Welsh Pavé

Guest Article: Cardiff-Roubaix

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Somewhere in the 10 cm thick Velominati editorial handbook is an admonishment about running articles about rides. @RobSandy’s bit has the word Roubaix in its title, it took place in Wales and more than one Velominati was riding, so we move ahead. It is almost a Cogal without the excessive drinking. Thanks @RobSandy for spending your weekend doing something useful and documenting it. 

VLVV, Gianni

There are good ideas and bad ideas. And then there are ideas that transcend good or bad. I’m going to take a wild stab at a definition and call them Awesome ideas. With a capital A.

One such idea came to my attention last week, by way of two unconnected place names that had been welded together. Two place names that have a significant interest to me, and together formed something new and exciting.

Cardiff-Roubaix.

A bit of investigation revealed the details; a sportive taking in the flat, open roads between Cardiff and Newport, interspersed with sections of unpaved and gravel roads, finishing in the famous Maindy outdoor velodrome (producing alumni including Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Elinor Barker & Owain Doull), to attempt to provide an experience similar to racing Paris Roubaix. This was an Awesome idea.

I was in with bells on, and shortly afterwards I found out that @Teocalli had registered too. When I saw that a lot of the strong racers from my club had also signed up I had a rough idea what sort of ride this was going to be; not a sensible weekend pootle.

As the day got closer I considered various bike permutations; my Nr#1 with ‘Cross tyres, or with Pave tyres, or using my commuter so as not to damage Nr#1. In the end I decided just to Rule #5 and ride my Nr#1 with the standard tyres and not worry about it. This would result in a) more speed on the tarmac sections b) looking more Awesomer. I took the same approach with my clothing; normal club bibs and jersey.

The ride itself was pleasantly small-scale and low key; around 60 riders, set off in two close waves to ease through the urban roads of Cardiff before hitting the open roads of the Wentloog flats. An organised double line was set up as we hit the flats and the pace stepped up as we wound through small quiet lanes.

The first section of gravel (Percoed Reen) shook things up a bit, although we were to discover that as surfaces go this one was quite pleasant – fine grained, smooth gravel. This soon ran out and turned us into the barely-paved Pont Estyll Lane, complete with broken tarmac, large puddle potholes and lots of mud. A brief respite on the tarmac led onto the first real test of the day, the very rough Lighthouse sector. This is where the first big selection of the day happened and the group I found myself in at the end was only 7 riders.

Things smoothed out from there and we continued at a decent pace, sometimes pushing it, sometimes easing back. There was always someone ready to take a turn at the front although more often than not one of the older guys of the group found himself there (and more on him later).

More gravel sectors passed, some smoother, some rougher. Saltmarsh was smooth and fast, while Black Wall was extremely rough. This is probably as close as I’ve ever been to riding the cobbles; bumpy, uneven, pocked with potholes full of water (depth unknown), and it was surprising to see how the group strung out on these sectors.

A halfway feed stop provided some very temporary respite, before we were back on the road, with a noticeable increase in tempo. We had lost at least one rider off the back before we hit the Black Wall sector again, at which point mechanicals and fatigue played their part in equal measure and the lead group back on the road again was reduced to 3 (two Ajax and one non-Ajax).

Going hard seemed to be the right thing to do, so we did, taking turns of a few minutes each at the front and driving the pace along. Returning through Newport I started to feel the burn, and was on the verge of losing the wheel in front a few times, but I managed to get back on before the final gravel sector, revisiting Lighthouse in the other direction. At this point the non-Ajax rider really put the hammer down and I was gasping and mashing my pedals just trying to keep him in sight.

I had managed the gap and was about 50m behind, with the end of the real rough stuff in sight when I heard an unsettling hissing noise…then a familiar bumping sensation as my front wheel flatted. Looking up to see the lead wheel disappearing around the corner and looking back to see the 3rd placed rider closing the gap I think I knew something of how the pros feel when a mechanical dooms their race. However, this wasn’t a real race and my aim was to finish, so I stayed calm and affected a particularly slick inner tube change, getting going again just as the 4th placed rider caught me.

I hadn’t written off the chances of catching the guys in front at this point so I went into TT mode back across the flats, burying myself before we made it back to Cardiff city limits.

To add a full Roubaix vibe, the organisers had added 2 laps of Maindy Velodrome to finish the ride. I could see the first 2 riders as I entered but I’m pleased to say in the spirits of Rule #5 and Rule #10 I continued to put the hammer down until I crossed the line.

At this point the organisers put a glass of champagne in my hand. I don’t really need to add anything to that apart from it was Awesome.

I stayed around to try and recover the energy to ride home (fortunately, I live less than a mile away from the track) and to meet the famous Mr Teocalli as he finished the ride himself. We both agreed it had been brilliant.

