Tagged: cycling

chasing Paris-Roubaix: a day on the cobbles


this article originally appeared in PezCycling News

all images by Lee Rodgers



Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred Lord Tennyson 1870

Sky were hungry early on

Sky were hungry early on

When the heaving, dusted peloton arrived we felt the rush of displaced air sweep over us, frosting everyone and everything in its path with a fine covering of earth.

180-odd cyclists riding knuckle-to-arse along a 3-meter wide stretch of cobblestones on a bone-dry day in a bone-dry week will have that effect. The dust stays in your ears and along the rim of your eyelids for hours seeping no doubt in miniscule portions into your blood as too does the clatter and clamor of those bikes and the rattling bones encased in the shaken flesh of the men who force them ever onwards.

Roubaix, with you forever.


The grime gets everywhere

Tangible too is the brooding intent of this thing they call a race. The summation of the violence inherent in Paris-Roubaix, in its pave sections and in its masculine brutality, in its destruction of man and machine, hope and dreams alike, you feel it everywhere.

There are no friendly words exchanged here in the pack, no talk of deals, no kindness extended or favors repaid. Not here.

Not at Paris-Roubaix.

This is not a bike race. This is much more important than that.

They say the sport closest to cycling in the demands it makes of its participants is boxing, and if that is true then Paris-Roubaix is the heavyweight championship of the world.

It can at times be a chess match of jabs and forays designed to probe and expose weakness but more generally it resembles a one-stop house of pain where a single punch drops the pretenders to the throne like stones in an ocean.


Standing by the roadside at Sector 18 as the breakaway came through was thrilling. Frenzied butterflies in the gut, hair up on the neck, grown adults dancing about like little kids needing to pee but having too much fun to do anything about it.

There was such a menace to the whole affair that you got the immediate impression that the men up the road weren’t merely racing towards a line on a track in a velodrome in rundown Roubaix but that they were escaping the embodiment of their deepest fears.

The peloton frothed and snarled with the scent of blood in its nostrils, the plume of dust sent up behind it signaling to anyone ahead that something wicked this way comes.

Cancellara’s face was a picture of composed and malicious intent. Wiggins could not have been concentrating more had he been performing open heart surgery. The front men rode as best as they could manage in their color-coded units, safer by bare degrees to be riding with those they trust over those miserable, beautiful rocks.

Bernie huffin and a-puffin'

Bernie huffin and a-puffin’

Those further down the line took their chances and trusted to fate, God, or both, half shutting their eyes to the dangers that lay below. The errant cobbles lie deep below like lions in the grasslands, waiting to pick off the lame or the old, the unfocused or just the plain unlucky.

One soldier fell by my feet though he was up and at ‘em in lightning time and chasing back to the fray to offer his body and soul once again up to the cycling gods and their minions, we, the frenzied public. It’s as if they practise falling off and getting up again, just for this day. They go down and bounce back up in a heartbeat.

And how the crowd cheered, they opened their lips and out from hungry bellies came guttural roars, from which the discerning ear could note a heady mix of fear, love and a lust for power, glory and suffering.

Are we any different than the citizens who bayed for blood in the ancient coliseums of the Roman Empire? No, we most certainly are not. Thank whoever you want for Paris-Roubaix because it allows us to reconnect to those sensations. It takes us out of ourselves, we who love this crazy, individualized and often lonely sport.

There are other races of course, and some are incredible, steeped in history and tales of great courage but Paris-Roubaix is all that and then some. Hibernating for some 364 days a year, on this Sunday in April it comes to life with a vengeance.

With the race gone on its way to the Arenberg, we ran back to the cars, weaving through hundreds of other spectators to speed away to Sector 10. One hair-raising zip through the incongruously sun-bathed farmland all around us (and God help you if you are on the roads at that time and not a cycling enthusiast and a slow driver, because 100 horns will descend upon you along with curses that would shame a sailor), we arrived to our beer-filled VIP tent, replete with widescreen TV and a cast of Boonen loving Flandrians for good measure.

