling onto the little path beside the cobblestones, but I wanted to stay in the center of the road until the end! This was the longest 2.4km of my life! Mud, pain and seemingly endless cobblestones are present.
The Mons-en-Pévèle is one of the longest sectors with a total distance of 3km including raw stones, which are curved in a way that there is just a little space left in the middle of the road to ride on. Then finally I arrived at the famous restaurant of "l´Arbe" which marks the end of the "Carrefour de l ´Arbre”. Now there where three sectors left and around 16km to the finish when it suddenly started to rain. I was so happy finally seeing the city limit of Roubaix. Then you enter the sports complex with the famous vélodrôme of Roubaix, a legendary temple of the sport, where cycling history is written every year! Even I had now conquered all of the many sectors! This was the most emotional and unforgettable moment in my life as a cyclist! I had tears in my eyes to arrive here after a never-ending day and asked my tired body for a last effort in this incredible atmosphere! I never rode in a vélodrôme before and I must say, you better not look down in the corners! Finally passing the finish line for the second time, I suddenly received some loud applause from some visitors at the vélodrôme and I really felt like I was winning a victory over myself today, going through all the pain and not giving up. I just set down on the grass letting the day pass by in my thoughts. Thanks to the Office du Tourisme of Roubaix, I was able to wash away the mud in the historic showers, really the perfect way to end this special day!
You can find the video of this tough day here: https://youtu.be/e047DyqxUdY
If you would like to know more about Anja’s journeys on the bike or if you need assistance with touring advise, feel free to contact Anja through her website or social media channels.