Riding cobbles is a specialism; part technique, part game of nerve and something that is essential to-do for any cycling bucket list.
The mother of all sectors – or what the French call secteurs pavés – is La Trouée d’Arenberg. A punishing tree-lined stretch through the Arenberg forest. 2.4km of rough, uneven Napoleonic stones that jut up and out at irregular angles. The so-called Arenberg Trench has featured in the race since 1968, famously throwing Johan Museeuw from his bike in 1998 leaving him with a shattered kneecap.
JLT Condor’s Jon Mould is the current holder of the Strava KOM for one of the most notorious roads in cycle race history. The Welshman completed the section in three-minutes dead riding at an average speed of 44 km/h. He set the KOM during a training ride when the team visited France for the GP Marbriers last August, in the build up to the Tour of Britain.
This year sees the inclusion of several cobbled sectors in the Tour de Yorkshire and with the classics season in full flow Jon Mould provides his tips for those looking for perfect pavé performance.
25-27mm tyres are essential. “You get better traction, comfort and grip.” If you have the luxury of tubulars Jon recommends them. “I ran around 89 psi and Continental tubulars feel great to ride on and reduce the risk of pinch punctures.”
Know the W
Years of use from carts, tractors and cars have pushed the cobbles into a W shape. “Ride in the middle, the bit that has been pushed up. There is sometimes a bit of grass between the cobbles up there, the gaps between the stones are alittle smaller.”
Don’t panic if you slip from the high-line. “If you naturally drift from the middle, don’t think of adjusting your position as ‘steering’ but give yourself 30-50 metres to drift yourself back to the middle. Don’t turn the bars.”
Big ring riding
Ride a gear harder than normal says Jon, “It is easier to keep constant smooth pressure in a bigger gear. Your body won’t bounce as your accelerating down the pavé. That keeps the back wheel locked onto the cobbles, rather than skipping around, which could cause a crash.”
Reduce your grip on the bars and stay on the tops away from the brakes explains Jon. “Let the bar shake inside your heads. Squeezing the bars is only going to hurt your hands and shake your body more. If you move your arms or body it will pull the bars and you off the crown of the pavé.”
Jon rode the Trouée d’Arenberg on the drops to keep as aerodynamic as possible but warns it is more uncomfortable. “Once your on the drops, the vicious stones rattling your bike and body won’t allow you to change your hand position unless you fancy crashing as you momentarily let go of the bars.”
“Keep your head up,” Mould says, this is essential and helps with handling, “the trees either side create a tunnel. Focus on the light, it is deceiving because the end never seems to get closer. Don’t let your head drop and look at your wheel as burning fatigue sets in.”
Looking ahead gives you time to move around the cobbles and avoid any holes created by tourist stealing pavé mementos. “If you end up in the gutter rather than the middle look ahead to the middle where you want to be, it will help you drift back up the crown.”