Being as watching bike races is thirsty work, beer was liberated as the kilometers counted down. Watching the action on television and knowing that in just 2km the leaders would be outside the tent itself was a surreal feeling.

Movistar’s Alex Dowsett also happened to be outside our tent, out of the race but sent by his team to stand by the roadside with spare wheels. He did not look too thrilled at that, has to be said.

Cheer up Alex, could be worse, you could be riding…

“They’re coming! They’re coming!” went the shout through the crowd as the helicopter and the convoy of cars signaled the imminent arrival of the two-wheeled warriors.

Bang on the front was Thor Hushovd still resplendent if mucky in his Norwegian national champion jersey, with Boonen quick behind, about to put in an attack that would, along with several other lung-bursting efforts, ultimately cost him the race.

Thor grits his teeth

Thor grits his teeth

Thor at the front, Boonen lurking

Amongst those who can win Paris-Roubaix there is a very similar look on their faces. They look so calm, as if this is what they’ve been waiting for all their lives. It’s one day a year, it is the greatest bike race in the world, and they are as close to mastering the unmasterable as they may well ever be.

And even if they are not, they have to believe, until the last possible moment, that they are.

Hushovd, Sagan, Boonen, Cancellara and yes, Niki Terpstra, I saw that look on each of their faces. The other thing to note is how big these guys are, something that doesn’t come across on screen.


To be small and to win Paris-Roubaix you need indefatigable will and uncommon strength, but invariably the winner is not petite. Those cobbles sap every reserve of power from the unprepared and leave nowhere to hide once their cumulative effect begins to expose weakness.

Drafting has a greatly reduced effect on the pave sections which is just one more reason why this race is so hard.

Back in the tent the Flandrians downed ever more beer and began to sing songs in praise of Boonen but it was having little effect. Old Tommeke was tired by the end for having done too much work, and whilst the non-Belgian amongst us desperately wanted to see that amazingly elite group enter the velodrome together, Terpstra had other plans altogether.


“Still,” one guy said, “at least he is on a Belgian team.”

It rang hollow. We’ll have to wait at least one more year to see Roger de Vlaeminck outdone.

We packed up the food and empty bottles, clambered into the van and headed back to Gent for our last night on the Velo Classic Tour. Tired, dirty and more alive than any man rightfully deserves to be, the previous 12 days ran through my mind like a film.


I’ve been to the mountain, and I’ve seen the promised land. If you ever need directions, just let me know…




how Boonen & Sagan lost Paris-Roubaix

P2090147 - Version 2

Crikey, what an edition of Paris-Roubaix that was. If you weren’t up out of your seat several times over the last 60km, you’re either terminally bed-ridden or already devoid of breath. It was that thrilling.

We, the weatherbeaten scandal-weary cycling fans, finally got just what we’d been begging for like gooey-eyed puppies for so long – a Roubaix in which Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara were at something very close to equal strength. Make no mistake, Belgium’s No. 1 son was stronger than Cancellara, if not by much.

“I’ve won twice over here with much worse legs than today”, Boonen said to the throng of hungry journalists that follows him just about everywhere. Stronger or not, ‘Tomeke’ was left to chew over a bitter loss that was ever-so-slightly tempered by his teammate Niki Teprtsra’s win.

Boonen bides his time

Boonen bides his time

The problem with Boonen’s ride on Sunday was that he and Peter Sagan frittered away their superiority over the course of the race, like men losing water from a hole in a bucket. In doing so, they gave the advantage to men not as strong, but who rode smarter and more conservative races.

Was it brilliant to watch? Seriously, is there a greater sight in professional cycling than Tom Boonen heading off solo up the cobbles? Sagan too drew hollers and whoops as he launched his courageous, ridiculous attack with too many kilometres to go. Even the Flandrians present gave the Slovakian a cheer.



Make no mistake, they are all Boonen folk in these parts, but they know a bike rider when they see one, and Sagan’s verve is highly respected in the heartland of the Classics.

