Thursday, March 4, 2010

Flahute Aspirations: how to become a hardman

Coming back from a week of group rides in Florida I am reminded of how tough we have it racing bikes in New England, and how good that is. I enjoy getting away from lobster mitts and booties for a week in the sunshine. But the road racing culture is very different in Florida, and its very apparent on the group rides. On Monday it was drizzling & 50 degrees at the start time of the morning ride, but with blue sky on the horizon, so no one showed up to ride. No one rides when its wet in Naples. On Friday it was 40 degrees at the start time, so half the normal number showed, and they had full thermal tights on. On every ride, each time some one sees a twig, leaf, or gum wrapper in the road, the object is called out multiple times. I am more used to riding with a group that thinks bouncing over frost heaves in a cold drizzle in just good fun. Group rides in New Hampshire are a little like Belgium in that way; if you only ride on sunny days and on perfect pavement, you'll never ride enough to get strong. So you have to harden up, you have to try to become a flahute.

"Flahute" is a french term for the hard as granite, dumb as rocks Flemish farm boys that would race in any weather, over all roads. When more delicate french and italian racers would sit in the cafe or climb into the team car, these big belgies would be grinding away for hours in poor weather over poorer roads. The southern racers assume that it was because the Flemish boys were too stupid to know when to quit.

In truth, I believe their tenacity is from something different. A flahute keeps racing out of combination of pride and opportunity. The pride is simple to understand, if you are a bike racer, you finish races. Only the weak or worn out quit a race in Belgium. Only the soft refuse to train when it is cold, or wet, or the pavement is bad. If you do not train today, you will not be prepared to race when its cold tomorrow.

The opportunity part is a little more nuanced. Few flahutes have a chance to win in the high hills of the grand tours (there are exceptions like Mercx and Hinault). So the hard men have to look for victories in the cold tough races, when whippet thin climbers can not make it to the finish line intact. The more guys that drop out due to conditions, the better chances of victory for those who keep racing. More over, even if you don't win, the career of a cyclist can be a short as your last race. Quit now and you may be back at the farm or factory for harder/dirtier work tomorrow. Every day you get to pull on your bibs to ride is better than a day shoveling anything for a living.

Ultimately, becoming a hard man is simple; ride alot in every type of weather, learn to ride fast & straight in a hail storm, race to the finish when 80% of the field drops out. Just fix a grimace on your face and tell yourself "its a fine day to ride."

photo by Mike Whitfield

But the most difficult things in life are sometimes just that simple. No one likes to be cold and wet, no one wants to get rattled over broken roads, no one enjoys shivering uncontrolably for an hour after a race.

No one likes the tough things in life, some people simply deal with them better.

So, if you want to be a flahute, then you slather on the embrocation, adjust your cap, and keep riding through the rain.

Bobbie Traksel wins the 2010 Kuurne-Bruxells-Kuurne ahead of 26 finishers

You might win that way someday!

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