Spring is in the air. Is it fair to say this already? I think so. What with a cold and isolated winter behind us and with some vaccinated sunshine ahead, I think it is time to say that spring is in the air.
Of course, this is not to say that it's glorious weather from here on out. Not at all. Spring time can bring the wildest weather, the most unpredictable storms, and general all 'round madness. In professional cycling, this time of year means one thing and one thing only. It's time for the Spring Classics. This is the time of the year when winter's cobwebs are blown off the legs, altitude camps are completed, bags are packed, and it's racing every week for nearly two months to find out who is made of what. By the time the dust has settled and the sweat dried from their eyes, everyone will know where they stand. Those who have done their homework will have come out on top and those who slacked off will have found themselves wanting. Why is this relevant? Well, Maastricht finds itself at the centre of a hotbed of cycling culture - the Dutch/Belgian lowlands AND we have the start of the only WorldTour race in the Netherlands, the Amstel Gold Race - and I'm an absolute fanatic, so bear with me. In cycling, there is always a metaphor somewhere.
Unlike in the Grand Tours - think three weeks of le Tour de France - with the Classics season there is no coming back tomorrow if mistakes were made today. Sure there may be another race next weekend, but if you wanted this particular title on your palmarès..well, there is always next year. It's a tough old world, professional cycling. No stratospheric paycheck, no stadium singing your name. On good days you get this, on bad days this, and when you're really suffering the most...you can rely on the Dutch to make it weird. This is not to say that it's all doom and gloom, many riders are glad to have the opportunity to lace up on the start line for a slice of cycling heritage. For many, it's an honour to be there until the bell rings and the racing starts. After that, it just hurts.
This is what it is all about really, it's an honour to be on the start line. Perhaps today the cycling gods will look upon you with favour, that today you'll make it into the winning break and you'll be able to prove to your significant half that all the hard hours in the wind and rain, endless cycles of laundry, mountains of pasta, and that weird thing you do with a razor and tan lines were all worth it. Perhaps not, but that is not what you're thinking out there tête de la course. Out there you're a cycling god yourself. Or at least gritting your teeth and spitting out words that start with f and ending with uck. And no, it's not firetruck.
Which brings us to our metaphor time. As any inspirational high school sports coach from the American films will tell you, it's the hardest yards that are made out of eyesight of others. There are many miles to go in winter training, before you are allowed to sleep. This is the time where curfews have been respected, lockdown restrictions adhered to, social distancing enforced. The first rays of sunshine do not mean that life is about to get easy. They may indeed be about to make life a whole lot more difficult, for who can resist the urge to dance in the street and break bread with those returning from the limbo of hibernation? In normal days this is the big spring clean, but in these strange times we are all mad march hares. We should stay cautious, lest we post up too soon and fall afoul of premature celebration. Nothing says foolish quite like putting your hands in the air with one lap to go.
The world around us is slowly waking up once again, but this is not to say that caution should be thrown to the winds. Winter is for scheming and summer for reaping, but in spring it may all be lost. There are still many exams left, and a raging pandemic outside, before Jerry gets his say. Until then though, kick open a window and shake out your rugs. Spring is in the air.