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The Paris-Roubaix: Commiserate and Celebrate Ride
By Staff
Date: 4/16/2003
The Paris-Roubaix: Commiserate and Celebrate Ride

By Tony Szurly

On Sunday, April 13th I had the opportunity to ride along with 18 members of the New York Cycle Club on their inaugural "Paris-Roubaix: Commiserate and Celebrate Ride". The ride was the brainchild of NYCC member Scott Demel, who was inspired, like many of us, by Jurgen Leth’s classic documentary, "A Sunday in Hell". An architect and photographer, Scott has a keen eye for the hidden gems of his adopted town.

I had never ridden a bike in New York City, and although I was born in Brooklyn, I have to admit that I had no idea that the roads Scott would lead us on even existed. The waterfront of Brooklyn, once occupied by warehouses when the borough was the hub of New York’s shipping business, is one of the hottest real estate markets in New York these days, with many businesses and artists reclaiming the buildings and forgotten neighborhoods. Luckily for us, there is still a sampling of the untouched cobblestones that once typified the street construction here.

There were many similarities between our ride and the real "Hell of the North" taking place in France that day. Like the riders in Compiegne, warm temperatures and beautiful sunshine greeted us as we began our ride. Some had mountain bikes, some had cyclocross bikes, but most had chosen their road bikes, the better to feel the sensations of cobbles "rumbling through bike, arms and legs", as Scott put it. And just like the real race, these sections of old roads and cobbles are fast disappearing. Scott had worked hard in preparing for the day, scouting out concentrated sections in various neighborhoods and stringing them together. The route would pass through areas that had seen their own share of history: Brooklyn Heights, site of one of the first big battles of the American Revolution; the area around Water Street, filled with Civil War era brick warehouses; the aptly named Cobble Hill area, birthplace of Winston Churchill’s mother.

As we turned towards Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, considered by many to be America’s foremost landscape architect and the creator of New York’s Central Park, we were in for a little bonus. The roads circling the park had been stripped and rilled in preparation for resurfacing this summer. The "Commiserate" portion of the day had officially begun!

Unlike the riders in Paris-Roubaix, you could hear shouts and whoops of excitement coming from the intrepid group of NYCC riders as we hit the first long sections of Brooklyn-style pavé. If the cobbles didn’t get you, the small potholes, uneven surface and the occasional sets of rail tracks might. We rattled and rolled on our way towards Bay Ridge. The adrenaline was pumping now and the pace cranked up as we blasted into the headwinds along the Shore Road waterfront with its beautiful views of New York Bay and the Verrazano Bridge.

The fun factor ramped up as we hit the concentrated sections of cobbles in the Bush Terrminal and Red Hook neighborhoods. Mean and gnarly, these sections of pavé really gave the group the sensations of what our heroes in France were going through at the very same moment. More than one rider commented that they didn’t know if they could ride on this stuff for hours like the pros do.

New Yorkers have lots of great acronyms for areas of the city. We’ve all heard of SoHo and TriBeCa, but I had never heard of DUMBO until this day. That’s Directly Under the Manhattan Bridge Underpass. The ride would finish at a great little spot near the bridge called the Water Street Bar. The NYCC had pre-arranged for our group to be treated to OLN’s same-day coverage of the Paris-Roubaix race on the bar’s wide screen television. As we pulled up, many other club members were already in place. The Duvel was poured, lunch was ordered and the "Celebrate" portion of the event began in earnest. It was a boisterous, energetic group of 35 that cheered on their heroes. As the kilometers drew to a close on the velodrome, a chant of "Eki! Eki!" moved through the bar but we cheered all the same as Lotto-Domo’s Peter Van Petegem made the final move for the win. Scott mentioned that even the bartender was quite impressed by such exuberant cycling fans. She kept track of the tabs by jersey color and design.

Chapeau! to Scott and all the members of the NYCC for an absolutely great day out riding the Brooklyn cobbles followed by the terrific atmosphere of race viewing and fellowship! It was definitely a day to remember.

New York City Cycle Club

The BK Pavé Ride

Photo credits:
Tony Szurly and Scott Demel

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