The uneven charm of cobbles and why we love them so much
Cobblestones or kinderkoppen as we cutely refer to them (or f#*king bastards on occasion), are the majestic stones that pave some of our shittiest roads. But seriously, we wouldn’t have it any other way, riding cobbles is in our DNA.
Cobbles give you no respect, they have been around a lot longer than you have, believe me. Day in day out, we see our fellow compatriots struggle on these roads. It doesn’t matter if you are elite or an amateur, you are only ever one section away from a near death experience. Add rain, snow, cow shit, and a tractor or two and you edge even closer. But there is something that keeps us coming back, it makes absolutely no sense.
That feeling of your teeth rattling out, your hands going numb, your bike rattling to pieces, or worse, nearly shitting your pants as you possibly hit the deck. Then you arrive at your destination or get to the top of the berg and in an instant, forget about all the pain and torture, and just feel incredible.
"There is something that keeps us coming back, it makes absolutely no sense."
Sure there are some magnificent climbs in the world, each with their unique challenges, some are absurdly long, while others are steep and demanding, but cobbles create fear, they are not for the faint-hearted. You can’t just pull over and take photos for instagram and good luck trying to create a live IG story as you ride them!
There are two types of cyclists (in our humble biased opinion): those that have ridden cobbles and it’s now in their blood, and those that would give their left arm (not recommended) to have the experience.
Of course, pave is not unique to Belgium, they are found in many European countries, shit, I’ve even ridden cobbles in the US while racing! But ours are different, they have a tendency to appear on the steepest bergs, those maxing out over 20%.
Cobbles aren’t like a Pyrenees climb or a head wind, where teammates can offer you a degree of assistance or protection. They are much more capricious and cruel. Cobbles are the synonym of strength, reaching the top of a berg first will not make you the fastest but definitely gain you enormous respect. Honestly, just riding the cobbles is an achievement in itself.
“Reaching the top of a berg first will not make you the fastest but the toughest bastard.”
If you have ever attempted a sector of pavé , you know this can be more challenging than a mountain climb. On cobbles you can’t find your rhythm, go slow or ride zig-zag , the secret is to push down those pedals, stay in the saddle and get over it as fast as possible. Counter intuitively, speed is your best friend. The faster you go, the smoother the ride. As we say, full gas!
There are many blogs, websites, videos and books all advising the cobble-newbie how to prepare, how to get fit, how to avoid crashing, how to minimize the pain. All adding to the myth, the fear factor, the anticipation. You can train for it, but you can never prepare enough for cobbles. Riding on cobbles is something that you either have or you don’t, just like big balls.
"Riding on cobbles is something that you either have or you don’t, just like big balls."
Cobbles are not only tough on your equipment, it also requires mental and physical strength like nothing else. Many cyclists think they are strong and can hold pain, but try cycling while holding a jack hammer, that is the feeling.
Yes it hurts, but we love it. Why is that?
Because cobbles have the power to put everyone on the same level. It doesn’t matter if you are built like a Colombian and weight 50kgs, you can sprint at 2000w or you drink more beer than water, on cobbled roads, one thing only makes the difference, grit and determination!
Many of you may never race the Spring Classics or even ride Belgium’s infamous cobbles, but if you do get the opportunity, even once, you will have an appreciation for what the pros go through while racing over this terrain. This is an experience you will never forget.
Riding the cobbles in a group is all about position in the bunch. You definitely want to start every section in the front and go full gas!
Cobbles are like a marriage, a love-hate relationship, all of your friends tell you how bad it is, yet you still put yourself through it and it’s worth it.