Boonen was visibly irritated to be asked if he had the legs to win the race. “I don’t think I have to say that. That was obvious,” he retorted.


Yet the fact is he is not as strong as when he won solo in 2012, and it remains to be seen if he has it in him to better Roger De Vlaeminck’s four wins, which Boonen equaled two years ago. De Vlaeminck, it should be noted, claims Boonen is not worthy to be ranked as highly as himself, claiming modern bike racing is too soft.

Part of Boonen’s motivation is to make the retired pro eat his words, but De Vlaeminck will have at least one more year to wait before he gets out the recipe books.

On Sunday, Boonen rode like it was 2012, taking off in an unplanned attack to bridge up to the leaders on section 14 of the pavé. Once he’d bridged and learnt very few riders were willing to work with him, fearful of taking him to the finish, he attempted several solo attacks but could not make any stick.

Two things are happening here. Firstly, Boonen and Cancellara are not as strong as they have been in the past. Secondly, several of the younger generation of riders have raised their game.


Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb and several others are emerging or consolidating their reputations as serious contenders for the Monuments that once seemed to be Boonen and Cancellara’s to lose. Witness Van Avermaet at Flanders, where his poor tactical choices allowed Cancellara to win in the sprint.

Vanmarcke too may well have already won one Roubaix, in 2013, had he not led out Cancellara. Degenkolb rode the race of his life yesterday and, on the evidence of his second, will be a serious threat next year. Stybar too looked strong and might have jumped to Terpstra had he not been on the same team.

An exciting collection of riders indeed.


Peter Sagan, of course, is the cream of that crop but he too overestimated his power and made poor tactical choices. He is like Boonen in some ways, the most obvious being not his natural ability but the honesty of his riding. Like Boonen, he never shirks a turn at the front and will drive a break just to confound the chasers, even if it means fatiguing himself.

His attack was fantastic to see but so obviously doomed that it brought a twinge of consternation. He could have won, I do not doubt that, but he needs to ride more with his head than his heart.


Cancellara was tired, that was easy to see. He had difficulty reeling in surges by what would be considered lesser riders and seemed off his game. A mention must go to Bradley Wiggins, whose ride will have surprised many.

And so to Terpstra. A popular winner, he’s deserved a victory like this for some time. It was a cracking attack into a slight headwind and you could see the pain he put himself through to realise his greatest ambition in the race he loves most.

It was a brilliant win on a mad, crazy day, in the most open Paris-Roubaix for almost two decades.

Just magnificent. Just Paris-Roubaix.



all images by Lee Rodgers

crankpunk on PEZ on FLANDERS! (aka Euro Adventure ’14 Part 3)

yeeha! i’m here, i’ sipping the local juice, and i’m loaded in so many, many ways.

read all about the trip’s first installment here on Pez Cycling News

“What do I have to do?”

“Get to Belgium, chase the Tour of Flanders, the E3 Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix, get taken care of by Velo Classic Tours, ride the Flanders sportif, hit the cobbles, drink the beer and write about the experience,” replied the Pez.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.


5 minutes later my flight was booked and I was set. I was going to Mecca…

crankpunk’s Euro Adventure ’14: part 2

the ridiculously satisfying rides continue on a daily basis but hecky thump it is cold, 6 degrees today and i am no longer built for these conditions, that much is abundantly clear. my fellow Northerners would say i’ve gone soft and i will agree, and you know what? i always wanted to be soft. when in was a kid here i dreamt of life on a tropical island. i’d like to see them survive a Taiwanese summer on anything less than three layers of skin, a bucket and a half of camomile lotion for the burns and without saying ‘bloodyell, too ‘ot for me is this!‘ fifty times a day.


reminds me of when i started scuba diving in my mid 20s. we went for our first outdoor dive to a sunken quarry in Leicestershire. in february. you could see the top of the abandoned crane poking out of the top of the water. there was a picture of a fish in the clubhouse, it was reputed to live in the lake and was the only fish anyone had ever seen, but no two people had ever claimed to see it at the same time, so its existence was very much debated.

everyone else by the dock had on full dry-suits, under which they wore tracksuits, thermal undershirts and thick wool socks, everything any sane person would insist on wearing before jumping into a lake that was full of water cold enough to kill a man without protection in about 3 minutes.

we, being new recruits and not having yet attained out dry-suit certs, wore 7mm wetsuits. our hoods were so tight that everyone’s face looked a bit like a testicle trapped in a zipper.

our instructor handed each of us a liter of water.



