"It's not a race where you need good luck. It's a race where you've got to make sure you don't have any bad luck."
February 27, 2012 10:43 AM   Subscribe

With Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (results), the Belgian professional bicycle racing season has begun. Races are contested in the capricious spring weather, on devastatingly steep hills called hellingen, winding roads, and the cobbles known as pavé. Only cycling's true hardmen win these Spring Classics.

The most terrifying of the Spring Classics is the Paris-Roubaix, known by many nicknames including the Queen of the Classics and The Hell of the North. Chris Horner described one road often featured in Paris-Roubaix, the Trench of the Arenberg, by saying, "It's like they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter." These roads, many built in the Napoleonic era, take their toll on those hoping for the elusive and glorious win at Roubaix. Professional teams equip road bicycles with special gear to withstand the difficult terrain - even experimenting with suspension forks in the 1990s. The 1976 Paris-Roubaix was documented in loving detail in A Sunday In Hell [previously].

But the most prestigious is the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders. It's basically the Flemish Super Bowl. This year, diehard fans mourn the exclusion of the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen, or Kapelmuur - site of many race-winning attacks.

Winners of de Ronde are considered heroes of Flanders, the Belgian-Dutch-speaking northern/western region of Belgium. Past heroes crowned on the pavé and hellingen of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen include Henri Ritte Van Leberghe, who famously had to be convinced to leave a bar to finish (and win) the race; Eddy Merckx, popularly considered to be the best cyclist who will ever live; Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders; and, more recently, Tornado Tom Boonen, the childhood hero of Saturday's 23-year-old Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner, Sep Vanmarcke.
posted by entropone (9 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
thanks for the post to get me stoked for the spring classics season. soon as my son is old enough to appreciate them and /or stand roadside with me, I am taking a month and going to see some of them live.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:28 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been wanting to do the Flanders/Roubaix sportif rides for several years. Last year it almost came together, this year it won't work out time-wise, but I'm shooting for actually doing parts of both races next year over there.

Oh, and Saturday's OHN finish was great to watch, a total surprise.
posted by mathowie at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2012

Wait, there's no Kapelmuur this year? Are you even legally allowed to call it the "Ronde Van Vlaanderen" if there's no Kapelmuur?

Speaking of race-winning attacks, the attack that Cancellara laid down on Boonen in the 2010 edition on the Kapelmuur was so devastating that it was openly speculated that Cancallara had somehow managed to install an electric motor on his bike. The UCI even inspected bikes for motors at the subsequent Tour de France.
posted by the painkiller at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, the Omloop finale this year was fricking terrific. Such great competition.

Some more random thoughts:

It's a little shocking for those of us following cycling for a while that Boonen is of an age where he's becoming an éminence grise of the Classics peloton.

Also worth noting that in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2010 (linked from "capricious spring weather" in the post), there were 26 finishers. Twenty six. Of ~200 starters.

The Garmin team is getting good at generating wins by previously little-heralded riders in spring classics. Vanmarcke this year, Johan Van Summeren at Roubaix last year. Jonathan Vaughters (totally worth following on Twitter) seems to keep some magic in his pocket in rider selection (note: usable only on the Classics. Does not apply to dethroning the Schlevansador quadrumvirate in the Grand Tours).
posted by The Michael The at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2012

Of course, this year's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne ended with the predictable "Mark Cavendish sprinted to the line following a perfect lead-out from the Sky team." I get the feeling we may be hearing that a lot this year.

I will be attending the Ronde Van Vlaanderen this year- at least that's one race I know Cav won't likely make an appearance at, as it has hills.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:11 PM on February 27, 2012

That was a nice handshake from Boonen after the Omloop finish. Great race.
posted by chinston at 1:57 PM on February 27, 2012

In a small bit of patting myself on the back, I'll admit that I picked Sep Vanmarcke to win the Omloop. I woke up and started a live feed of the race right as Boom crashed and Vanmarcke joined Boonen and the rest of the big guns making distance over the pack. I only got more excited from there on out.

Yeah, Kapelmuur is out in favor of three runs of a circuit that hits the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.

Not sure I'd agree with calling Vansummeren little-heralded. He had two top-tens at Roubaix previously and though rarely had opportunities (or desire) to go for wins throughout the season, has received praise throughout his career for being a superdomestique's superdomestique, and a total hardman.
posted by entropone at 2:20 PM on February 27, 2012

Well if Cav's win (K-B-K) is an indication of anything, it's that the teams have decided that it's never too early in the season to start racking up wins. that was a pretty star-heavy sprinter's field for a feb. race.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:15 PM on February 27, 2012

Not sure I'd agree with calling Vansummeren little-heralded. He had two top-tens at Roubaix previously and though rarely had opportunities (or desire) to go for wins throughout the season, has received praise throughout his career for being a superdomestique's superdomestique, and a total hardman.

All totally true, but he also would never have been found in any discussion of the front-runners. Boonen, Cancellara, Flecha, Chavanel, Devolder, Boom, et al. Heck, he was at least fourth on the Garmin depth chart behind Hushovd, Haussler, and Farrar and maybe more. Is it out of nowhere that he won? No, but he certainly didn't have the betting odds on his side either.
posted by The Michael The at 3:18 PM on February 27, 2012

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