A postscript is that I have found out since that the winner, and the guy whose wheel I was chasing the whole day is Alun Owen, former Welsh National Road Race Champion, who represented Wales twice in the Commonwealth Games.

 

// Guest Article // Racing

  1. Great write-up. Looks like a great day out.How long was the ride? How many gravel/off-road sectors? Finishing on the velodrome is a nice touch too. Reminds me a bit of our own Cheesehead Roubaix.

  2. Chapeau! Envy!

  3. @wiscot

    117 Km is what I clocked with 27 Km Strade Bianche-ish across 11 sectors. It was a great ride. Bit fiddly to get out of Cardiff with a few traffic lights but well worth the drive over. Hope to be back next year.

    http://cycleclassics.co.uk/cardiff-roubaix/

    @RobSandy

    I did have a thought though that put a couple of hundred bikes over some of those tracks and it could turn into a real mud-fest. Really glad you posted the event beforehand and great to meet you.

    Famous though??

  4. It was certainly Belgian in one respect

  5. That looks like much much fun indeed. Cheers

  6. Chapeau fellas, great work, great write up. The route is local to me, I’m now inspired to get out there and ride it.

  7. Jealous that you have roads like that for a cogal. There is nothing near me that interesting or that flat. I am relegated to climbs and steep rollers on tarmac. Happy to hear that you went full gas chasing down a former champ. Quite a memory you created.

  8. Nice ride and well done on keeping up the chase.

    Being a bit more of a ‘this is pointless, let’s fight another day’ sort of person once I’m dropped I am full of admiration for people who can maintain that attitude.

    Speaking of flat things, I’m thinking of doing the Tour of Cambridgeshire next year – maybe the TT and the Road event. I know a couple of people did it this year – how was it? Not that I plan to go to Perth for the World championships but it might be a fun weekend if a few people are doing it.

    Alternatively I may have an option to go over to Sweden for the 300km Varttenrundan, which is also in June so I have to make a choice.

  9. The Tour of Cambridgeshire was a good event although there were some first time teething problems, namely the length of time it took to get across the start line at the beginning. That was mainly a problem for the people weren’t racing. Everyone, I know who raced were very positive about it.

    The course was good, rolling hills for the first half followed by the flat of the fens with head winds, cross winds and some rougher sections.

    Disclaimer: The chap who organised it is a member of my club so I might be a bit biased.

    If you do decide to do it, we’ll put you up if you’d like.

  10. @chris

    That’s very kind, I may well take you up on it thanks.

    Flat sounds good. And I’m thinking maybe the following year I will aim to do the Masters’ championships so I guess doing this qualifier will give me a sense of where I am in the scheme of things. Next year I move up into the next Masters’category too.

    I know a guy called Malcolm Smith from St Ives CC who is involved in organising it as well. He’s pretty good. In the TT he came sixth in his group at the world championship final last week, and he was one of the front-runners for the road race until he had a bad crash.

    Just had a look and I’ve missed the pre-registration for the TT. It only opened yesterday ! But I’ll enter the road race and see if I can get a TT place when they are opened up properly.

  11. @ChrisO

    Nice ride and well done on keeping up the chase.

    Being a bit more of a ‘this is pointless, let’s fight another day’ sort of person once I’m dropped I am full of admiration for people who can maintain that attitude.

    When I was a rugby player my style was ‘dog chasing a stick’ and in cricket my team captain described my contribution to the team as being able to ‘run around like a 5 year old’, so chasing lost causes is something I’m suited for. Too few brain cells, I think.

    I also discovered that riding an unsuitable bike over a very rough surface is something I seem to have a skill for. Probably having little regard for my own safety or the condition of my bike helped. More than one person has suggested I ride cyclocross.

    Something I didn’t mention in the report, but about halfway through I thought I’d have a little surge off the front, on some twisty narrow lanes. I’d opened up a small gap when I got to a 90 degree bend onto another section of gravel. Overshot the bend and very nearly disappeared into a ditch, managing to stop my bike in time and get back going, as everyone behind shot past me. Almost extremely embarrassing.

  12. Very nice! Good on ya for playing it cool with the late-game puncture.

    Awesome write up, thanks for sharing! Sounds like a good ride to go on, especially with some other PRO looking folks.

  13. Rob – I know we’re not the only ones, but always like hearing/reading from others who played ball sports before getting into cycling. That’s me as well. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be a competitive cyclist when growing up. But, the one interesting thing is that while I’m not the smoothest or lightest roadie out there, I think from having shoved, grabbed, checked, elbowed, etc. in other sports…I just have that competitive nature to not let go of that wheel out in front.

    (Not that cyclists aren’t competitive! but chasing a wheel up a mountain and smashing into someone at high speeds to score is a different sort of mentality.)