‘you’ll see.’

we dived in, and i was sure i’d been lobotomised. the rush of cold on what was exposed of my face is still now indescribable.  the visibility was down to 2 feet and we clung to our buddies with our frozen claws as if our lives depended on it… cos, well, they did depend on it. after a couple of minutes of flapping about amidst the mind-jolting coldness, my buddy tapped me on the shoulder.

i turned to see him looking at me, eyes wide, then suddenly they crinkled into what might have been a half-grimace but was also kind of a half-smile. i thought maybe he was about to check out and leave me to drag his frozen stiff corpse back to the surface, but no – he then started to pat the area around his belly and then his legs and even his neck.

i wondered what the heck he was doing when i felt my bladder protesting. ah. got it. he was pissing in his suit and shifting the warmth about with his hands!

i felt the liquid release and did the same,patting it about me, as my eyes fluttered and rolled in their sockets like i was having an underwater hot-gasm. it was that good. i tell you, i can feel it still, warm, wonderful, glorious urine!

when we all got out and unzipped though, i almost got whiplash, the smell was that bad. neoprene is a wonderful thing, but i advise against pissing a litre of English tap water into it. just in case you ever get the urge.

unless of course you’re in 7mm of it in a sunken quarry.

in Leicester.

in February.

after the dive i chatted to the instructor, Simon, who was still completely stinking of booze from the night/morning before.

‘i’m thinking of going to Thailand to do my instructor course.’


‘is it any good there?’

‘well, if you like looking at fish and shit, then yeah, i suppose it’s not bad…’

'fish and shit'

‘fish and shit’

everdrunk Simon, you see, was so hard and so bloody much a man that his idea of scuba was getting together with a bunch of blokes who looked like they’d rape you with a broken pool cue ‘just for a laugh’ and who all drove cars with stickers on the bumpers that said ‘divers like a lot of bottom time’ and going to a quarry to dive to depths of 90 meters on a baffling mix of gases that meant they had to be down there for hours, in the dark, rather than going diving at 15 meters in tropical oceans and seeing the kind of fish and colors that had you wondering if there wasn’t some strain of magic mushroom being pumped through your regulator.

and the point of that long preamble is this: riding in England in March, or February, or January or take-you-pick-uary is an altogether different kind of riding than riding in more temperate climes. it’s like a grim march, the winds whip your skin to flakes and the cold inhabits your bones like a scab that’s broken the picket lines to take your job. it’s beautiful, terrible, breathtaking, brutal and all in between and then some.

the moors under snow

the hills under snow

feels amazing when you get home though, though the post-ride meal has been bacon and sausage sandwiches almost daily, in a desperate attempt to get fat back in between bone and skin. but yeah, you feel like Scott might have felt if he hadn’t died in that tent.

i’m home Ma, i made it!

but it is beautiful. they call Yorkshire, the next county over, ‘God’s Country’ on account of its terrain, but it extends to Lancashire and the Lake District too. if you haven’t been here to ride, i implore you to consider it. those foreign lads at the Tour this year are gonna be gobsmacked.

the Lake District

the Lake District

did my first race in the UK in 20 years and more last Sunday, a Cat 4 one hour crit, and got 3rd. i still say i was 2nd, but the line guy was adamant. we had to sprint through 20 guys that we’d already lapped so it was a bit of a crapshoot but still, it was a lot of fun. i’m a long way off form so it was great to get the lungs going, same race  tomorrow so will be going for the win this time.

