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Rocks and mud, or mud and rocks?



Sunday night was a big one for bike fans.

At Lourdes, the little town in the French Alps where St Bernadette saw the blessed virgin, or possibly a seagull, the downhillers were kicking off their WorldCup pilgrimage. In Paris, the roadies were heading for Roubaix, over 250 kilometres away via a heap of cobbled farm tracks.

All over the world, people would be hunkering down in front of their tellys, armed with RedBulls or beer and chips, depending on the event they selected.

We had the opportunity to go and watch the road race at various places, and the temptations offered were impressive. One party featured Belgian beers and chips with mayonnaise to be consumed as the riders passed through their feed stations during the live broadcast. Figuring on two or three of those, plus additional servings to coincide with some of the 27 sectors of cobblestones, there would be no driving home afterwards. Another was hosted by a guy who has experienced Paris-Roubaix as a rider, and still coaches people taking part in this year’s edition. That would be a chance to get some real insights into the ins and outs of a race that has been a classic since its inception in 1896.

Complicating matters was a bike ride on the Moerangi trail, taking the logistically simple but physically ridiculous version I have sworn never to repeat on two previous occasions.

Bad weather threatened, but cleared as we drove into the wilds. On to the bikes, and trail conditions were close to perfection if you didn’t count the bits that were too steep and weathered to be rideable. Still, grovelling uphill, pushing for a while, pedalling the lowest gear for as long as possible before walking again, and clambering over a few slips and what-not for an hour or so is all worthwhile when the trail tips downwards on the far side of a hill, this one in particular.

We motored (well, they motored, me not so much) along a trail that was by turns amazingly good, almost overgrown, and in one place, completely gone. A pleasant little brook once exited into the stream we follow, and some act of nature we can’t imagine had scoured the brook out to bedrock, five metres deep and double that in width, depositing a thousand truckloads of mud, rocks and smashed trees into the stream bed. Amazing. But not impassable. We continued on to a lunchstop 22kms in, then turned around as a light rain began to fall.

That became a solid deluge, not cold, but turning the trail into a watercourse of its own.

The trip back turned into a bit of a death march, for us at the back anyway. We finally emerged, covered in mud and some niggly little hooked seeds that stick to leg hair and socks, and all sporting a couple of patches of nettle stings.

By the time we had driven back to town and got clean, dry and fed, I was ready for bed. Both bike events went by unseen by me, and parties unattended. First thing in the morning we watched the downhill, and the last, epic kilometres of Paris-Roubaix.

Live, more or less.




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