Classically Trained

Classically Trained

I called Radio Freddy. I said, “Are you aware that Het Volk is this weekend?” And he said, “They don’t call it that anymore, and yeah, I know, although I gotta say, I’m not feelin’ it.”

The Spring Classics, and particularly their opening weekend, mean a lot to cycling fans. First, they herald changing weather. Freddy wasn’t feelin’ it because where he is looks and feels a lot like where I am, cold, snowy, and still dark. Trees are not budding. Birds perch silently. Snow still blankets the ground. But the racing won’t wait. Classics season comes whether we’re ready or not. With the desert pre-season over, the season proper is now on.

omloop2011elitemenmapsmAs it turned out, Tom Boonen froze his ass off in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (rolls right off the tongue) on Saturday, and Ian Stannard stole a march on Greg Van Avermaet, putting an Englishman on the top podium step of the opening race of Classics season for the first time since, oh, wait, an Englishman has never won this race. In 67 runnings, a Belgian has won 54 times, the Dutch 4, Italians 4, and the rest, including Stannard, remain outliers on the curve, a bit like this winter.

On Sunday, at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Boonen took one back for the home team. Order restored.

Perhaps in response, I’ve begun riding my bike again. It was 14F when I left home yesterday. But screw it. We have to start somewhere. If Tommeke can do it, so can I.

After my chat with Radio Freddy, Chris at Velobici emailed me to say they are running their Spring Classics Challenge again this year. I don’t Strava a lot (it’s a verb now), but I will take whatever motivation I can get this time of year. Chris was particularly excited about the competition between countries, which I took as a casting down of the gauntlet, a cheery, polite challenge. It made me want to ride.   Of course, they’re giving away prizes, but I don’t need prizes nearly as much as I need the miles that lead to the prizes.

TourOfFlanders_mediumSomewhere in this flurry of Classics-related hijinks a shiny new copy of Les Woodland’s Tour of Flanders: The Inside Story showed up at my house. OK. OK. I get it. It’s time to HTFU. Woodland does a great job of evoking the spirit of early Flandrian cycling, painting pictures of the stoic hardmen who begat their eponymous race, including the race’s founder Karel van Wijnendaele who was very much the Belgian version of Henri Desgranges, a driven and tyrannical journalist/promoter who helped drag professional cycling into the modern era.

Woodland peppers his narrative with Belgian and European history to add context and color where it will help his story while keeping with the best tradition of character-based non-fiction. There are characters, and there is drama. The book is good as a history, good as a cycling book, and finally good as a motivator to pull on your tights and get back on your bike after a too-long off-season.

I have mentioned over a number of posts here over a number of months my dwindling interest in pro cycling, which may be a function of the short time I have to think about anything other than work and family as much as it is a result of a growing disillusionment with the whole idea of people racing bikes for money, and the decidedly mixed results therefrom. HOWEVER, some habits die hard (most of mine seem to), and there is something about Spring Classics season that stirs me, that motivates me, that excites me.

Last week, Radio Freddy and I weren’t feeling it. This week, we’re riding our bikes.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International



  1. PedalRon

    14 F? Yikes, that is cold for cycling, even off-roading in the woods.

    Strava a verb?! Say it ain’t so. I’m hoping “growing your business” and “at my work yesterday” fade away. You grow a carrot, not a business. Work is something you do, and you do it at your workplace.

    Yep, that was an exciting opening weekend. Thanks for the heads up on the book, never heard of it. And that lead photo is excellent no matter how many times I see it.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    You went riding when it was 14 degrees? You, sir, are hard core enough. HTFU no longer applies to the Robot, an apt name by the way. But, here in AZ, never mind.

