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To say the cobblestone climbs of Flanders hold a sacred place in cycling is no understatement. They offer suffering and beauty in equal measure. They inspire epic deeds on a human scale. They are both playground and anvil—challenges that can make mortals immortal. Their allure is inescapable.
So it was we found ourselves in the old market town of Oudenaarde, Belgium, gateway to those fabled cobbled climbs. It was late March, the most holy of weeks for those who cherish these back roads of ancient stone. We had come to test ourselves on their slopes only days before the Ronde van Vlaanderen when the greatest athletes in the world would write another masterpiece across them with wits, wheels and wattage as their quill.
The energy in the air that week was palpable, but as we prepared for the ride our mood was subdued. There was the inevitable discussion of tire pressure and weather—knowing that a few PSI can make all the difference on slick, raw cobblestones. Gears were run through. A hesitant shift could be the difference between riding and walking over steep cobbles. Our PowerTap Joule GPS+ computers were powered up, reaching out for signals and finding their power meters and heart-rate straps, as hungry to begin the effort as we were…
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