An ode to being back in Belgium
Belgium. Say the word and every cycling fan will get excited. Wind, rain, cobbles – any combination of the three is enough to make a bike race exciting. Often in Belgium it’s inevitable to have at least two of those elements and that’s what makes the Spring Classics so special.
Whether it’s breakaways with 50km to go or echelons from KM0, solo attacks with 60km to go, to reduced bunch kicks or mass sprints, full-gas racing is what characterises the Classics. They produce an array of situations and are rarely predictable. Even when we thought Wout van Aert and Matthieu van der Poel were unbeatable, Belgium showed us otherwise.
Belgium has the echelons of De Moeren and the climbs of Paterberg, Kwaremont and Koppenberg. Where bike races are won or lost. Where riders ignite the afterburners or completely pop. Where the gladiators of our sport once again amaze us with their pure, raw power.
From the outside, the racing seems almost poetic. As a bike rider, far from it. We either love it or loathe it – it all depends on the day’s legs. Fatigue in the body. Five hours of concentration, the constant fight for positioning, cramp in the legs, lactic acid up to the eyeballs, suddenly the Paterberg seemed easy and closing the 10m gap to the wheel in front is the hardest effort of the day. Whether winning or losing, I’m yet to finish a Belgian Classic that was an easy day out, and I’m sure I will never encounter one.
What’s so beautiful with the Belgian Classics is that with 150 riders comes 150 stories. Whether it’s a crash-marred race or perfect positioning through the day, at some point or another we will have all suffered the same. One thing that is for sure, we will all leave Belgium with the same mental and physical fatigue, yet we’ll find ourselves with an impatience to start it all over again.