Flanders and Roubaix draw ever nearer, i am so excited that if i was wearing a 7mm wetsuit i’d definitely pee in it.

today Sagan went and won the E3 and threatens to make this journo dude look a bit of a fool, the same guy who said he couldn’t beat Boonen and Cancellara next week.


over and out. next installment of the Euro Adventure 2014 coming soon, thanks for reading.


i’m currently in the UK on my way to Belgium to cover the Tour of Flanders, E3 Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix for PezCycling News, courtesy of Velo Classic Tours.



Milan-San Remo: it’s a bit dull, isn’t it?

yeah, it’s just not doing it for me, the ‘biggie’ that opens up The Monuments season.

you can read why here on PezCycling News.

here’s a snippet:

Ready for some blasphemy? Ok, well, Milan-San Remo is a little boring.

There, I’ve said it now, it’s out there and I can’t take it back.

It’s like the bloated uncle sat loosening his belt after too much turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving. It’s a Hummer in a car park full of thoroughbred race cars. It’s that kid that can’t play football that is still left standing there, alone at the end, every time you pick teams…


'hello, is that the Missing Lumberjack hotline? we may have found your man...'

‘hello, is that the Missing Lumberjack hotline? we may have found your man…’

crankpunk’s Euro Adventure ’14: part 1

my last Euro Adventure was back in 2011 when I was fortunate enough to get my butt kicked in some proper kermesse (aka interval training from hell) in Belgium and Holland and to take part in several post-Tour de France city crits, the highlight being the one in Maastricht, over wet cobbles under spotlights and in front of a good 20,000 people.

a whole city smelling of beer and french fries, ringing with cheers, the delight in the eyes of the spectators as their stars whizzed by and me being in amongst it all.

even writing that now, three years later, i still get goosebumps. you can read part 1 and part 2 of that trip here and here.

the 2014 Euro Adventure is of another flavor altogether. this time i’m visiting family in the UK, racing two events here, then heading over to Belgium on the 3rd of April to go work for PezCycling News at the Tour of Flanders, E3 Scheldeprijs and finally on to Mecca, otherwise known as Paris-Roubaix.

hallelujah, hellelujah, the bells are ringing and i am coming home. i know this is gonna sound delusional but that i am not actually racing these events is going to annoy me quite a bit. but heck, next best thing right? my remit from PEZ is to report on what it feels like to be there, which sounds like a Gonzo Mission to me if ever i heard one.

so i fully expect to be plastered on Rochefort 10 for the whole trip and writing according to the rhythms of that most beautiful of liquids as it works its magic on my central nervous system. if i awake the day after Roubaix in the Arenberg Forest in a tree with nothing on except a giant foam orange top hat and green galoshes, it will be Mission Accomplished

look out folks, i’m going Gonzo.

i will have to stay sober for at least part of it all though, as i’ll be taking part in the Tour of Flanders ‘Sportif’ (i call it the ‘sportif’ cos i’m gonna be racing all the way on that one, even if i’m the only one in the ‘race’), also riding the Gent-Wevelgem U23 course, and taking on 17 sections of the fabled cobbles of Roubaix.

the trip is part of a package tour supplied via Richard Pestes at PezCycling News and Velo Classic Tours, run by Peter Easton. you can see the ‘Cobbled Classics’ itinerary on their site, it’s mouth-watering… and maybe a little tear-inducing, considering all the cobbles and 30% climbs in there…



so, i’m back in the UK now, after 7 years on the run. all i can say is, man, people got fat. like, fat as flip. the Americanisation of our bodies continues apace.

