We catch up with Matt Dawson — master mechanic at Mike’s Bikes and a member of the Bristol GP team — after he tackled the cobbles of Roubaix as part of the annual sportive.
You’re just back from the Roubaix Sportive — how was the ride?
It was really tough, but it was a great spectacle to see so many people taking part. I enjoyed some great riding company from start to finish.
What bike did you ride? Did you have to make any special adjustments to it?
I rode a Ridley X-Trail Carbon. I pretty much custom built it for cobbles and mixed road riding. It’s got 38mm tyres, pumped up to 50psi. A mix of Shimano XT and Ultegra Di2 components and an extra wrap of bar tape.
It didn’t miss a beat, and definitely felt fast over the cobbles.
What was it like riding the famous Roubaix cobbles?
The cobbles are graded from 2⭐️ up to 5⭐️ — 5 being the most extreme. Queens Square in Bristol is like a 2⭐️.
A 5⭐️ section is like a rock garden with rounded edge rocks at an MTB trail centre.
If you ride on the crest (the centre) of the road, it’s a little less heavy going but you still get a good kicking from all the holes and cobbles sticking out. Once you get really tired (it took me about 5 cobbled sections for my arms to feel tired) you start looking for the gutter (the bit along the outside that isn’t cobbled and usually mud or grass).
This is classed by some as cheating — but anyone that had done 20+ sections was looking for the gutter without shame. It shakes you, makes your body and hands really sore trying to hold on, brake or change gear.
Basically, it’s really hard.
How was the event? Would you do it again?
The event is amazing, really well organised — great post ride atmosphere. You finish in the outdoor velodrome in Roubaix. It’s a great feeling as you come in.
There are lots of people along the way cheering you on, and loads of friendly people to ride with along the route. I’m definitely going again next year.
Did you see the pro race?
Yes! Absolutely, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without seeing how incredibly slow you are in comparison to the pros.
We drove from Bruges to the Arenberg Forrest to see the pros go through. The crowd was five people deep all the way along a 2.7km section. We climbed up on a steep slope and waited for about an hour to see them smash along the road at 40mph. Meanwhile we had beer and sunshine and plenty more company to keep us busy.
Any advice for someone wanting to ride Roubaix/ the cobbles?
Get your bike checked, serviced and make any necessary comfort ‘upgrades’ before you go. I wouldn’t recommend doing it on anything less than 27mm tyres and some good thick bar tape, probably some gloves too.
Also do some interval training — treat every cobbled section like a sprint, and then roll around on the road bits in between.
Oh, and ditch those old bottle cages! Your bottles will come out on the first 5⭐️ section.