The Tour of Flanders - queen of the classics - takes place tomorrow. Many of the world's best cyclists will contest this beautiful race over the brutal terrain of Belgium's farm roads, steep climbs and - of course - historic cobblestones. Click here for some ways you can watch or follow the race, along with course maps, info and riders to watch.
Below is a snippet of the piece I wrote for ROKA on what it's like to race the cobbled classics. You can read the full version here.
Any pro cyclist will tell you, the crux of the sport is discomfort: enduring it, inflicting it and cultivating the ability to withstand incrementally more than the rider suffering next to you.
An Italian teammate once advised that to earn respect in the peloton, one must “make pain.” The non-native choice of words notwithstanding, it is an apt turn of phrase. To make pain for others is to make pain for oneself, and no races embody this beautiful brutality quite like the spring classics.
Simply turn the pedals hard enough and you can make pain on any old road. The classics, however, throw everything and the kitchen sink at the athletes: weather, terrain, cobbles, mud, dust, roads no wider than a desk (with plenty of “road furniture” for added excitement) — a chaos of discomforts contested by every rider in the field.
The smallest distraction can forfeit an advantage. Every moment, every decision matters crucially. The pros go to great lengths to minimize extraneous, potentially distracting discomforts. Bar tape, tire pressure, wheel choice, lens choice, embrocation, clothing – these details will either help or hinder the essential focus on the one discomfort that matters: to make pain.