The last weekend in February is traditionally when the cycling season really starts in earnest. Sure, the Pro’s have been racing since the middle of January, first in Australia and then the Middle East, but for most that’s just been the prelude to the main event. The Classics.
This weekend sees the first of the Spring semi-classics as racing hits Belgian soil – Het Volk (I know! But I’m calling it that!) today and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne tomorrow. Racing in Belgium is the essence of cycling for me. It stirs the passion, evoking memories of hardmen of the past, such as Merckx and Duclos Lasalle, or current riders like Hincapie or Boonen. Men who know what it is to suffer, to push themselves to the limit in search of victory in the most brutal of conditions.
Last year KBK was run off in horrendous weather, with only 20 or so of an original peloton of over 160 riders finishing the race. Team Sky’s Ian Stannard, a rider who earned his spurs on the cobbles of Belgium, making the podium.
This isn’t about sunshine & beautiful scenery, the glorified training camps that are the early season races. No, this is about wind & rain, mouth-fulls of road grit – Belgian Toothpaste as it’s known and suffering. It’s about cobbles and bergs, beer & frites. And passion. Those Belgian fans know the sport like no others.
It’s also the weekend when I traditionally take out my summer race bike for it’s first outing. Months of steady miles on a heavy winter bike, replaced by an increasing intensity on a bike that feels like it weighs a fraction of the other. For some it’ll be a new bike altogether. For me, this season, it’s new wheels, handbuit by the guys at Strada Wheels. White rims to match the white saddle, white bar tape will also be applied in time for our training camp in 2 weeks time. Gotta look pro.
And so the season begins…..