Riding Beautifully Ugly
The cobbles are not for everyone. Peter van Petegem said it best, that you have to really love the stones to be good at them. Much like climbing, they demand that the rider forge a close relationship with a special kind of pain – one that is self-inflicted and inspires you to inflict more.
I knew I would love the pavé before my tires ever came close to them. I knew I had the right head for it (stubborn), and I knew I had the right body for it (fat). I had watched all the Paris-Roubaix videos that I could get my hands on, but they didn’t really sink their claws in; I was getting drunk on kegs of LeMond’s Tour domination and was yet to develop my Classics palate. It all changed in 1991 when Marc Madiot stormed the gates of Hell and won his second Roubaix.
I remember sitting on my parent’s sofa, remote control in hand, watching the overhead camera shot of Madiot riding along the Carrefour de l’Arbre. There was such grace in his style despite the way his bike lurched about underneath him. I rewound the tape over and over again and watched in awe.
That’s the kind of riding I can do business with.
For the next 22 years, I was convinced I was good at riding the cobbles in the way only a Dutchman can be convinced of something he knows absolutely nothing about. And when I finally hit the stones for the first time during Keepers Tour: Cobbled Classics 2012, my love was confirmed.
I don’t know that I’m any good at riding cobblestones, to be honest. But I know they appeal to me more than any other kind of riding. Sometimes, when I’m riding gravel in the Cascades I hit a section of rough road that reminds me of the incomparable feeling of the pavé. I can’t wait to go back this Spring and breath in their atmosphere once again.
Loving something is more important being good at it; I’ve always believed that. In fact, loving something is usually what makes you good at it. That’s definitely the case with the stones. To be good at riding them, you truly have to love them.