Whilst the big boys were getting ready to leave Compiegne that morning for the 2015 Paris Roubaix. Three of the LBRCC were leaving Leighton Buzzard to ride the sixth running of Rapha's Hell Of The North. A 100km homage to the Queen of the classics. And though we had no Lion of Flanders flags waving in our face, we did set off from under the Black Lion of Leighton!
With our vehicle loaded and Steve finally here we set off for the 'actual' start in Pond Square North London. Like the great classic, this ride has a start and finish miles apart. So we parked up near the finish and rode to the start. The first thing that greeted us was a very strong headwind, always welcome on a long day out. Ross and myself were on normal road bikes, whilst Steve had gone for the popular cyclo cross option. However for now a cross bike on tarmac in strong wind was a bit of a burden. Though he would have known that after sign on we would about turn and head North for the first of the sectors, or gravé as Rapha calls them.
At Pond Square we signed on, were given route cards, beer and frite tokens a short briefing and then set off.
We were carried up the A1000 by the same wind. Myself with Ross in tow soon left Steve on his cross tyres behind. He must have been itching to get off tarmac and onto the first of the sectors, and we both were expecting him to come past at some point.
I led Ross along as I'd ridden this three times before and these lanes were my training routes as a teenager in the seventies. I could tell Ross was getting excited as I told him we were just about to turn onto the first sector, and whilst glancing back I could see Steve very close by.
'Here we go' sector 1. I was like a kid a Christmas and hit the loose gravel and numerous pot holes at over 20mph, loose grip, big gear and power with finesse and you fly through. Try and pick your way through slowly and it'll result in a heavy bike and of course punctures.
After this very long sector tarmac is for a moment a welcome break, though we soon grow bored and race for the next sector. Several sectors come and go and all are cleared without issue. Tyres and grins remain intact. Though Ross goes into work mode as our route carries us over an ungated level crossing, another nod to the PR!
At about 50km our, or Ross's luck runs out and we suffer our first puncture. A shame as it occurs on a great uphill sector. After watching dozens of riders pass in a cloud of dust we finally get ready to get going again.
Next stop is the velodrome at Gosling Park. See what they did there, another nod to the PR. Here we regroup with Steve and also meet Jules riding in his old LBRCC-Solgar team colours. We refill our bottles and do a lap of the velodrome before riding out. I forgot to stick my leg out a la Museeuw after crossing the line.
|Museeuw winning after breaking his knee the year before|
Ross punctures again, this time though the inconvenience fires him up and he takes off across what in any language can not be described as a path, route or anything. Simply a baked hard tractor track. From the track you can see tarmac, that is when your eyeballs roll round to be able to see. It was the only sector I was glad to leave.
We leave the track and are all separated on the climb that immediately follows, but it's the home stretch now even if we are once again pointing straight into a head wind. At about 12km to go Ross has puncture number three, he kindly lets me carry on without him so I decide to really dig in for the final K's. It's a final long sector before we hit the A1000 again, it's also pretty brutal, a mix of quagmire baked hard mud 4X4 ruts and huge potholes. I gamble it and ride hard and dead straight until I hit a hole that tears my hands from the bars. I ease off and ride back with a small group from various clubs.
Now on the smooth tarmac of the A1000 it's just a simple drop to the finish where free beer and frités await. I'm welcomed in and push my bike into the sunny warmth of the pubs garden and await Ross and Steve while I down my beers and frités.
HOTN number six was another great ride, and I was so pleased that Ross and Steve enjoyed it. I'm pretty well up for this every year, but one day it won't be sunny.....that will be a story.
Here's a great link to the event. Look carefully and you'll see Jules in one of the photos.