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.
As 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.
Somewhere 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