As nice as it is to start the race in another country, the Tour de France only really feels like it has started properly when it reaches French soil. With the possible exception of Brittany, there is no better place to return to than France’s northern border with Belgium.
GC riders hate the wind and cobbles you get up North or they love it, there is no in-between. When you’re doing well, it’s joyous enough to hurt people, and if you’re on the pain side, you wake up stressed.
You run stressed and go to bed thinking how stressed you have been and how long it will take until you reach somewhere with trees, where bouncing along farm paths will not be your fate.
The stages a stone’s throw from the Flanders classics are in fact an unofficial championship for Dutch speakers. Having been part of one of these teams, the racing orders in the region are “if we can’t win, don’t let our direct rivals either”.
The bickering that exists between the various ex-runners and characters now in team management is as complicated as the fights that took place during times of major conflict. The race is brutal, no prisoners are taken and no quarter is given. It would be unthinkable to even consider asking for a favor such is the rivalry.
The first time I did the Tour, I fell twice on the pavement, captured by the misfortune of others, and suddenly I hated my luck, the race for its cruelty and the North but then for m adapt I decided to embrace my inner Flandrian and move there.
Practice makes perfect seemed like a good idea for a few months, until I realized the improvement was never going to be dramatic. Sometimes you just have to accept that your level of a certain skill is average at best and that means dealing with the setbacks you will suffer.
Because you will suffer, one day you survive and everything seems fine and the next day you receive a beating by nature, the road and luck. Dunkirk, Lille or Arenberg aren’t holiday destinations for many people and you need a special mentality to even consider the idea that running around can be fun but you have to run and that’s part of it. experience of the Tour that has an influence on you For a very long time.
The fear of being in the gutter in a side wind is probably worse than having it imposed on you, but what is still called the Roubaix stage is awful for GC riders, who tend to be a lighter build. Of course you can get lucky my second trip to the cobblestones of TdF went much better but I crumbled later so there’s no telling what you get the day or two weeks later when all it seems like a bad memory.
What you can be sure of is that someone like Wout van Aert and his Jumbo team will regret leaving the North, a missed opportunity. For other survivors, they will never be so happy to see good roads, hills, and a good night’s sleep. Only if you escaped with most of your faculties… which, when you read some of the individual stories, you learn that not many people do.