Yup. Super obvious. Trite. Cliché. All of that. But here’s the thing:
- They are an undeniable truth. Everybody knows a cobble or a pave or whatever you want to call them (in America they’re bricks basically) when they see one. The cobbles in Belgium may be considerably easier to ride than the cobbles in France (this was overhead several times while riding the Roubaix Sportive; we call that eyewitness testimony) but a cobble is a cobble, is a cobble. They exist. They are unlike any other road surface in the world.
- They’re brutal. They are Brutalism in miniature form.
- They’re difficult to walk on, they will rip the oil pan clean off your rental car unless you’re careful (even if you are careful). Riding on them when they’re dry just hurts and may cause flats and crashing. Riding on them in the rain may and will cause much worse.
- And racing on them in any and all conditions may and will cause even worse.
- Because of the way inertia and momentum work—so, because of Science—you can’t fake cobbles. You either embrace them, and rule them, and become one with them, or they fuck you up real bad. So riding cobbles requires whatever surfing and skiing requires, which is a good thing. Because otherwise, I mean a monkey or a robot or a monkey robot can pedal a bike. My kids could ride a bike when they were three. And the fitness thing is only so interesting. Like, who wants to watch an exercise contest? Nobody. Except for maybe triathletes and the people, assuming there are some, which now that i think about it I don’t think there are any, who spectate triathlons.
- Speaking of skiing and surfing (and mountain biking, and skateboarding, and a bunch of other cool sports), cobbles require finding a line. That’s a talent. That’s a skill. That’s intuition. That’s feeling. It’s emotional. It’s beyond math and reason, it’s metaphysical.
- Speaking of metaphysical sports and skateboarding, and the art of finding a line, once you find one you have to negotiate it. That negotiation is called tricks. And tricks are, at their core, a form of self-expression and style. Both of which make the world as well as sports a better place. Everyone loves tricks. Everyone loves a good move. Case in point, wheelies. They’re so basic, they’ve been around forever. They’re not even strictly speaking that hard, but everyone still LOOOOVES them. People still cheer and chant and get overly excited when they see one. Aaaaand wheelies are so basic, after wheelies you have ollies and lipslides and ballies and slam dunks and nose wheelies and on and on and on. I mean cycling is so starved for self-expression that even some basic shit like body english and bunny hops get people excited. Which, there IS NO WAY to make it through cobbles right without some serious body english and a few most excellent bunny hops.
- They’re unique. I mean, we have some brick streets in Portland, and Italy definitely has some busted roads, but cobbles are basically a Northern European thing.
- They cause devastation to mind, body and soul. And bike. Through Project Y we’ve learned from an artisanal curated panel of experts (a Rabbi, an Anthropologist, a Neuroscientist, a Philosopher and a Sports Psychologist) that personal devastation through self-motivated pain and suffering is one of life’s greatest forms of transformation.
- Cobbles punch you in your metaphorical dick. Over and over and over again. Also, if you’re a dude, and you hit them the wrong way, they can punch you in your actual/physical dick. And if you’re a lady they will punch you in your actual/physical vagina. Guy or Gal you have to watch yourself on the cobbles.
- Crashes are fun to watch. Chaos is fun to watch. Cobbles are fun to watch. Cobble-having races are fun to watch. Schadenfreude. Cobbles are little schadenfreude nuggets, each and everyone, and there have to be what, at least 656,789 thousand of those little fuckers on the Roubaix course?
- They’re unpredictable. They leave (FORCE) room for chance and for luck, both good and bad. They can surprise. AND SO BASICALLY, they are anathema to strategy and micro gains. They mitigate all forms of planning and preparation. They bring the rider, the race, the fans, the competition, all of it, to the present. Anything can and will happen.
In summary: you have to love riding cobbles to race them well. You definitely need good luck. Or you need everyone else to have bad luck. Or a combination thereof. Everyone loves watching the peloton race them. You never know who’s going to win. You can’t point to left field and call it. You can’t Rocky your way to victory. You have to Rocky your way to victory.