Two days before the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and it’s raining and grey and generally Belgium. Thor and Heinrich as well as two others, kit-up and roll out for a two hour ride. They ride slow. Really slow.

Speed was relative and but now it’s not. Thanks to science and technology and computers in the form of wind tunnels and power meters and precision analytics, as well as countless other tools, downloadables and lab coat-type processes, it’s quantitative. It’s 6.0. Speed is 6.0.

Six watts per kilogram for a 20 minute effort, is world class. An effort at that level, an effort possible for the smallest fraction of the population of the world, wins professional bike races. Even in Europe. Six watts per kilogram for a 20 minute effort is the result of genetics and meticulous preparation. Layered preparation. Day upon day, week upon week, month upon month and year upon year, until, and this if you’re a Northern Classics specialist, now. Until Flanders, then Scheldeprijs, and finally Paris-Roubaix. Three races in seven days.

And so now, two days before the start of this week, a week most racers will likely experience maybe six or seven times at best, they go slow. They noodle. They pedal as if their cranks were made of glass. They take a walk on the bike. They ride slow enough for a local club rider to catch them up and draft-bask in the back for a few miles. Note: The recovery pace for a 6-watt-per-kilogramer is 60% or 3.6 watts per kilogram, which happens to be the threshold pace for a good cat 3. Because to go fast in two days, and again in five days, and again nine days, they first need to go slow. It’s a layering thing.