On Sunday, the men of the pro peloton will be racing over the cobbles of Flanders, hoping not to crash or flat. With both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen closing on retirement (though still capable of winning), this feels like the most open race in years. Peter Sagan has to be a favorite, and of course there are others.
The cobbles are stupid. If they were on the shortest route of my regular commute, I would take the long way to avoid them. On a road bike? Forget it. In the rain, the cobbles become slick. When it’s dry, the dust will choke you. This is not a surface for riding, and yet, and yet.
Where I grew up, Alabama, they have red clay. The clay roads can be great to ride, tacky and smooth, or they can be absolutely miserable, like peanut butter or worse. A fine sand settles on top and makes traction impossible.
Here in New England, we have challenging surfaces, too. Our pavement is by-and-large old, cracked, pot-holed and broken. Our trails are made of rooty, rocky soil courtesy of the last ice age and heavy traffic. It can make that magical mountain bike flow elusive. It can challenge your bike handling. I can challenge your dentistry.
I can recall snow rides that were absolute magic, white stuff fluttering down all around, traction still perfect, quiet everywhere. And I can recall snow rides that were just not possible, my back wheel spinning out every which way, dragging myself along foot-by-foot, trying to stay upright.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the worst surface you’ve ridden? What was it like? Have you sampled the cobbles? Are there some especially terrible riding conditions where you live? Do you ever dream of riding the cobbles yourself? Do you romanticize them? And who do you think will win on Sunday?
Image: Wikimedia Commons