Google Earth is out, it’s Google Girth these days, if you zoom in on any English town.

what else? the price of things – i say this at the risk of sounding my age – has gone nuts. 6 quid for fish and chips? 3 quid for a coffee? yet at the same time the government’s austerity measures (aka screwing the poor) and the stagnation of salaries combine to wreak havoc on people’s lives. it’s tangible, the hurt, and it is upsetting to see the places i know falling apart at the seams. England has always been shabby and dog-eared, as long as i’ve known it, but there was a whiff of solidarity and rebellion amidst the North when i was a kid, and that feels like that’s dissipated. or rather, been beaten down.

there is a violence within policy, in decisions made by bureaucrats who live in another place altogether, we see it everywhere, all over the world. it’s slow-drip, and often the most damaging of all because no one sees it until its effects are irreversible.

and then we come, awkwardly, to the riding. let’s just say the weather has been less than clement, and that i’ve been soaked to the bone twice now, had my iphone’s ‘waterproof’ case invade by H20 molecules (stuck it in basmati rice for 12 hours and rescued it, amazingly enough), but on two days the grey skies opened up and after the sun’s rays had only half-burned my retinas the beauty of the Lancashire landscape unfolded before me like an impossible promise made good.

the dry stone walls, architectural wonders in themselves, flank the road as ancient sentinels standing proud, behind which are fields of rolling green which seem designed to assuage the mind of its modern worries, flecked for miles with white dots of sheep and hungry gulls. the moorlands beckon further ahead, burnt orange and brown, the wind whipping over them creating its own music, haunting in a way yet nothing more than timeless.

the approach to The Trough of Bowland

the approach to The Trough of Bowland

you don’t listen to music when you’re riding here. the land takes you in, not the other way round. it is so beautiful and i had forgotten how much i missed it, or perhaps i’d forced myself to forget. 15 years away in Asia and filled with a lifelong yearning for experience that has taken me far and wide, this trip has confirmed to me that this is in fact my home. this land is in me, and i have no choice in the matter whatsoever.


the highlight so far has been seeing my family and my new little niece, Etta, but second was the trip to Chipping, a small village near the Trough of Bowland. in my memory for so many years, 25 in fact, was the carrot cake at the cafe there. i went in, sat down, ordered a pot of tea and a slice of carrot cake, and – you know how so often, when revisiting things or places that you’ve kept on a pedestal in your mind can disappoint when you eat, see or hear them again? well, this did not – it was still the best carrot cake i’ve ever had.

the staff had no idea of the momentousness of that slice of cake, and i liked that.

i wiped the plate clean with my finger, bid the waitress farewell, and then headed over country lanes and steep little climbs with a smile on my face.

without having discovered the bike, i’d have never met Eric Simcox, who took  me to Chipping when i was 15. i’d have never gone into that cafe nor ordered the carrot cake without his recommendation. and i’d never have gone back there to revisit that picturesque little town either, without the bike.

thank you, bicycle, for more than you can know.


and so, i’m sat here writing this at 9:36am on Saturday morning. in a little over 5 hours i will be racing in my first race in the UK in 22 years, in the exact same crit event where i won my last ever race in England.

funny how things work out eh? wish me luck.

(that day i won 6 Eccles cakes and a Coca-Cola headband, i hope things have stayed exactly the same!)

an Eccles cake. from Eccles, i suspect.

an Eccles cake. from Eccles, i suspect.

the ride to Chipping, first time on the GoPro, got a tad foggy and lost the best footage. hopefully will improve!

crankpunk tees for sale!

mail me if interested.

$32.99 US plus shipping, good quality, guaranteed to either get you kissed or punched.

(probably punched)

mr. c. punk.

mr. c. punk.


Tiffany Cromwell, winner of the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad classic and a stage at the women's Giro, resplendent in her crankpunk tee

Tiffany Cromwell, winner of the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad classic and a stage at the women’s Giro, resplendent in her crankpunk tee


Serene Lee, Singaporean national rider and winner of the recent Tour of Chiang Mai

Serene Lee, Singaporean national rider and winner of the recent Tour of Chiang Mai… and yes, she is cute.


Eri Yonamine, who is 2013 Japanese RR, ITT and MTB champion, styling in the cp tee in Taipei

Eri Yonamine, 2013 Japanese RR, ITT and MTB champion, styling in the cp tee in Taipei