Northern Classics.

It was holy week in the world of cycling.  was  A little over a week ago, an attacking Peter Sagan won De Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) over my sentimental favorite, Fabian Cancellara, who is riding his last season as a professional. Yesterday was Paris Roubaix, where my other sentimental favorite, Tom Boonen, was beaten to the line by Australian Mathew Hayman (no spring chicken at 37). Two very good races, and likely the last two races I'll follow this season from start to finish. Most other races I'll check in on, some more than others.

Some people get all wound up about the Tour, but my enthusiasm for emaciated climbers was pretty much killed 10 years ago. I'll check in to see how things are progressing, but Flanders and Roubaix are the only ones I'll wake up well before dawn for to watch on a video stream in a language I don't understand. I know the names, which is usually more than sufficient to follow the action. Some things transcend language.

Of all of the races in the professional calendar, these two are the ones I associate the most with.
First off, they are early-season races, renowned for their cobblestones and often challenging weather conditions. Deteriorated roads and cold, rainy weather are things I can relate to. I know firsthand how it is to have every muscle slowly seize up in a race as the rain and cold seep past the meager protection your cycling kit provides. I've swallowed a lot of brown water from the wheel in front of me, when the choice was either to breathe or force my mouth closed and avoid ingesting whatever came up off the road. I've even spent some time in rudimentary echelons, trying to find some shelter from a merciless crosswind. So yeah, I can relate to some degree with the conditions- enough to know that what they experience is far, far more brutal than anything I'm faced with. Riding down a graded gravel road is not the same thing as the broken cobbles of Roubaix, and anyone who thinks it is even a close approximation needs a reality check. Still, I can empathize with the riders, and admire their efforts from the comfort of my couch as I watch the live feed. Better them than me.

There's also the fact that the riders that excel in the Northern Classics are a different breed. Bigger riders generally do well. The tiny, waif-thin riders are usually ground up by the cobbles, leaving big (relatively speaking) riders like Cancellara, Boonen, Backstedt, and now Hayman. While on my skinniest days I weigh more than their advertised, off-season weights, I still associate with them. Much like a 400lb couch potato flicking Oreo crumbs out of her navel associates with a mildly plus-sized model. It's all about delusion. It's about squinting just enough at the mirror image to actually believe there's a relationship.

As much as I identify and squint, I know I'm not made of the same stuff.

My name lacks the requisite number of diagraphs to be a Flandrian. The letter J doesn't make an appearance. Nary a "van" to be found. My first name isn't Tiesj or Stijn. In fact, the arrangement of letters are far too easy to pronounce. Wilfried Peeters won't be calling me up anytime soon based on that fact alone.

My bike-handling skills are more reminiscent of JarJar Binks than Peter Sagan. I'd probably break a collarbone riding away from the Roubaix sign-in table. Just before the cobblestones, I'd be looking for alternate routes on my Garmin. If a train crossing delayed the head of the race, you'd probably see my face in one of the windows, bike in the baggage car, feet propped up, and taking an undeserved nap.

I'm not made of the right stuff. 

Still I relate. 

Today I'll ride out into temperatures in the 30s and 40s, with a wind either coming off the snow-capped mountains or the grey inlet. I'll dodge potholes, pavement cracks, piles of sand left from the winter, and the occasional entitled driver. In the spring you get out knowing it will likely be better in a few weeks, but you also know that "better" has a finite lifespan. Get it while you can, and be happy with what you get.

I'll never be a Flandrian.

Maybe, if I squint just right and add the requisite number of "van"s and "De"s to my name, then finish it all off with "densmootjfderkopen"...

Maybe then I'll be classified as Flandrian-Lite.


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