If you need me Sunday afternoon, I'll be at the bar, ale in hand, watching the world's best cyclists ride one of the world's hardest races. The 108th Paris-Roubaix race is this Sunday and I could not be more excited. The race--appropriately nicknamed the Queen of the Classics, Hell of the North, and a Sunday in Hell--is a brutal, one-day race through 259km of French countryside ending with a lap on the famed Roubaix velodrome. It is famous for its body-jarring (and equipment-breaking) cobblestones, filthy conditions, and amazing breakaways.
Seattle might not have kilometers-long sections of cobblestones, but we do have a number of cobblestone side streets around town. Toss in a few of the steepest hills in the city (many of which happen to be cobblestoned), some bricks, and gravel and you have the elements of a spring classic. In the spirit of Sunday's race, I plotted out a route connecting as many cobblestone streets as I could find. It's only 28 miles, but there's nearly 3000 feet of climbing, much of which is over teeth-rattling cobblestone. The ride is challenging enough to tire the strongest legs and lungs out there. I consider myself a fairly strong cyclist and a regular 28-mile ride is usually a piece of cake. I did this route this morning, and it is no regular ride. By the final climbs, my legs were screaming and my lungs were on fire.
The ride begins by zig-zagging through southwest Queen Anne. Perhaps its because many of the roads are incredibly steep in the neighborhood, but Queen Anne boasts the most cobblestones of any place I could find in the city. After some hard climbs and hairy descents, the route takes you down along Elliott Ave towards downtown. After popping up Lenora, you'll cross Seattle's most famous cobblestones in front of Pike Place Market. Then the route heads north to the far end of Capitol Hill and east to three of the steepest streets in Seattle (Aloha, Valley and Roy on the East side of Capitol Hill). In what I'll take as a testament to the ride, I snapped my chain (or at least the master link) while climbing Roy on a test ride. Fortunately, I was mostly uphill from Montlake Bicycles so I coasted down, picked up a new master link, and was back on my way.
Though your legs will probably be on fire after climbing Aloha and Roy, the route goes up and over Madison back down to the waterfront before heading to the bricks of old Ballard, then on some gravel near Greenlake. Enjoy the long descent down Fremont Ave before making a final climb over the backside of Queen Anne on 4th Ave N. A slight word of caution to anyone considering this ride, some of the roads (particularly Boren and Fairview through downtown) have heavy traffic, so be careful!
If you want to truly appreciate Sunday's treacherous Paris-Roubaix pump up your tires, tighten all your bolts (seriously, they'll all rattle out), and go honor the Classics greats like Eddie Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck with some suffering on cobblestone hills before watching the race. It airs at 3 p.m. PDT on the Versus network. If you're on the road by 11:30, you'll have plenty of time to finish the ride, wash up, and start drinking your favorite "recovery" beverage before the race gets underway.