Seven days, five Classics, and we’re done.
The last climb of Stoepid. La Redoute. It’s the one that strikes fear in the heart of the Belgians. All day, as we crawled our way around the Ardennes, we shared stories, like the one of VDB climbing in it in the 53 during his rather impressive win in 1997.
My ascent however was a rather unimpressive effort in the 39×27. It was a long, long day, at the end of a long week. Pretty early in, we knew we might not make the full loop. And as soon as this realization set in – it was time to sit down and drink a Jupiler.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege – the oldest continual professional road race, a huge loop through the mountainous Ardennes region of southern Belgium. Our day started with a 45 minute climb. But to quote Bill, the LBL “has both steep and long”.
If you grow up in Belgium, you know these climbs. You see them each year on TV and you go and ride them. But climbing the seemingly endless row of ascents brings realization to what the LBL is all about. The Wanne, the Stockeu, the Haute Levee, the Rosier, the Masquiard… These are old climbs, with the history of cycling engrained in them. And each one was a different battle. For me, it was the long, 14% grade in Houffalize that brought me to my knees. Not long after that, the first beer was cracked opened. Stoepid.
How stoepid can Stoepid get? With Roubaix behind us, and Flanders and Gent-Wevel, too, and with ahead of us laying what some of us think are going to be the two hardest rides (all in, considering the climbing, the length and what we’ve already put into our legs), we have become connoisseurs of stoepidity and can say this: If any limits to stoepidity exist, they can’t be known, so you might as well shut up your head and your legs and just ride as long as you can.
We pulled down Strava top times on two secteurs of Roubaix. We rode laps at the velodrome — and Ben took the sprint, and he was kidding, and it was fun but you could see that even for someone like him there is the dream. We fought and spit at each other, and devoured tiny, ride-saving sausages, and out of desperation we refueled at Quick Burger. We railed some cobbles, survived others, crashed on some, overcooked a turn, rode the single thin line in the grass when it was there, tried our best to give Arenberg and best until we finally, each in on our time, acknowledged its grand imperturbable bad-assness. We did it, we made it, there was stomping and stoemping but, all brand loyalties aside, there was some souplesse at work. There was some goddamn skilled bike riding, amateur level and pro. Somewhere deep in the vacuum of the worst of the day, I was proud that I could ride these guys. Only one of us is actually good on a bike; the rest of us are in love with bikes, and have devoted too much of our lives for so little reward but through a diligent working of such an unbalanced equation, we have achieved something like grace. Sometimes. The little drop of blood that dried on my knee reminded me of Museeuw, which is a joke. The punchline is that I love what I am doing, and have the chance to do it, and can laugh at it and with it.
We’re eating frites and meat sticks and stoofvlees today, washing kit, finding lost gloves, babying our knees, hoping the bruises on our palms don’t spread and deepen, arranging for massages, editing video and pictures and writing blogs and already telling each other stories.
Here’s your answer: It’s as stoepid as stoepid can get, but nowhere near as stoepid as it will get.
- Bill Strickland
Almost halfway. I don’t suppose I need to add that this is much harder than we could have possibly imagined. But somehow we continue, not without some excitement, for the Paris-Roubaix tomorrow. For some of us, this is the most fearful ride of the week. For others, the worst is over. And for the one Belgian, it’s the last two days in the Ardennes that bring the terror. As if any of these are easy.
Day one – seems like a week ago or more – the Gent-Wevelgem. If you’ve ever seen it on TV, you know the bergs, the high speed descent and chases, the sprint finish. What you miss is the hours and hours of straight, flat, windy roads. How many doomed breakaways toiled out on these roads, for nothing? So stoepid. And so we toiled, until we gratefully reached the hills.
Ronde Van Vlaanderen was my most feared day of the week. The short, steep hills, all coming more and more in intensity towards the end, would sap any last bits of strength after almost 400km of riding. And so they did. Three times up the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg? It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
So here we are, somewhere in France. Waking up in 7hrs to ride 256km, or as much of it as we can. The Challenge 27mm Parigi-Roubaix tubulars are all glued up on our Easton wheels, the Campagnolo gears are checked….we’re as ready as we can be.
When this idea was first brought up and my name was mentioned,I had no choice. “Of course”,was the only option,I must be a part of this. If this motley crew is going to attempt this five day run,I’m pulling on my bib tights and shiny shoes and taking the stage. No matter if the “stage” is back to back days of abusive climbs and cobbles,choking dust or hideous mud,I’m in. Other than Ben,this is a “super group” consisting of session players,maybe that is the draw,regular guys bound by stoepidity. As for the highs and lows,the suffering and celebration,I can only assume they will,”go to 11″. ~TAYlor
Bad ideas have to come from somewhere, they are not born from nothingness. But the best bad ideas, those that evolve into good ideas, are the ones hatched when friends are bored and get to talking shit. Call it the “hold-my-beer-and-watch-this” school of idea generation.
Stoepid Week started on Skype last fall. David and I were scheming on something or other, chit chatting back and forth on how we might make a splash as he launched Stoemper’s first road bike offerings. We knew we wanted to do something, but that’s all we knew. Ten minutes later the basic concept of Stoepid Week had been hatched. We will ride the Classics in their entirety. In a single week. In March. The more we talked the worse the idea got. Had David not had to go to sleep we surely would have made it even more absurd.
And that’s all well and good when the only details we have nailed down are the what and when.
But now, less than two weeks from when we will roll out of Deinze for day one of our five-day foolishness, the reality of what we wrought last fall is coming into focus. Hold my beer and watch this.
Refuses to take responsibility for the idea of the Stoepid Week. Lives in Belgium, but from Seattle. Earned 1 euro prize money racing cross this season – that’s about as close to serious as DA will get.
