A Sunday in Hertfordshire

“If you don’t have the legs, this is the worst place you could possibly be.”

This year Rapha’s Hell of The North V  features a brand new and very special Roubaix-themed section, requiring a touch of legwork to piece together a route worthy of the name. A note on the new course, without giving too much away: it will be special. The new secteurs will be exhilarating if dry and hellish if wet. After a weekend of sunshine the gravé – the trails, bridleways and farm tracks that make up the meatiest part of the Hell of the North – is firm and fun, allowing just enough traction through the corners to stop you losing the front wheel. After a storm, though, these paths will test even the most capable of bike handlers and might inspire a few to ask how this sort of riding can pass as humane.

So, why is the Hell of the North the way it is? It’s a chance for riders to celebrate parts of the sport that are often overlooked later in the summer – a mastery of your bike, a racing line that is millimetres away from carnage, the rivalry of chasing down a complete stranger in one of the most adverse sectors, the seeming perversity of finding a course that deliberately makes your day harder.

The lure of a good beer and a serving of frites doesn’t harm the cause either, and the celebration kicks off in earnest when all Hell of the North riders sit down together to enjoy the Queen of the Classics with an appreciation keened by the route they’ve just completed.