How I became a Classics convert

Like countless others before me, my introduction to cycling was through the Tour de France. My dad glues himself to the race every year whilst happily ignoring the rest of the pro cycling calendar entirely. The Classics do not feature on his radar, Paris Roubaix means little or nothing to him and he’s more likely to associate Flanders with WWI than the peloton. 

As such, given that I first developed an interest in the sport through him, the Classics meant almost nothing to me, either. Somewhere in my earliest forays into the sport, however, I got the sense that these were the races that ‘proper’ cycling fans lived for and duly began to pay attention. I bought books, I got a Eurosport subscription, and I sat for hours across a series of Sunday afternoons in March and April –  after a bike ride with dad – trying to figure out what was going on and wondering when I would start to get excited about it all.

Illustration picture shows the pack of riders in action at ‘de Berendries’ during the men’s race of the ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen – Tour des Flandres – Tour of Flanders’ one day cycling event, 272,5km from Antwerp to Oudenaarde, Sunday 03 April 2022. BELGA PHOTO POOL VINCENT KALUT (Photo by POOL VINCENT KALUT / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by POOL VINCENT KALUT/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

My lack of tactical knowledge and inability to wrap my head around the different types of rider contributed to my difficulty getting to grips with it, but there was something else. While I may have started my foray into this world by watching the Tour, it didn’t take me long to seek out the women’s side of the sport in search of idols and inspiration. This was around the time that Lizzie Deignan won the world championships, and having a female British rider to look up to drew me in even further. The problem was, I couldn’t watch her races. I became very good at navigating obscure Twitter hashtags and searching out grainy videos uploaded by roadside fans. 

I came out of that spring with a sense that I had, in fact, watched some races but that if I was honest I didn’t really understand what, exactly, I had watched. Bring on summer and Alpine climbs. Give me The Women’s Tour, with my idols racing through the village I live in and give me one of the few televised women’s races, La Course. 

But as I began to truly understand the sport something started to shift. In the last few years in particular, having spent time in Belgium seeing some of the hallowed cobbles first-hand, I have a new appreciation for what, indeed, the fuss is all about. It helps now that the women’s peloton have since been able to start constructing their own history and narratives at some of the most iconic races, especially Roubaix, and there is now a good few years of live coverage to add to the archives and new races being added every year. 

OUDENAARDE, BELGIUM – APRIL 03: (L-R) Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team Alpecin-Fenix and Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates while fans cheer during the 106th Ronde van Vlaanderen – Tour des Flandres 2022 – Men’s Elite a 272,5km one day race from Antwerp to Oudenaarde / #RVV22 / #WorldTour / on April 03, 2022 in Oudenaarde, Belgium. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Last year, for the first time, things came somewhat full circle as I got to see Paris Roubaix first-hand, both men’s and women’s. The cobbles might have been covered in more dust than mud but they were no less daunting-looking, nor was the action any less dramatic and exciting. As I stood in the centre of the velodrome that has hosted the finish of the men’s race since the 1940s I thought about the juxtaposition of the rich history of the men’s race and the history-making beginnings of the women’s.

Watching some of the riders, in both races, limping their way into the velodrome, some having fallen victim to the pavé with blood running down their arms or their knees, I saw what reaching the end of a race like Roubaix means. So much has been written about the drama of the sport and the grit that inspires us and compels us to tune in, but Roubaix embodies this like no other. 

I think I can say that I’m a full Classics convert now.

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