Cycling on cobblestones with Roger De Vlaeminck
Cycling the Tour of Flanders often means cycling on cobblestones as well. Some people feel that it’s an excellent challenge; others just can’t seem to get on with it.
Certain cyclists aren’t comfortable with them at all and prefer to avoid them. “You really don’t need to be afraid of them, though,” says Roger De Vlaeminck, four-time winner of Paris-Roubaix and the cobblestone specialist par excellence. “Everyone can conquer a cobblestone stretch like that. If you’re looking forward to it, it practically happens by itself. You have to feel at home on the cobblestones. I always found that juddering and bouncing over the stones was wonderful. If you go at it against your will, you’ve already lost. That applies to everything in life. Nothing works without the right perspective.”
According to Roger De Vlaeminck, conquering the cobblestones is therefore primarily about mind over matter. Think positive, that’s what it’s all about. Even though a bit of technique is also definitely needed. He takes us to the Holleweg in Mater, the Paddestraat in Velzeke, the Steenbeekdries and the Oude Kwaremont, which are pretty much the most well-known cobblestone stretches in the Tour of Flanders. Roger recommends not blowing up your tyres too much if you’re planning to take such a trip with several cobblestone stretches. “A typical beginner’s mistake: if you ride on 8 kilos of pressure in your tyres, then you’re just going to bounce right off your bike. Tyres with slightly less pressure absorb the shocks better. Four kilos of pressure in the front tyre and five in the back; that’s more than enough. Your gears are also important. I always tried to ride on the cobblestones using a ‘souplesse’ pedalling motion. It was only when I started to get tired that I shifted into a higher gear. You’ll find out for yourself which gear best suits you. Start in the lowest gear and then start to experiment.”
Roger De Vlaeminck shows us the arched spine of such a stretch of cobblestones. “Never go for the lower-lying sides of the road because that is exactly where the most potholes and uneven stones are. You’re better off cycling in the middle of the road, where it arches more. Especially pay attention to your posture. Some people sit too cramped behind their handlebars and want to control them at all costs. But on cobblestones, you have to do the opposite, and work at having a supple posture and let your hands loosely dance on the handlebars. But don’t let your hands be too loose, in case you need to correct your course.”
“Just remember: open your mind and especially don’t dread getting on those cobblestones. That is the main thing,” Roger explains. “Then you’ll be going over those stones so fast that you won’t even feel them anymore!”
Ride the yellow loop of the new Tour of Flanders routes. 14km of cobbles!