Day 3 – experiencing the Roubaix cobbles

Stage 5 day three was an 80 mile cycling stage, following the course of the famous Paris Roubaix cycle race, including a couple of sections of cobbles, finishing at the famous velodrome.

Another 5.30am alarm call – this time because our timings for the day meant that needed to arrive in Roubaix by 2pm to get our opportunity to ride the velodrome, before being coached to Lille to catch the Eurotunnel train back to the UK. It was a chilly but bright morning, and as the forecast showed a declining wind strength, I took the opportunity to ‘get my legs out’.

But it didn’t take long for the strength of the spring sun to take effect and we were soon enjoying the rolling French countryside. And today we had a second birthday in our group – it was Chris Board on day one and now Malcolm Davidson on day three. Birthday boy enjoyed a glass of bubbly at the morning pit stop and the pace soon picked up as our group chain-ganged our way through the sleepy French villages. Why so quiet – well, it was actually a bank holiday!

I must tell you the story behind this photo. The official Slam photographer Rob Cox would pop up everywhere – even hiding in a field as he was when taking this fantastically evocative group shot. Nice one Rob!

So the first 70 miles passed surprisingly easily, so we soon found out what this famous cycle race is all about. The cobbles! Now I am not talking about the traffic calming measures that are used in some UK towns, these are like riding through an earthquake, so much so that your whole body shakes with the movement of the bike. Riders were soon diving left and right to the side of the road for a small degree of comfort. And the professional racers do 50 km riding cobbles like this – no way!

But everyone in our group survived, amazingly without a puncture. Riding into Roubaix our destination was the banked velodrome where we were all allowed to do a couple of flying laps before posing for the obligatory team photo. Our whole group had stuck together (like limpets) for nearly three hundred miles, and it was most noticeable that this was the distinguishing factor. Every meal time, someone grabbed enough table space for the whole group to sit together – 100% inclusive.

After sampling the historic showers at the velodrome (where each cubicle has a plaque marking the achievement of a Paris-Roubaix race winner) we had time for some souvenir shopping (the French cycling hats were the best seller) before boarding the coach for the short journey to Lille. Amazingly we had some free time, so a hot lunch of sausage and chips, washed down by a couple of beers was the order of the day. A quick power nap on Eurostar and we were back in ‘blighty’, getting ready for a night out courtesy of Pizza Express in Ashford. And the service was excellent – starters on the table as soon as we arrived and they just kept bringing pizza until we could eat no more. The ‘end of tour’ speeches were very poignant, and Dave Butler graciously commended all of the “awesome” group 2 riders on how well we had performed over Stage 5. It would have been unfair to pick out any one rider based on their cycling contribution, so Dave awarded the ‘yellow jersey’ to Yogi (aka Jolyon Lockyer) for raising nearly £30,000 against his personal target. That is 1,000% – wow – and very deserving.

So another memorable day on the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam was drawing to a close. Just one more day – the glory stage to London – to go.

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