Something from Nothing

If the only kind of wind they have in Belgium is a headwind, then the only kind of flats they have in Northern France are false. In Vlaanderen, they specialize in a delectable combination of the two. (Everything that isn’t a windy false flat, it appears, is a windy cobbled climb.)

The most obvious way to get your head kicked in on a bike is to point your bike down a road bespeckled with loads of climbing. It doesn’t matter what sorts of hills or mountains you’ve got at your disposal; the Commutative Property of Climbing states that big climbs and little climbs will jack you up equally so long as you do the same amount of climbing. But a long grind into the wind on a dead-straight false flat might be the most mentally agonizing kind of riding you will ever do.

The riding we do on Keepers Tour generally revolves around the iconic roads in the region, but to focus on those portions alone is like evaluating an individual’s life via their photo albums; some of the most amazing moments are experienced in the margins where no one is looking for them.

The rides we set upon were long days in the saddle, often leaving from the gite and requiring some time to arrive at the spectacle of cobbles or climbs; 20km to the Trouée l’Arenberg or 30km back from the Carrefour de l’Abre, for instance. For me, the rides back are what stand out the most; the group is weary but excited from having ridden some of the most amazing and difficult roads our Sport knows, and the late afternoon winds are blowing swiftly across the landscape. Talk is sparse as our legs are heavy with fatigue and we are each of us confronting the familiar barriers our minds and bodies lay before us at times such as these.

These moments when the body and mind want to give in but something intangible drives us on are my most cherished moments of Cycling in general and Keepers Tour in particular. These are moments when each rider is riding on the strength of those around them. The Laws of Physics tell us that it is impossible to make something from nothing, that the only energy we get out of the system is that which was fed into it.

The Laws of Physics obviously don’t apply to Cyclists.

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61 Replies to “Something from Nothing”

  1. @Teocalli

    Looks like a cracking ride! L’Arbre is such a horrible section, it boggles my mind to watch how fast the Pros race that bit; especially the middle section down along the fence, where its just a cluster fuck of cobbles!

  2. @frank

    Yeah, it’s so hard to keep up any pace at all on that section in particular (not that it was much easier on any of the others!), those corners were very wet and muddy too and there were a few stories of folk ending up rubber side up in the fields (including one of our team). It really shows how much power the Pros have.  I was giving all I had but was just getting knocked back with each big hit.  Of course being 140 Km under our belts with a few good rainstorms by the time we hit that section just added to the experience.  GT came through with the chase group and he just seemed to float over them – and he wasn’t really trying as when he stopped at the L’Arbre where we collected after the timed section he immediately engaged on a normal conversation!

    The really neat thing about the Hot Chillee rides is that they are fully supported.  So you ride as a peleton in your pace group and they have a trail support van, so if you puncture you pull over pop out the wheel and the Team Crew arrive with a replacement.  So all you have to carry is the snacks you want to eat.  Of course being in an organised peleton means you can cruise at a much higher overall speed than if you were just in a small group.  The whole is managed with motorbike outriders who stop all crossing traffic and give the groups priority at traffic lights and junctions.  Just a totally brilliant day.

  3. @frank

    @Hoover

    I am reminded that after the tearing, roaring wind as you climb a false flat, there is nothing like the turn home with a tailwind.  The gentle hand of Merckx on your back, the unearthly quiet while flying at magnificent speed — clearly beyond the laws of physics.  Great article, thank you!

    I read that the tailwind is actually a disadvantage, relatively speaking, because your increased speed means you start generating more drag, relatively speaking, which means you’re not getting an equal return on the investment you made on the way up.

    Did you read that in the same Book of Flawed Concepts in Physics that also describes riding up hill at a steady pace as “constantly accelerating”?

  4. @MangoDave

    Interesting … so relatively speaking, climbing upwind and turning tail doesn’t give the same ROI as climbing uphill and then descending.  Sounds like the basis for a PhV thesis.  That said, it’s still magic to fly in a tailwind and and the gentle hand becomes cruel slap when taken away.

  5. @MangoDave

    @frank

    @Hoover

    I am reminded that after the tearing, roaring wind as you climb a false flat, there is nothing like the turn home with a tailwind.  The gentle hand of Merckx on your back, the unearthly quiet while flying at magnificent speed — clearly beyond the laws of physics.  Great article, thank you!

    I read that the tailwind is actually a disadvantage, relatively speaking, because your increased speed means you start generating more drag, relatively speaking, which means you’re not getting an equal return on the investment you made on the way up.

    Did you read that in the same Book of Flawed Concepts in Physics that also describes riding up hill at a steady pace as “constantly accelerating”?

    Sorry, newbie error.  Quote and reply are not the same.

  6. I had a headwind experience last night – one of my routes home crosses some flats, so I picked a convenient 10k stretch to get in my aero TT position and practice time trial pace.

    However, I reckoned without the constant howling headwind sucking my speed away with every pedal stroke. From a training point of view it wont have done me any harm, but it was pretty demoralising.

  7. @Frank

    “But a long grind into the wind on a dead-straight false flat might be the most mentally agonizing kind of riding you will ever do.”

    Funny, I enjoy this sort of riding and riding in headwinds. It reminds me of Rule 10 and the satisfaction afterwards is great. I think headwinds are similar to hills, which you learn to enjoy as a cyclist. You don’t avoid them or take it easy, but push hard every time.

  8. My favourite false flat these days. Not just for itself and its kilometre-long rise, near-dead road surface and prevailing headwind, but the roads beyond… Nothing without effort.

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