You really cannot stand. There is not enough traction. But, you cannot really sit, the pitch is so great, the cobbles so rough. So, you sit and then you stand and then you sit and finally you stand. You try to think of Fabian and the huge power that he is putting down while pushing ever forward. Your heart rate is all the way to max. In fact, your bouncing of the rev limiter. It is pounding in your chest, your throat and your head. Your going Full Gas, yet your just barely moving. Squeak.
Push on the pedals. Left, Right, Left, Right...Squeak. It happens a few times. Slowly, you realize that it is rhythmic. If you shift it is still there. You try standing, it doesn't really help. Your shoulders are rocking. You push on the shifter again, but there is nothing left. In the back of your head, you can hear Mr. Scott, "I cannot give you any more captain".
You slide forward, you slide back. The saddle position does not seam to help. Squeak. What is that squeaking sound? The hill seems to go on forever. How in the world do the pro's push such a gear up these climbs? Wow, those barricades are tight. Squeak. Imagine how it must be during the race. A tunnel of sound with what would feel like the whole country on the side of each climb. Squeak. Imagine what it would be like to be at the front of the field, pushing the pace up the Koppenberg.
It is impossible. Squeak. The cobbles are impossibly rough. I have ridden mountain bike rides that were way way smoother than this. Squeak. The sound slowly starts to dawn on you. It sounds as if some one is running along behind you, noshing cheese curds with their teeth. Only, there is no one behind you and no running in evidence.
Finally, WHAT IS THAT SQUEAK? Slowly it begins to dawn on you...That is the tire loosing traction and sliding under power as it comes up off the cobble for just a split second. OMG. It is the coolest sound ever. Squeak. You love that sound. It will become your first revelation about the spring classics.
I have always known that spring classics in Belgium were special. But what I did not know about was the waffles. I did not realize that the waffle was going to be such an important piece of my spring classics lore in Belgium. It is a perfect ride food. Small, round, can be prepackaged, has little pockets that you can fill up with things (syrup, peanut butter, bananas...). It is perfect. I buy them by the dozens. They are mine.
The waffle and the cobbled spring classics are somehow related. The waffle and spring classics are tied together in some sort of parallel universe I think. I do not think that one can exist without the other. It is like the waffle was originally made on a really hot day by pouring batter on the cobbled road. In fact, that is my story - that is how they came to be. It is the story of laurent the waffle kid and the cobbles. Of course he lost his life in the storming of the castle when the large bunny came flying over the wall and King Arthur screamed "Run Away!!!"
The King weekend of the spring classics is Flanders and the Queen is Roubaix. It is amazing how different the regions are, yet how the races over the cobbles have come to signify everything great in cycling in my mind.
This year, we organized a trip of 10 or so of us to go and ride the Flanders course, race the citizen Roubaix event and then rush to a pub to watch Flanders with a bunch of Belgians. Our intention was to cheer for Cancellara while they of course would be cheering for Boonen. Everyone knows at this point how that turned out.
It has been an epic trip. We rode the cobbles of Flanders. If you do not ever go anywhere else in pursuit of your cycling fantasies, you need to come to Flanders. Flanders is the absolute galactic center of cycling. I wrote that before, so I think you already know that. The races are legendary. There are bike lanes everywhere. It is a part of the world that is in love with bikes and bike racing and bike racers. You have to see it to believe it. Oh, and there is beer.
Then, we went to St. Quentin to ride the citizen Paris Roubaix race. Northern France is and has always been pretty dismal. The name "Hell of The North" kinda says it all. I always thought it was because of the cobbles. The Inner Ring did a great write up just the other day telling us all what it really means, check it out.
The race is 5 hours of bashing your brains out over cobbles. It is 5 hours of being convinced that there is no way your bike and your wheels and your body can hold it together. You enter the cobbles at an impossible speed, which turns out is in fact impossible to hold over the length of the cobble section. You end up with a huckabuck experience and your retinas nearly detached from your brain.
You better have a healthy back, neck and wrists just to give it a try. I do not want to think about what would really happen if your bike came apart in the middle of the section. You have to run really big tires, I ran FMB tubulars which say 27 on them but they are probably bigger than 30mm. Run some really stout bottle cages, because anything wimpy will just self destruct somewhere along the way. Run double gel bar tape, it feels way to big but trust me - you will love it later. Don't worry about the cycle computer, even if it continues to work you will not be able to read it. Tape your wrists, make sure your glasses fit really tight, pile on the chamois creme of choice (Raffa stuff is the best), get rid of all your watches and jewelry as it will just bother you somewhere along the way.
Oh, no matter how bad you think the Arenberg forrest is, trust me - it's worse.
In the end, there just isn't anything better. I'll be back.