  14. @ChrisO

    The name rings a bell but I couldn’t put a face to it. He’s quite quick.

    You’ve got me thinking about making the Tour of Cambridgeshire a serious target for next year. Not because I want to go to Perth (I’m assuming Perth, WA rather than Perth, Perthshire) but it would make a good solid target. I might even have a crack at the TT if I can get a spot.

  15. @chris

    Yeah, go for it. I’ve entered the Race section and will give it a good shot, at least in my age group. I’m in the same bracket as Malcolm so if I can sit anywhere near him I’ll be doing well.

    I won’t be going to Perth (yes, WA) but it would be nice to qualify and see how comparable riders do.

    Next September is my 50th and I have carte blanche for a cycling holiday. A week in the Alps or Pyrenees with my family is preferable to going to the other side of the world to have my ass kicked.

    The year after might be in order though, depending on where it is.

  16. @ChrisO

    As our resident pro you should be fine qualifying!

    I just need to lose 5 – 10 kg and find 50 – 60 watts. I’ll have a look down the back of the sofa when I get home this evening.

    I’ve got 5 years to go before my 50th but I think something big on the bike is in order. Seeing some of the Transcontinental race pop up on my Strava feed has got me inspired.

  17. I’d recommend the ToC – for me, it was quick for the first 75k (2 hours) when we were in a decent group of 10, hammering it mostly. Popped in to the stop to refill a bottle and then there were no more decent groups so we slowed down a bit, more into the wind, etc. We easily qualified for Aalborg, but I didn’t have the time or money to go, unfortunately. I really like the idea of that Cardiff Roubaix but I have pre-entered ToC next year already, so looks like it might need to be the year after. Cardiff’s only an hour away from me too… damn.

  18. @ChrisO

    Let me know, we’re doing our honeymoon cycling in the Alps. Haven’t decided which side though – this summer’s excursion to the Grossglockner and the Tyrol side has been mind-bogglingly beautiful. On the other hand, there’s some really neat places around the Alpe d’Huez to stay in and all the mythical climbs are within riding distance.

  19. @Chris

    Yes having seen the people from here who qualified I’m not in too much doubt about that, inshallah. In the road race I’d be disappointed not to be in the top 25% overall TBH, let alone the top 25% in my age group. Harder to judge the TT – I haven’t done enough competitive ITT’s to benchmark myself.

    But it will be interesting to see who qualifies and then what happens to them in the actual event. People were all like dogs with two dicks to be at the Worlds and ended up being dropped on the first hill.

    @Tessar

    When is your honeymoon? I thought I was doing well to make my anniversary a cycling holiday but sharing your honeymoon with cycling is another league. Could be the Alps but a friend’s family runs a cycling lodge in the Pyrenees, near Luchon, so that’s the probable option at this stage. All the great climbs like Peyresourde, Tourmalet, Portet d’Aspet and Superbagneres are nearby and there’s stuff for the family to do while I’m out.

  20. @ChrisO

    She’s got family in La Grave, spitting distance from l’Alpe d’Huez, so that’s our most likely destination. Not sure whether to go during the Tour, or whether it’s better to have the cols a bit less crowded in August or June (are they ever “less crowded”?)… We haven’t really set the details apart from “and the honeymoon will be in the Alps, with bikes.”

    Speaking of Worlds, my mum just earned her ticket to the Ironman 70.3 next year, which will be in Sunshine Coast, Oz. Long flight ahead of her… We spent the last week of August in Zell am See (Austria) for this year’s Worlds and it’s an incredible atmosphere. The top pros and age-group racers all in one place – a true “gun show”. No matter how far, after this experience I think any sort of event like that is a worthy destination race.

  21. @Ron

    Rob – I know we’re not the only ones, but always like hearing/reading from others who played ball sports before getting into cycling. That’s me as well. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be a competitive cyclist when growing up. But, the one interesting thing is that while I’m not the smoothest or lightest roadie out there, I think from having shoved, grabbed, checked, elbowed, etc. in other sports…I just have that competitive nature to not let go of that wheel out in front.

    (Not that cyclists aren’t competitive! but chasing a wheel up a mountain and smashing into someone at high speeds to score is a different sort of mentality.)

    I was just thinking about this. I think that a multi-sport background really helps when you move into cycling. I definitely feel I use more than just my legs to power my bike; my core and upper body strength all contribute to the power I get to the pedals. I always thought of this as ‘full body strength’, and reading a coaching book by Joe Friel, he uses the same term.

    In Robert Millar’s biography there’s a quote from someone who had shaken his hand and couldn’t believe how physically strong he was, and Merckx commented that what set him apart from his rivals at the time was his strength. I think this sort of strength can be built by doing lots of different sports.

  22. It’s great that the offical site has a .gpx route for this. I live in Cardiff so I’ll give it a go at some point.

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