The art of racing in the rain

Like that example set in that great novel about a racer and his dog, Flahute and I enjoyed watching the video of Saturday's Het Nieuwsblad.

There is truly an art of racing in the rain.   And nowhere better than Gent-Gent, the Omloop Het Volk (now called Het Nieuwsblad) to demonstrate it.

The secret recipe of this art?   Simple.  Run a classic race, without radios.   Throw in cobbles, and enough rain to send Noah looking for an ark.  Sit back with a Leffe, and let the great racing commence.

Saturday ding-dong finale battle between Flecha and Langeveld reminded me a lot of two great Het Volks from years gone by.

Raas + Regen = Regal.
The first was back in 1981, held in a cold rainy deluge.  Jan Raas (TI - Raleigh) won a sprint from a group of four, which included his teammate Frank Hoste, Jean Luc Vandenbroucke (La Redoute), and Gilbert Duclos Lassalle (Peugeot-Esso).  

It was a day you'd have wished you had beaver pelt for skin.   Or maybe would have contemplating racing in a scuba wet suit.  

My old teammate Embo trekked over on a ferry in those pre-chunnel days to watch that race from his semester abroad in the UK.   He came back home shaking his head at just how incredibly hard it all was.  That was his word.  Hard.  The language.  The roads.  The weather.  And most of all, the riders.   He emphasized how truly wasted all the finishers were.  It raised the bar for us in terms of what was physically demanded, and expected, in our sought after metier.

When asked how he felt, Frank Hoste introduced me to a new Flemish word: 'Doodmoe' - dead man tired.  

You know what it means to feel doodmoe, right?

A similar scenario was played out a few years later, in 1984.   Another four man break.  Again two from a Peter Post team.  Only this time, two new protagonists - the Planckaert brothers - Walter and Eddy riding for a new sponsor (Panasonic).  It was an all Belgian escape with Ludo Peeters (Kwantum) and Jean Luc Vandenbroucke (yes, him again).   And another total deluge in freezing rain.  An apocalypse.  All day.

A gloveless Walter Planckaert shepherds
brother Eddy to his first HetVolk in 1984.
Mother Gusta Planckaert once famously said about her three professional sons, "Willy was a rennpaard (racehorse),  Eddy was a luxepaard (showhorse), but Walter was a boerenpaard (farm horse).

I submit to you, the 1984 HetVolk as exhibit 'A' wielersupporters.  Older brother Walter did the lions share of the draft horse work, pulling the four man break in the rain all day.

How tough was he?  Well, ol' Walter was riding without gloves.   Cue Paul Sherwen, who said it once in a promotional video clip for WCP cycling tours to the spring classics:

"Gloves?  Gloves are for sissies".  

Walter was just grinding along on the front, taking half hour pulls, keeping kid brother Eddy sheltered and saved for the final 200m. In de spurt, 'de Kline van Nevele' came over Peeters to take Het Volk in the emphatic manner that became his custom during the eighties. It was Eddy Planckaert's first major classic win as a pro, on a day tailor-made perfect if you happened to be a Planckaert.  

Flahute like racing in rain without radios!
Both of those races were great battles between strong men in the rain.  And both were run without race radios.  Both featured long breakaways that were not nullified by waiting, craft, guile, or radio-supplied perfect information.  The art of racing in the rain?  Stay up front, or even better, attack off of it.  And if you're not, expect mishaps galore.

Fast Eddy's law #28:  Imperfect information = perfectly exciting racing.

This past Saturday's race without radios was along those same lines, and in that same tradition.  Sky had two men in the top four, but the race scenario this time saw two pairs riding to the finish, negating the team advantage.   Flecha tried everything in the final k to throw the Rabobank man off his wheel, to the point  I thought he was going to stop for a coffee in one of the sidewalk cafes as he jumped up on the sidewalk pavement.   The end was a drag race the line, and an exciting finish, and as well deserved victory for Langeveld.

 Langeveld looked so fantastically smooth during his long solo before Flecha got up to him, in the saddle, smooth and fast.  It was nice to see a new name win a classic.

And nice to see the art of racing in the rain is alive and well on the wet grey stones of Flanders.


  1. Most of your blog followers would have no clue what you're talking about - as most would not even contemplate going for a training ride in the rain - never mind a race!

    Most everyone here is about equipment - no one has a clue about how hard European racing is - living and racing here in the States.

    Great post Eddy - thanks!

  2. Great post Eddy. Especially the point about radios. We don't need 'em.

  3. What? Ride in the rain? Get my new carbon bike wet? Won't it melt?

  4. I was converned this would become a retrospective about earning "Belgian Points", that East Bay tradition of going out regardless of weather.

  5. Forgot about that tradition Chris... don't worry, I'm keeping it alive and well!


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