That’s “Ronde” as in “Ronde van Vlaanderen”, as in “Tour of Flanders”, which means spring, as in Spring Classics, is here!
I love the Spring Classics races. Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Leige, even Amstel Gold (despite the fact it seems to be named after a beer…) and Het Volk. They are gritty tests of riders over historic courses and often miserable conditions. They are run over cobbled roads which pitch upwards at 20%, often with the entire population of several countries leaning in and screaming at the riders as they curse, slip and stagger past. 200 riders want to be the first into narrow farm roads where maybe 2 can fit. Riders get run over by team cars. Bikes and equipment shatters and fails, while the riders themselves find energy and inspiration, damnation and redemption, repeatedly. It is, in short, the energy of a superb punk rock song stretched out over 6 or 7 hours.
Yeah, I love the Grand Tours too, the Tour de France is opera, tragic and heroic, while the Giro d’ Italia combines odd moments of extreme passion and utter, inexplicable hilarity. Meanwhile, the Vuelta d’ Espana is kinda like the weird kid who shows up unexpectedly at the dance and then blows everyone away with his moves. Epic fables get forged from the fires of those contests.
But, there’s something visceral and ultimately compelling about the early spring races. When the races are at their toughest - when they look like cyclocross races and riders are coated in a slime of grease and mud but still keep firing off attacks through crosswinds that would make you or I simply get off and walk - the older guys tend to win. Not always, but enough that you get the sense that experience can pay off. The fickle mistress of luck can visit you or bring her bad uncle to bear on someone at the oddest time - a tick of glass softens a tire but a new wheel gets immediately handed up from a bystander in the middle of nowhere. Or the body can just suddenly seize up and quit - maybe towards the end of the 18 climbs of the Tour of Flanders, or somewhere in the zig-zag route through the pastures on the Hell of the North. Somehow the more experienced riders understand this and account for it, they can feel their seams bursting and somehow tend to the engine to set it right again.
So today the 91st running of the Tour of Flanders took place, and it’s taken a firm conviction to keep from rolling over to Velonews.com to see how the race is unfolding. I’ve got the video set up to tape and want to watch it before I read about it. The weather is unfortuately nice, so it might not be the most epic of years. Still, the roads beckon with glee, and the climbs - steep Belgian climbs, mind you - are all stacked up near the end. As always - or at least since 1913 - should be good.