Crosswinds. They are not like hills.
The crosswind saps your energy unlike a climb does. A climb is something that presses on you, pressing you down and standing in your way. Gravity becomes stronger on a climb. It is a bit like when you are pumping a tire up, the last 10 psi are much harder to push the handle down than the first 10psi. When riding on a climb, it is like trying to lift something heavy and bigger than you to the top shelf in the garage while standing on a ladder – over and over again. It is hard, it can go horribly wrong, but if you are lucky and maintain your balance you get the heavy bag to the top of the shelf. When the task is all said and done, you are tired and your back is sore, but after you rest and recover you will be fine. After the climb, you will even be stronger.
Generally speaking, the best climbers will have a really slender build. The Schlecky’s will probably tilt at about 55kilo (less than 140lbs). Climbers are long limbed, and small muscle. If you cross-sectioned a climber, you would see no fat and lungs that go to the knees. They breath rarefied air so much, that the insides of their lungs are pink – pure. They count calories, they talk about carbon bikes and wheels. They turn really small gears at an impossible cadence. They count the grams of weight in their shoes. They do their offseason and preseason training on slopes at stupid high altitude. Some of us are like that, only just not superhuman versions.
A classics rider is not like that. They are carved into a mass of sinew, veins, sunken eyes, narrow shoulders and a huge ass and legs – typical of a survivor of the toughest game on two wheels. A classics rider is more likely to tilt at 85+ kilo (180lbs). A classics rider revels in a crosswind. A classics rider has a face that is hardened and pocked. A classics riders face probably has scars from hitting the ground while ripping apart a cobble section of parcours at 50kph. A classics rider probably is not French speaking, or if they are they speak it with a growl. A classics rider probably speaks Flemish and knows the difference between a Flanders flag with red claws and one without. Flemish is the ancient, semi illusionary dialect of a downtrodden people who revere cyclists as symbols of cultural pride. A classics rider is a Vlaamse-Man.
Belgium is the center of the universe for a classics rider. It has impossibly steep climbs, that are probably cobbled over. Not only does Belgium have cobbles, Belgium has the other consistent item that makes a classic not the same as a climber’s race. Belgium has crosswinds. Unlike a climb, a crosswind does not make you stronger. A crosswind pulls you down. A crosswind tears at your skin, biting and clawing your body back into the gutter. Down down and down, tearing and ripping. A crosswind is a pack of zombies tearing at your legs and calves and arms and shoulders. A crosswind is blood thirsty. After a day in a big Belgian crosswind, you will not feel like it made you stronger. A day in a Belgian crosswind rips you apart and leaves you for dead.
Those Dutch kids are hard as nails. That is what a crosswind is like.
I weigh a buck 55 with my cycling kit on. That is not the super light gazelle pulled rubber band of the climber, but it is a long long way from the Vlaamse-Man.
So I found myself this past weekend on my 5th cobbled ride. I found myself riding the Paris Roubaix course for the 2nd time in a week. And, of course I found myself with a bunch of 185lb guys, in the rain with a huge wind trying to get to the velodrome in Roubaix. Ugh… It hurt. I found myself arriving at the velodrome, “with no one in the photo”, but not in the good way. Not in the way that you want to have "no one in the photo". I had been left for dead on section 5 going toward Roubaix, and I was arriving much after everyone else had. It is amazing just how slow you can go when the curtain has dropped on your reserves. Black.
I had battled gallantly and made the selection down to 15, then 10 then 6. But, when in a group of 6 it is really hard to hide from the demons of the crosswind. You bounce around trying to stay out of sight of the crosswind, but eventually he finds you. And when he does, he just keeps biting and tearing. Eventually enough of your muscle is gone that when he again finds you, he hits bone. When he does, your done. You fall off the pace so hard that you can hear your ass dragging on the road. That was my tail end on the road.
I was out of food and out of water. I got lost. I found the route again. I hugged the gutter on the road, I rode the path on the side of the cobbles. I blew sky high on the little rise into the headwind near the 10k to go point. It was raining and it was windy, really windy. I was shattered, but I battled on to Roubaix and eventually found my way there. I found the velodrome, and a beer in the café.
A beer never tasted better. What the hell am I doing in Belgium? I love this place, but I am definitely not a classics rider.
Below is a short video to show you what my 2 weeks were like there. Bikes, beer, cobbles, bike racing...Ah.
Out (I cannot wait till next spring),