This is my favorite week of the year. I meant to write something earlier this week – as a prelude of some kind – but it didn’t work out. Then, as the weekend wore on, I busied myself with the usual weekend business, which always includes chores, family, friends, and cycling. This weekend, though, containing the First Sunday in April, happens to be the one bookend of the most important weeks of the year: Vlaanderen-Roubaix. It did not go as planned, but the reasons why don’t matter.
I love cycling. It is my favorite sport to take part in. It is my favorite sport to follow. It is my favorite history to study. All of these things seem to come together during this week, more than any other time of the season. I love Milan-San Remo. I love Cyclocross. I love the Six-Days. I love the Grand Tours (my favorite Grand Tour is the Giro). I love the Ardennes classics. I love the World Championships and I love the Giro di Lombardia. I love them all. But most of all, I love the Cobbled Classics.
The races on the stones will go away and I will be excited about the Ardennes races. After that I will be thrilled to watch the Giro, the Tour. After that the Summer and Fall classics as well as the Vuelta. Then I will be excited about the World Championships and the Race of the Falling Leaves. But I will be most excited about the races that take place around Easter; the Cobbled Classics.
Tomeke Boonen is the Lion of Flanders. It does not matter that today he lost the Ronde van Vaanderen. The vision of Boonen and Cancellara racing across Flanders Fields evokes little more than a question of how Boonen could possibly win. On any other day like this, Boonen would destroy the field by climbing any Flandrian Muur in the big ring and watch the weak fall at his feet. After all, Walter Plankaert said:
We tried never to change gear. It was a matter of pride. Just ride and ride in the 14 or 15 sprocket. If there was a hill or a headwind you pressed harder instead of changing gear. It was the way then.
It is, after all, a matter of pride for a Flandrian to climb away from the rest on a steep cobbled climb. Boonen has won here both solo and from a small group. Today, he rode away with a stellar Fabien Cancellara who had already made a stellar bike change earlier in the race – at a point most Belgians had deemed to be the Touch of Death for a Mechanical.
But as the pair approached the Kapelmuur, Boonen rode to the front and set the pace. It seems, however, that Fabien has learned a tip from the Brothers Grimpeur who know a thing or two about climbing. The Schlecks, no doubt, have relayed the advantage of a smaller gear to the stongman Cancellara who was clearly riding in a lower gear as the pair approached the steepest section of the climb:
This was not a real attack. It was…I pushed a gear less [a lower gear] and yeah, went, yeah, like steady up with more speed. I heard on the radio that there’s a gap, so I pushed again more.
A classic hardman scenario of “Push harder on those things attached to your feet and you go faster.”
A lion shows his colors when he is challenged, they say. Boonen fought. There was a group fighting up to the Cancellara-Boonen duo when Fabien went. If Boonen were a sane man, he would wait for the group behind. A strong sprinter, he would almost certainly win the sprint for second place. Boonen is not such a man. He is not sane. He is a Hardman. He is a Velominatus Inspiratus.
I was doing 55 km per hour and not getting any closer. If you loose against Cancellara in this shape, it is not really a bad thing.
This is a lion beaten: Strong, Courageous, and Gracious in defeat. There is pride in that.
Here at the Velominati, we do not cover the race reports. We generally don’t cover the doping cases. But the Velominati do cover the hardmen. Today, we honor the Hardmen: Fabien Cancellara and Tom Boonen. The Ronde van Vlaanderen was a perfect example of why we love cycling. Thank you for that – because in the end, it didn’t matter which of you won; this was a race between hardmen and the hardest man would win. Today, it happened not to be a Belgian, but next Sunday, perhaps it will. Viva the Hardman.