  3. Paul I.

    I have not done nearly enough riding yet this winter, and I have the 80 mile, classics inspired “Hell of Hunterdon” to do in 2 1/2 weeks. It comes with 16 dirt and/or gravel segments and around 6000 feet of climbing. Anyway, it’s supposed to be warmer from this weekend on, so I’ll try and get myself in some kind of halfway decent shape …

  4. Mike Hancock

    The trainer dungeon in my garage, where I ride for 6+ months out of the year, is stocked with a large stack of Northern Classics DVDs. None of that wussy TDF garbage, just true hardmen experiencing more pain than I am on my trainer. Puts things into perspective.
    I could care less about most races on the calendar, but the early season races in Europe are the ones that inspire me.

  5. Alan

    I *might* love the Spring Classics MORE than the 3 grand Tours.

    If it wasn’t for Alpe d’Huez, the Cols, and the Stelvio, the Classics would win hands down.

  6. Hautacam

    Yup, the spring classics (OK, the cobbled classics + Milan San Remo —
    weather-wise it hardly seems spring yet) are pretty much the last bastion of pro cycling in which I have any interest. Not sure why. Maybe because they seem the most “authentic” (a very problematic word when you really examine it) relative to others. But I definitely perk my Internet ears up for them, whereas the rest I don’t. Except for Giro di Lombardi in the fall. Another outlier.

  7. Quentin

    In the classics, even if the strongest guy wins, which isn’t guaranteed, how he got there is often an infinitely more interesting and complicated story than the sort of race of attrition you see in your typical mountain Tour stage nowadays. I only have so much time for watching racing, and I, too, find that the classics are almost always time well spent. I also find the classics interesting from a technology point of view because the bike technology developed with the classics in mind more relevant to the riding that I do than the latest TT frame or climbing wheels.

  8. Robot

    @ PedalRon & Pat O’Brien: Lest it appear I am boasting in daring to ride in the cold, I will say that I know many, many people who have ridden all winter long, through snow storms, through day after day of the sort of cold I have only occasionally attempted. Everyone I know in Minneapolis/St.Paul is tougher than I am. Most of the folks here in New England are tougher.

    And on top of that, the cold isn’t really a problem. The winter riding gear available today is remarkably effective. As an example, the Pearl Izumi winter jacket I reviewed last year (×1-winter-jacket/) is actually too warm, even when it’s 14F, for me to wear all together. The individual pieces are still very useful, but all together, they more than overcome low temps.

    The real thing of winter riding is dealing with water, whether it’s snow or sleet or road melt. Road melt is the absolute worst.

    Finally, and I may write a whole post about this one day, I have stopped believing the pros who ride the Spring Classics are hard men. They’re all paid to be there, to suffer. I know so many commuters who ride equal or greater distances in far worse conditions for the simple love of and belief in riding the bike.

    Thanks, as always, for reading.

  9. Pat O'Brien

    I have blood thinned by 33 years of Arizona winters. So, 14 degrees is tough rider territory to me. I do remember ice skating as a kid in temps that cold or colder growing up in Illinois North of Chicago.

    Back to the classics, I find cobbles, mud, and horse exhaust to be the true territory of skinny ass hard men.

  10. Gustavo Cinci

    Robot is correct. if you have a sturdy, dedicated winter bike (with functioning fenders), then riding is not really an issue. i have been riding throughout this winter, sometimes during snowy days. that includes commute, too. the clothing is key to keep your sanity. besides, we get conditioned (not used) to riding in the cold. these days of -12C (10F), the ride to work is not any colder than any other time of the year.
    Robot: we missed you at The Sword 2 weeks ago. But that concert we saw back in May was much better.

    1. Author

      @ Gus – I missed The Sword?!?!?!? Aaaaagggghhhhh! I suck at long term planning. Sorry I missed it. Very sorry indeed.

  11. Peter Lin

    the last ride I did this winter around Jan was hovering around 10F. That was enough to keep me indoors and on the trainer, but this weekend is suppose to be warmer. Makes me happy to known I’m not alone, others are also itching to hit the road and ride again!

  12. Derek

    Ride pretty much every day here in the Springs. I am with PedalRon though. You grow a carrot not a section of the market or a business.

  13. Pingback: Friday Group Ride #212 | RKP

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