Welcome to the greatest week to be a cycling fan. Forget the Tour de France. The week book-ended by the two greatest bike races in the world - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - brings more excitement, drama, trash talking and general heroism on two wheels than you will ever see over the rest of the year ...
Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are best known for their brutal routes that run over stretches of ancient cobble stone roads, many built during or prior to Napoleon. These cobbled stretches have been known to break the strongest of men, but they make for exhilarating viewing.
Phoenix offers some of its own version of cobble-like riding, from gravel covered canal banks to heat-pulverized tarmac to freeway shoulder grade ripples. Sure, nothing truly compares to jarring rattle of the stones of northern France and Belgium, but we can do our best to recreate the experience.
Before heading out on your own cobble experience, it is imperative that you have a deep understanding and appreciation for the authentic torture most cyclists put at the top of their bucket list (honestly, I personally have crossing the Arenberg Forrest and summiting the Koppenberg over riding up the slopes of Alpe d'Huez or the Tourmalet).
The reason these races are so, dare I say, epic is because they are one-day races. It is all or nothing for that one day. And the spring is littered with these "Classics," beginning with Milan-San Remo in early March and culminating at the end of April with Liege-Baston-Liege. But the king and queen of the Spring Classics are Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
These races are beasts, covering distances of over 160 miles and lasting more than six hours. Six hours of unending mashing and punishment, dust and mud. And there is no "tomorrow's stage" to make up for a mistake or lost time.
Versus - you know the network that shows the Tour de France 24/7 riddled with erectile dysfunction drug ads - airs these spring classics the day of the race, but the very best way to catch each race is to wake up early and find a live stream of a Eurosport feed. The best place to connect to these broadcasts is cyclingfans.com. If there is a live broadcast of a pro cycling race anywhere in the world, these guys will link to it.
The UK Eurosport cycling casts are announced by David Harmon and Irish cycling legend Sean Kelly. These guys put Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin to shame. But if you're feeling adventurous, check out a Belgian feed.
After you've enjoyed the race, head out and recreate a one-day classic here across the Valley's roads, trails and pathways. For a similar Paris-Roubaix experience, try the Round the Mountain route, a ride that goes around South Mountain through the Gila River Indian Reservation and back through Laveen.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #14: Put a little creme where it counts. There is nothing, NOTHING, as valuable to a cyclist on a long, rough ride like a good dollop of chamois creme. As much as that chamois pad in bike shorts helps to provide comfort, sweat and rubbing can make things ungodly down in those nether regions. Go get yourself a tube or tub of this stuff and apply it directly to the skin, not the chamois. DZ-Nuts, developed by pro cyclist and whack job Dave Zabriski, is the preferred brand around here. You will thank me later.
Start the ride at Granda Park in the shadow of Piestawa Peak. Over the course of this ride, be sure to throw in as many canal banks and broken roadways as possible to give your legs and lungs a good dust burn.
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Head south through Tempe and over around Firebird Lake along Maricopa Road. Stay right on the shoulder (high-speed traffic along this road) and turn right on Riggs Road. Settle in and hang on for some swirling winds along the totally exposed, rough road. Follow Riggs as it turns into 51st Avenue and leads you back into civilization in the form of Laveen.
Work back to Tempe along the north side of South Mountain and then head back through Arcadia and the Biltmore to Granada Park. Once home you will have covered 84 miles, just over half of Paris-Roubaix. Now go prove you are a PRO and do a second loop.
Trip Distance: 84 miles (unless you're a pro, then it's 168 baby!)
Trip Duration: As long as it takes, but at least 3 ½ hours.
Difficulty: Flat+rough+windy+long=HARD, just the way it should be.
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/31070234