A small group of walkers, including several Centurions, headed over to France to compete in the 60th edition of the Roubaix 28 hour race and the 7th edition of the 24 hour relay.
As the race takes place in a public park, the "Viillage Marcheurs" is set up on Saturday morning - so it's a quick breakfast then drive a mile or so to the park Barbieux where our "pitch" is waiting for us. It doesn't take long to erect the tents, set out the tables and chairs and of course, put the kettle on!
This year, the 24 hour relay teams were scheduled to register on Saturday morning (rather than the usual Friday evening) and then take lunch at 11.30 so it was all a bit of a rush - squeeze everyone into cars and head back into town where we also hoped to meet up with Steve Allen (Barnet) travelling out to be part of the Thunderbolts relay team.
The reason for the tight scheduling and early starts was the celebration of the 60th edition - the start of which was to take place in the Grand Place in front of the magnificent (and recently cleaned up) Hotel de Ville. The 28Hrace was to head out on a largish lap of 15111 metres before starting the regular lap within the park - 3031 metres.
Whilst the 28 hour individual stalwarts were racing around Roubaix, the 24 hour relay wimps were sheltering inside the tents as the rain threatened to ruin all our fun! As luck would have it, the rain stopped as the relay got under way at 5pm. Suzanne Beardsmore kicked off for the Lightening Ladies and Steve Allen for the Thunderbolts - (very) quickly followed by Norma Grimsey (LL) and Serena Queeny (Thunderbolts) and finally Kathy Crilley (LL) and Sue Rey (Thunderbolts). This would be the order of the day for the next 23hours. Meanwhile, Sandra Brown was walking strongly as was Chris Flint with Bob Watts steadily notching up the kilometres.
As it turned out the weather was very mild overnight - which was a blessing. Another blessing was of course Wendy! A friend and colleague of Serena - she single handledly supported the Lightening Ladies, The Thunderbolts, Chris and Bob - and all with a smile and plenty of jokes. She really kept us all going...walking... and happy throughout the whole 28 hours and more!
Richard Brown was part of the Dutch team (The Internationals) so there was great rivalry between "Them and Us" - they won! but only but a few hundred metres......
New to the Roubaix 24 hour relay scene were the Trois Amigos who did themselves proud finishing in second place. Whlst 34km behind the leaders, the Trois Polonais, I'm sure we can produce a team which can take them on.
As with many of the races in France, the course during the last hour is shortened to heighten the tension and more mundanely, to manage the race better over the last hour. So in Roubaix, the course went into the "out and back" lap of 1000metres for the last hour during which everyone goes into a sort of frenzy trying to get a few extra kilometres into the bag. And try and overtake their nearest rival (as did Sandra- well done!)
The race is very well organised (well after 60 years - they have got the hang of things...) Roubaux has had computerised results for at least 15 years (!!!!) as well as chip timing for 7 or so years. The chip timing is also backed up by manual lap recording at the two turn around points situated at each end of the course. This is crucial in lap recording as nothing always goes to plan - notably where more than one walker crosses the line at the same time - only one number is recorded. Catastrophe! So the relay teams have always recorded their own lap times in order to counteract such anomalies. So when the results showed the Lightening Ladies one lap short - we knew that this was not the case and indeed when the final results were published the Lightening Ladies were back to where they should have been... in 5th place rather than 6th place! Phew!
The race is very well supported by the town of Roubaix - bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels as well as the Mairie. The overseas athletes are very well subsidised by the organisation, for which we are very gratefull.
The British have very many friends in Roubaix - after all we have been participating in the race for very many years. This year Bob Watts celebrated 25 years of continuous participation in the 28 hour race. Kathy Crilley notched up 20 years of participation - a mixture of 28 hours and 24 hour relay races.
Louis Bourgois started the 28 hour race 60 years ago and his daughter, Arlette, is still very much involved - manning the manual lap recording desk at the end of the park. Arlette is a great friend and long may it continue to be so.
Then there is M. Bernard SIX. Former deputy Mayor of Roubaix and Mayor of Croix, which until a couple of years ago was where the race started; the Croix de Mairie always made a huge financial contribution to the race organisation. Bernard has supported the "Brits" for more than 20 years when his children were small and cycled round the course (trying to practice their English on us!) Bernard is always there - every year without fail - helping out with being the local "taxi" taking the Brits from start to finish/ finish to hotel etc. Always willing and helpful - not least because he speaks the local language!!! Thank you Bernard.
M. Louis Desroches - Secretary of the Roubaix Walking Club. Louis sends out the entry forms and invitations every year without fail and with Mme Desroches, mans the registration desk. No easy task.
Claude Lebon. Vice President of the Roubaix Walking Club. The man on the ground - Mr Logistics. Claude organises the Village Marcheurs and suffers emails from the English (me!) giving the number of tents, dimensions, etc, etc,.... Claude does us proud - every year - and is very helpful and supportive of our paticipation. Also he does much more than help the British walkers!!
Do join us in 2014!