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Storm of Lycra and Carbon

Keir Plaice Tekst Keir Plaice Gepubliceerd 11 April 2018

Bike racing is supposed to make you indifferent to its violence.

As a feverish junior, you are bred to ignore the sight of your own flesh, the sharp, searing pain as it skids across the cold, hard pavement. Get up. Get on your bike. Stay off the brakes. The rain seeps into your wounds, so you learn to ride harder and not feel the sting. Blood, broken bones, pus, pounding headaches, wind, sun, hunger, thirst mean nothing to you. Get to the front. Push on, and you’ll look out over a sea of mangled and screaming bodies and find your machine. You’ll re-enter the storm of lycra and carbon and feel nothing. No one ever admits they’re afraid.

We celebrate all this. Race reports liken the classics to war. We compare bike racers to wolf packs, bands of brothers. Glory through suffering. We have our Colosseum. It’s on all day on our television screens.

And then, one of them dies.

Forgive the bike racers for racing. They knew no better, and were steeled anyway to what they had to endure.

But what the hell were we thinking? Are we so inured to the traumas that bike racers put themselves through that Michael Goolaerts’ heart attack was just a plot point before Peter Sagan’s attack? Are we so indifferent that we’d already half forgotten about it once the champagne had been popped and the fireworks went off? Did we have to share all our great ‘content’ from the race, while he lay dying in the hospital in Lille?

Michael Goolaerts was just a boy. His mum and dad lost their son.

I hope his death doesn’t become a part of the legend of the ‘Hell of the North.’

When the journalists from L’Auto went to inspect the course of Paris Roubaix in 1919, they observed:

“There’s not a square metre that has not been hurled upside down. There’s one shell hole after another. The only things that stand out in this churned earth are the crosses with their ribbons in blue, white and red.”

That was the real hell of the north. Let’s not glorify all that lead to it.

Riders during the 1919 Paris-Roubaix. Image: PR