Appreciating the “Hard Men”

28 02 2011

The European cycling season is officially underway.

So while we were dealing with this:

Our roads are a mess after four inches of snow fell early Sunday morning.

The pro peloton was in Belgium, dealing with this:

Walking the cobbles of Flanders.

While there have already been races in Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and cash-grab races in those cycling hotbeds of Qatar and Oman, the real season begins in the rolling hills, narrow country roads and cobbled climbs of Flanders.

The Omloop Het Volk and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne aren’t considered full-on Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; they’re more like regional races that attract a lot of the pro teams to prepare for the big northern European races that will come later in March and April.

I’ve been especially looking forward to these races this year, not just because they’re a harbinger of spring, but mostly because I now have a familiarity with riding those country roads and cobbled climbs.

The Omloop started and finished in Ghent, where we spent a week last October. And the K-B-K included some of the climbs we tasted during a very cold and wet ride escorted by our cousin Filip and his brother Kristoff.

Katie concedes to the cold, rough climb up the Oude Kwaremont.

Like any athletic endeavor, watching it on TV (or in the case of most cycling races, in a little window on my Mac) doesn’t do the reality justice. The climbs like Oude Kwaremont and the Kruisberg aren’t terribly long or impossibly steep, but the cobbles and ruts beat you up. If it’s wet, it’s hard to get traction. If it’s cold, your legs scream with ache and your fingers numb. String six or ten of those climbs together, mash a huge peloton onto their narrow confines, throw wind and rain into the riders’ faces, and you gain a whole new appreciation for why it takes a “hard man” to be successful in the early spring in Belgium.

The “real” Classics begin in exactly a month, with Ghent-Wevelgem, then the Tour of Flanders on April 3 and Paris-Roubaix a week later. In between will be the week-long Paris-Nice and the one day Milan-San Remo in Italy. I’ll be getting up early for all of them, scouring the internet for online video feeds.

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One response

28 02 2011
DVN

“I’ll be getting up early for all of them, scouring the internet for online video feeds.”

Have you tried out cycling.tv? While it can be hit-or-miss for the Giro and the Vuelta (and of course, no ‘Tour), it does a good job at covering the classics.

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