In Flanders, cycling is sacred. For every road, there is a bike route running right alongside it. So, what better tribute to this region's culture of cycling than the Tour of Flanders?
“Riders on the Storm” is a song by the Doors where the noise of rain and wind plays in the background throughout the entire track. This can happen during stages of Grand Tour events or in classics, when, as in the song, the entire race is complicated by an additional fearsome adversary: bad weather, which makes the toughest road even tougher.
Weather can turn cycling races into extreme adventures. The first time this ever happened appears to have been on 3 April 1910, when snow and frigid temperatures forced 59 of 63 riders to bow out of that year’s edition of the Milan-Sanremo.
Tales from the pre-television era are the stuff of legend and are passed down orally from generation to generation, leaving listeners to imagine the cyclists’ straining, contorted faces.
Stories are told about the torrential downpour during the Briançon – Aix Les Bains stage that decided the 1958 Tour de France, and the Belluno – Moena stage in the 1962 Giro d’Italia, which was interrupted on the Passo Rolle because the frost and snow made it just too dangerous to continue.
After that, television ensured that every viewer could see the effects of the difficult conditions for themselves right on their TV screen. But it was only recently that filming techniques and equipment made it possible to observe cyclists even more closely—almost heartlessly—as they toil under adverse weather conditions.
It is awe inspiring to study the faces of the riders as they battle the gales of side wind and torrential rains, despite having been informed of the weather forecasts announcing extremely poor weather for the entire race.
It is equally astounding to watch them fight to take advantage of the opportunities the harsh weather provides.
Then, in the riders’ faces, we see suffering paired with a drive to win as they shrug off the tribulations of their opponents straining against strong headwinds holding onto their handlebars for dear life, trying to close the gap as they pedal into the mighty gales.
Because, they all know that it only takes a moment’s distraction to wipe out on a slippery wet downhill road, and fall far, far behind, with no hope of ever catching the peloton.
Sometimes, after struggling through bad weather for tens of kilometres and arriving at the home stretch, while whizzing past the finish line banner, the winner doesn’t have the strength even to lift his arms to the sky or to smile to celebrate his victory in a classic Monuments or a stage in an important stage race.
Then, when a close-up shot captures the winner’s face contorted with pain and exhaustion, one can only feel boundless admiration for those who travel the difficult road of cycling every day.