20 years of racing elite cyclocross in Belgium. Riding and racing is all Ben’s done for the last 20 years. Perhaps appropriately, Ben is the rider most scared for the Stoepid week. From Limburg. East Limburg.
I’m originally from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, but now call Antwerp, Belgium home. Cycling, in various forms and styles, has always been a big part of my life. Not only has it paid the bills for me, it’s also created a lot of them. When my nine-year-old daughter asked my why I’m doing this ride, I actually had to think about it. The only reason I could come up with was, “To see if I can do the whole thing.”
I came to cycling one summer by watching Greg Lemond humiliate a Frenchman with a ponytail. And I have been lucky enough to make my living photographing some of the greatest bike racers and races in the world. But you can’t fix Stoepid.
I used to be a real good speller. I got away from or out of that, I’m not sure which, but I don’t regret the distance either way. I was taught, growing up, being white trash, to beat dogs. I got away from that, too. I’m sorry for just about every dog I ever hit. I say that only because there’s one I go back and forth on. I guess based on that and some other things in my life it is plain to me I am not a good man but I am at least as honest with myself as I can get myself to be. I don’t know why I am trying Stoepid Week, or why I got asked. I said yes immediately though, and maybe that is why. I’m interested to see where whatever toughness I have lies inside me, and what lies it has told me, and what all lies, based on the lies it has told me, I’ve inadvertently been telling about it all my life. Honesty again. These guys are my friends more or less, in different kinds of degrees and for various amounts of time, and I am pretty sure I’ll get the spelling right when I tell the story of what all happened to us. And the truth, too.
The community of Emmaus, Pennsylvania is my home. Bicycles have always been part of my definition, and I ride for those who can’t. I ride every day, and I’ll work with bikes as long as I live. I listen to Hank III, Slayer, Grateful Dead and Prince. Every ride is special, especially this one.
The question was never if it can be done. Hell, I ride with three or four people every day at lunch who could do this thing with a day’s notice.
The question was: Could it be done by us?
We work too much and we ride too little, most of us, and we get sick (and got sick: hospital-sick and home-in-bed-flu sick, and I’ll-ride-anyway-fuck-you-little-virus sick through all this), and we coach kids in sports and work godawful retail hours and leave for work this time of year before sunrise and come home after sunup too many sometimes to be accurately termed anything other than many times, and there was too much on planes, in cars, at desks. And maybe someone now and then considers us fast, but we’ve always known (because we’ve known the fast): In truth we’re nothing more than as good as it gets for slow.
There’s Ben, of course. The good one, the true good one among us. He rides too much —if any qualifier needs to be put on his riding — but that is its own curse when it comes to this sort of ignorant undertaking. Full pro cross season, Europe and America, capped with a win in Tokyo just a few weeks ago, and you know all the guy wants to do is sit back and take in the season that was and not think about the season that must be, yet here he is doing this and doing it with the likes of us, and out of the six giving this a go he’s going to suffer the most mentally, no questions, all in, issue closed.
Can this be done by a guy who has no reason to do this, who has nothing to prove, who is at the ragged tail of a long and great season riding harder and faster than any of the rest of us? And can it done by the rest of us, who also have no reason to even think about doing this, who have something to prove but no idea who to prove it to or what sufficient proof is, guys getting on toward the ragged and shaggy ass-end of their dogs’ lives as mediocre amateur cyclists?
You go ahead and bet against us.
- Bill Strickland
Yeah so for some reason or another we’ve decided to do this thing. Bill Strickland says it’s about suffering and the limits friendship. I’d say the limits of friendship are when I push Milliman into the ditch. One thing is becoming clearer, though – some riders are going to be better prepared than others. Mark Taylor and Ben Berden in particular come to mind as part of the “fast” group, ie the group that pulls us around the flat sections.
Chris and Bill? It’s unclear. They will probably be fine. Myself and Jeff? We are living over here, that should give us an edge. But between family, flu, and general laziness… I can only speak for myself but I’m thinking I’m 2-3 weeks behind schedule.
Anyway. It’s the real deal. We are going to ride all the classics. Full lengths. In one week. Or at least that’s the plan. We have great support from Campagnolo, ENVE, Challenge, Castelli, Giro, Easton, and more. We have 6 brand-new, shiny Stoempers. It’s going to be a ball.
So, how do you prepare for something like this. Five 10-hour rides in one week, on some of the most challenging terrain for road bikes. If you’re doing a 24hr solo MTB race, you can squeak by with some long rides on the weekends. But anybody with a job and a life can barely pack in 10 hours in one week.
So you just ride. As much as you can. And hope for the best. Living in Belgium, I’m able to get to the roads where the races are held. Jeff and I did some of the Ardennes climbs in December. And on Sunday I rode the amateur cyclo event of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – 95km of many of the same climbs used in the Tour of Flanders. But at only 95km, I’m still less than half of the actual race course. And with the hardest climb being the Eikenberg, it’s not exactly 3 times up the Oude Kwaremont.
So you just keep riding. Throw in there some flu, some broken fingers, some babies…and you get the Stoepid Week. Here we go, less than 3 weeks of training. Trade show next week? No problem. Nothing like a couple hours on the hotel gym bike.
Stoemper bikes are designed and built to go really really fast. Whether you like racing, or drinking beer and watching other people race, Stoemper is now here to make you do both better. We aim to be nothing short of the fastest and sexiest made-in-USA brand.
Stoemper is a small frame building company based out of Springfield, Oregon. Part Todd Gardner and part David Alvarez, we’re all about building really fast race bikes. Todd has been building steel, aluminum, ti, and more for more than a decade. David makes sure the website looks pretty. Put the two together and out comes a little Stoemper.
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