The Magic of the Cobbled Classics
Few one-day bike races capture the drama, joy and toughness of the sport of cycling as much as Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. The cobbles, the dirt, the mud, the crashes; these races are among the toughest on the calendar and probably increase the heart rate of the fans more than any other race of the season.
When, at the beginning of April, the focus of the cycling world switches to Belgium and the north of France, the prestigious one-day races on the cycling circuit take centre stage. After the riders get their first taste of the cobbles in the Belgian semi-classics such as Gent Wevelgem, Omlop Het Nieuwsblad or Harelbeek, the first big showdown occurs at the Tour of Flanders. Belgium, often described as the heart of professional cycling, celebrates this race like no other race of the season and tenderly describes it as “Vlaanderens mooiste” (“Flanders” finest).
Tour of Flanders
Founded in 1913 by Karel Van Wijnendaele to promote his sports paper “Sportwereld”, the race takes place over 259km from Bruges to Oudenaarde with 19 cobbled “Hellingen” (hills), sometimes even called “murs” (walls) because of their severe gradients. Belgians love this race, it belongs to their history and riders who win it will be forever rememberedCome rain, hail or snow, the length of the course is supported by cycling fan(atics) and the smell of beer and fried sausages makes the air pungent. “Belgians love this race, it belongs to their history and riders who win it will be forever remembered,” says Valerio Piva Sports Director for the BMC Racing Team at the northern classics.
For the riders taking part, it is also the atmosphere that makes it extra special “For me, the best race of the year is Flanders. I think the public makes it such a different race. It’s amazing with all those people around the Parcours. It makes us race more aggressively for a good result. I love the Ronde van Vlaanderen. For me it's the most complete of the classicsIf I could pick one race to win, it would be Flanders” says BMC Racing Team’s Daniel Oss, who will tackle the Tour of Flanders this year for the 6th time. This year, BMC Racing Team veteran Manuel Quinziato celebrates his 11th Tour of Flanders “I love the RVV (Ronde van Vlaanderen). For me it's the most complete of the classics. Climbs, cobbles and flat sections. The atmosphere is amazing. Simply unique!”.
For the BMC Racing Team’s attempt in 2015, local Belgian hero Greg Van Avermaet is the team favorite after a spectacular 2nd place in last year’s edition.
Paris-Roubaix – the Hell of the North
A week after the Tour of Flanders, the attention moves to France to the “Hell of the North”, also known as the “Queen of the Classics”. Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest cycling races in the history of the sport, founded in 1896, and will already be held for the 113th time this year. The 2015 edition will run over 253km from Campiègne to the legendary Velodrome in Roubaix, with 27 cobbled sectors of varying degrees of brutality, for a total of 53 cobbled kilometres.
Seeking the challenge of racing on cobbles is relatively recent. It began at the same time in Paris–Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, when widespread improvements to roads after the Second World War brought realisation that the character of both races were changing. the race had always been over cobbles, not because they were difficult to cycle on but because that was how the roads were madeUntil then, the race had always been over cobbles, not because they were difficult to cycle on but because that was how the roads were made. Nowadays the organisers look for the most challenging sections to make for an interesting battle.
Winning – no Mean Feat
In bike racing there’s no certainty but - particularly when you’re talking about a cobbled epic like Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders - so much can go wrong so quickly. it is a real one-day battle where you need to be a lion to win it! Strong physically and mentally. Only a real champion can win itA bad timed puncture, a crash or bad positioning in the bunch can end your dreams of winning from one second to another. The 53km of rough cobbled roads literally suck your energy out of you and, as Manuel Quinziato describes it, “it is a real one-day battle where you need to be a lion to win it! Strong physically and mentally. Only a real champion can win it.”
Piva adds " to win these races you have to be a really strong rider, you need the power to get up the short steep climbs in Flanders and to ride over the cobblestone sections at Roubaix. The Belgians are often the best suited to these races because they are used to the types of climbs and conditions since a young age. You can forget about winning without a lot of experience and even if you are 100% motivated to give it your all, luck also has to be on your side".
Daniel Oss, who has every chance to finish in the top 10 this year, sees experience and motivation, or “Karma” as he calls it, as the most important attributes to come out on top in these races.
Special Bikes for the Cobbled Classics
Many would assume the riders use suspension solutions or huge tires to tackle the roads of the northern classics, but it couldn’t be further from reality, technical coordinator for BMC Racing Team, Stefano Cattai, states “many riders use special gel pads Together with each rider, the mechanics will choose the ideal tire pressure to perform, which depends on the tire compound, the rider characteristics and the weather conditionsunder their bar tape or they even use double or triple bar tape, but the more individual set up will apply to the tire pressure. Together with each rider, the mechanics will choose the ideal tire pressure to perform, which depends on the tire compound, the rider characteristics and the weather conditions”.
Also the right choice of bike can be crucial. As Cattai explains “At the northern classics, you need a very responsive bike; stiff and light to support the massive efforts on the steep hills in Belgium for example. The handling is also very important to be able to survive the difficulty this nervous race throws at you. At the same time, the guys also need vertical compliance to absorb the shocks of the cobbles and bumpy roads. The BMC Teammachine SLR01, which the riders use all year long, fits the demands perfectly for the Tour of Flanders. At Paris- Roubaix, where a very high vertical compliance and control on the cobbles are even more demanding and the best possible vertical compliance is needed, the BMC Racing Team riders use the Granfondo GF01”.