It's amazing how the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can forever change someone's life.
For Matt, it was a chance viewing of a segment about Paris-Roubaix (circa 1985) on ABC’s Wide World of Sports that opened his eyes to a world of competitive cycling that he didn’t know existed. If BMX and the Tour de France were on opposite ends of the cycling spectrum, here was a race that barreled right down the middle across the cobblestone roads of the French countryside.
Spring Classics season is the time of year Matt arrives at the office long before anyone else. With a slew of midweek races and the ability to watch live online, it’s not uncommon to show up at the office and discover that Matt has been posted up in his studio hours before the chickens wake up. And depending on the occasion, there may or may not be an empty bottle or two of Belgium’s finest sitting on his desk.
We cornered Matt to talk to us about his lifelong love affair with cycling’s Spring Classics began and share some tips about how to watch and which racers to keep an eye on as the biggest races of the Classics season are on deck.
So what was it that made you a fan of the Spring Classics?
Most every weekend my dad and I would watch Wide World of Sports together while we did the usual Sunday things around the house. Back then, that was pretty much your only way to see sports that fell outside the ball and stick realm. They’d cover Formula One, Moto GP, and even the Paris-Roubaix and that’s what got me hooked. I was a pretty young kid and it blew my mind to see racing like that. I would have been 12 or 13 and right away I started saving my pennies to get a bike.
Did you end up getting a bike?
Oh yeah. I started off with a garage sale Schwinn and searched out a local club. I joined the BBC (Buffalo Bicycling Club) and tried to replicate the riding I saw on Wide World of Sports. During the summer the club would host Thursday night criteriums and road racing on Sundays.
My first new bike was a pre-CAAD era Cannondale with full 105 and down tube shifters. I didn’t have that for long before I started thinking about my next bike. I ended up going the custom route and since this was the stone age before the internet, I made up list of options from what I’d seen in magazines and started calling around to a bunch of small builders to get details about cost, time frame, etc. I don’t recall everyone who was on the list but I do remember Rock Lobster was on it.
I ended up getting a custom Cyclops that was made in Toronto. My dad drove me up from Buffalo to get measured at the factory and then he drove me back a few months later to pick it up. We drove home with it in the back seat. It was painted British racing green with yellow decals and full Dura-Ace.
That sounds expensive. How’d you pay for that?
I had a morning paper route. It was a big paper route. And all the money I made went towards the bike.
In other words not much has changed.
Not at all.
What is it about the Spring Classics that make them your favorite races?
They are some of the oldest races in pro cycling and they hold that charm. Some of the cobbled sections are roads that were built by the Roman Empire. Then you have the weather which can be crap and the cobbles which will always be crap.
You went to Paris Roubaix a few years ago, right?
Yeah. Muriel and I went in 2012. Before the race we drove some of the cobble sections and it felt like our rental car was going to break apart. Until you actually experience them for yourself, you have no idea what it’s really like. Some of those cobblestones are the size of bowling balls!
We ended up watching the race inside the velodrome which doubles as the finish line. The had a giant screen and Tom Boonen won with a solo attack that he launched from 50k. The scene in the velodrome was incredible. I’ll never forget the family that was sitting next to us. They had a couple of young kids and their daughter who was maybe 9 or 10 knew every rider, even the ones in the Under 23 race.
The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are the two biggest races of the season and they’re coming up the next two weekends. Who should people keep an eye on?
With Peter Sagan winning Gent-Wevelgem yesterday, you certainly have to throw him into the mix. Last year’s Paris Roubaix winner Greg Van Avermaet hasn’t been having the best classics season but you can’t count him out. Then there’s Niki Terpstra who’s always a contender and his teammate Philippe Gilbert, who's now the elder statesman of the classics and has been pretty feisty this season.
4.1: Tour of Flanders
4.11 Brabantse Pijl
4.15 Amstel Gold
4.18 Flèche Wallonne
HOW TO WATCH
cyclingfans.com: This site straight outta the year 2000 is kind of like the Wikipedia of racing coverage. You'll see a list of both past and upcoming races on the homepage. Click the one you're interested in and fall deep down the rabbit hole.
YouTube: If you're old enough to have seen The Simpsons episode A Streetcar Named Marge, then you'll know you can go a long way by depending on the kindness of strangers. If the streams posted by Cycling Fans are geo-blocked there's more than likely a kind hearted soul out there who's streaming the race live on YouTube. Just enter the race name, year, and "live" into the search window, e.g. Paris Roubaix 2018 Live, and hit that digital jackpot.
NBC Sports Gold: If you want to keep things legit and get the most professional and easily accessible broadcasts, the $29.99 cycling package gets you access to a lot of races throughout the year. The only hitch is that period begins and ends right around the time the Tour de France begins so if you get it now, you'll need to re-up again this July.