So with the rain falling nine of us set out to cover the route of road and track, or Gravé as coined by Rapha.
Heading out of Chipping Barnet towards the first 'sector' the pace was steady and the banter at level five. The first sector went by with no problems. Keeping high up on the left riding the thin strip of tarmac and avoiding the trench to the right was key. Then the tarmac strip disappears completely leaving you to ride a pot holed stony track. So that's the first sector done and no punctures.
But I speak too soon, just after riding 'Bread and Cheese lane' I puncture. This see's the banter level hit 10+ and strictly adults only. It also see's my pump bite the dust. Luckily Aarons gas pump does the job and after emptying bladders all round we set off - for two miles before we get a second puncture. Karma didn't reward Aaron and it was his turn to get a flat. Slightly better practiced in the art of swapping inner tubes we were soon on our way again. Then as we hit another sector Aarons tyre went again. We were now averaging one puncture every two miles!
Now convinced that we'd had our share of punctures we set off carefully not mentioning the 'P' word. Promising to go to Church every Sunday seemed to be working, as we cleared road and sectors with no problems. The exception was Tony getting it wrong on a piece of wood acting as a temporary bridge, still mud and blood is an heroic look.
Then came the stream crossing. A point where the photographers wait hoping to catch a fool on his/hers back in the water, but you won't catch out experienced mountain bikers that easily.
Stream crossed and back onto tarmac. Then it was my turn to equalize with Aaron and get a second puncture, the groups fourth. So straight into the familiar routine of swapping tubes, pumping and topping up with gas. Then we're on our way again.
With not many tubes now spare some of us 'mince' the sectors to avoid yet another puncture, but it's not long before the tarmac claims it's fifth victim, me again, this time the rear tyre. I don't have to repeat what followed.
By now we are constantly yo-yo'ing with other groups on the road. Bunches of cyclists fixing tyres is now a regular feature at every junction. It's so bad that we're giving each other knowing smiles as we pass.
Raphas food stop is next. here we blag free bottles, mussettes, energy drinks and bananas. Thanks Rapha and Bikefoods.
The next sector I know is a long one, but we all get through unscathed. Perhaps our lucks changed? Even the tarmac is kind to us. But as we hit the steepest climb of the day and one that's also a sector I notice my rear tyre is going down. Puncture number six. However myself and Julian administer road side first aid to keep me going, we aren't about to swap yet another tube and go for the regular top up routine.
Though once out on the road again Tony has his first puncture, that's number seven then. We all sit waiting thanking the Lord it's not raining and discuss tyres for next year. Then Tony raises his hand to let us know we can set off again. Then not fifty yards along the road puncture number eight hits, this time the victim is Marcus. So wheel off, swap tube, pump, gas replace wheel and off we go, but you know the story.
From here it's straight to the pub finish in Barnet. Rather surprisingly we get there without another puncture!
At the finish the good guys from Rapha store our bikes away and point us towards a free beer and frités. Walking through the pub I can see that all the TV screens are showing the real Hell of the North, the Queen of the Classics, the one and only Paris-Roubaix. I've not said, but the ride we've just done is a homage to the PR. I can't also help but notice that Tom Boonen is winning, and winning in the true style of a King of the classics. This is probably of great delight to all the riders present.
Beers done, frités eaten we ride off to the cars to head home. To look around you'd think by the grins on our faces that we were a bunch of twelve year olds and not grown men, but that's what the Hell of the North is all about - riding and banter.
But hang on. KABOOM marcus's tyre explodes and we're not even riding anymore. Puncture number nine is the parting shot.
We'll be back next year for the 4th running, but with the toughest tyres money can buy.
|Post ride beers and frités|