Nils Bullitt explains the classic Hell of the North bike

Pain, dirt and love
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Why classic Paris-Roubaix cycling has such a charm

On Easter Sunday, the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic will take place with its cobbled lanes in northern France. Probably the toughest one-day race of the season. With Nils Polit, a German wants to share the lead. He explains the fascination.

The pain often persists even days later, joints are swollen and morale is shattered. However, most cyclists have left it to this race as love. The Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic is one of the toughest one-day races of the season, and perhaps even the toughest. As if the 257.5 kilometers from Compiègne in northern Paris to Roubaix before the Belgian border weren’t challenging enough for professional cyclists. No, 30 kilometers from it are over famous cobblestone paths, called Pave, in the north of France.

The riders then race over the big rocks at full speed, while the handlebars and the entire bike bang under it back and forth. Last year, heavy rain made the track muddy and slippery. The images were iconic – of cyclists around Italian winner Sonny Colberelli lying on the ground covered in dirt at the legendary finish track. After all, it should look a little different this year: perfectly dry and warm conditions for the event were announced on Easter Sunday.

One of the five cycling attractions, along with Milan Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tour of Lombardy, wouldn’t be a fun event. Germany’s Nils Bullett, who finished second in the Rubiks, knows this, too. “This is a race in which you have to be mentally at your best. Hardly any other race can do more, you never know how it will end. Because of the gravel paths, many falls occur, and many drivers have to deal with flat tires,” he told the newspaper. The material is under tremendous pressure, and great forces are applied to the body and the bike.”

The particular challenge of the “Queen of the Classics” or “Hell of the North”, as the race is optionally called, is the many cobbled trails that are difficult to drive on. It hits, it’s slippery, the tires spin, and there are punctures. The passengers and the ultra-light carbon wheels are under severe stress. It is easy to lose contact with the top, which can quickly end the victory battle.

But the worst part is the pain in the hands and fingers. “During my first outing, I could no longer hold the leash in my hand on the last two cobblestones because of the pain and the blisters started to bleed,” says Paulette, who joined German team Bora Hansgrohe after star Peter left. Sagan has more freedom this season and is one of the Sunday favorites in the extended group. Experience comes with years, which is why surprise victories are rare at Paris-Roubaix.

This is also the case with Politt, who now routinely leads the pavé cut. “I discovered myself that you have to install the handlebars more loosely, and let them ‘fit’ your hands. Then it doesn’t hurt as much as you feel gripped tightly all the time.” In addition, it is important to keep moving your hands and fingers over the pieces with a regular cap. If you want to take it easy, you can also avoid the edges of the cobbled driveways. The ground is a little softer – but sandy. In addition, the holes can severely hinder the driver. For Bullitt, there is only one motto: “Straight over the middle.”

But since that’s what most drivers want, things get crowded from the middle of the race. The first 100 km or so on normal roads heading north. Only then are the first 30 pavé cuts scheduled for this year’s edition — and things start to work. “It’s like a sprint: everyone wants to finish the race on top,” says Polit, adding, “Paris-Roubaix is ​​basically like an elimination race on a cycling track. The group keeps shrinking until the end.”

As Easter approaches the concrete track Roubaix, Politt also wants to be in the first group. After getting sick early in the season, he slowly but surely got back into shape. It also benefits from the postponement of the race for a week due to the French presidential elections last weekend. So it’s a “good hope”, although the first two candidates differ. But: “The classics have their own laws, anything can happen there.”

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