As usual, we start our season in glorious Flanders.
It really is the place to be in the spring. The historical
the classic courses, the cobbled climbs, the weather and unbelievably friendly people
who's hospitality is second to none.
If you ever
get the opportunity to ride one of these events in Belgium, don't
think twice about it. It really is quite sad that a grown man
of fifty plus still gets as excited as an eight year old on
Christmas morning when it comes to riding his bike. The pain,
the suffering, the unbelievable speed, the hideous roads; it really
doesn't get any better.
Form a Queue
Flanders is a country steeped in cycling tradition.
Despite all the technology available to them, the Belgians
still do things the traditional way. There's a fantastic
website with all the information you could ever need for the eleven events in
Bank van den Post Cyclo Tour which also has online entry.
Yet on the morning of the event there were still a couple of
queuing to sign on!
Me, I'd previously paid
my 10 Euro's on line, walked up to the empty desk, handed in my
email confirmation and left with my number (7021)and carnet. It took
longer to take the photo above than it did to get my number.
But those that were queuing and paying, were in and out within ten minutes
it's that efficient.
To Flanders and beyond...
As you can see from the profile, flat it ain't...
We leave the Sports
Centre at Zottegem, heading for Brakel. Three kilometres in
and we're on our first cobbles, quickly followed by a level crossing
then the reassuring thud-thud, as we ride the concrete slabs that
are the road surface of choice in Flanders. Three k and we've
already savoured everything that's great about Flandrian cycling;
I'm grinning like a Cheshire Cat!
It's an "a la Francaise"
start (leave when you want) and I'm riding with a comfortably fast
group. We're riding a good tempo as we hit the first
the Rekelberg, at the 10k mark. They keep tempo, I crack on;
I'd like to call it an attack but it was more a gathering of
momentum. Whatever it was, the result's the same, I'm off the
front and as luck would have it there was an official photographer
to capture the moment!
After a couple of
kilometres of chasing I pick up a rider that's been shelled out of
the huge group a couple of hundred meters up the road. We work
together (see last
month's factsheet) and at the 15k mark, we're back in the
As soon as we get in to the pack, the pace picks up
as we single file and wind our way around the farm tracks and
windmills of Zwalm, Gavere and Zingem. This is Three Days
De Panne country and every village has a classic climb. At one point we run
past the foot of the incredible Molenberg, my favourite climb
of all time. I feel like jumping out and having a go, but I
was too worried of losing the wheel, so I fought the urge and
Here's a snapshot of my power file from the 33k mark
when we came off one of the many, many climbs up to the 42 k mark.
The yellow line traces power, and you can see the constant push,
freewheel, push as we dive in and out of corner after corner as we
traverse the back roads of Zottegem and beyond. Blue is speed,
red is heart, which is bouncing around 185 and 195 bpm...
After an hour of riding
Killers (clients will know how hard that is!) and riding
very, very fast; the speed picked up! On the long false flats
and uncategorised climbs I'm hanging on and waiting for the elastic
to snap. I look down at my heart rate and see something
beginning with a two, not good.
Knowing I won't be able
this pace for the next three hours, I decide to ease up when we get
to the top of the climb and ride with the next group that comes
along. The elastic stretches, stretches and stretches, then
all of a sudden rebounds. Everyone sits up as we hit the first
feed at Lozere!
A Very Flemmish Affair
These events are more like social pain-fests. When
you're on the road it's full-gas, show no mercy and it's every man
(and woman) for themselves. When there's a feed, it's like one
big party. Everyone stops, gets their carnet stamped, fuels up
on the unbelievable offerings (I scoffed down much more in value
than I paid in entry fee) and waits for their mates while chatting
with whoever's next to them
I took a honey waffle, half a banana, an energy gel, filled my bottle and looked for
another fast train leaving the station. It wasn't long before we're
heading at warp factor stupid, to Nokere. The Nokere Koerse race
had been held on the Wednesday and everyone was obviously
still in race mode. Surprisingly, I'm feeling rather perky as
we head the 40k to the Roman Brewery at Mater.
The Holstraat and Kleiberg follow in close order,
then it's off to Oudenaarde and the 800m, 6%, concrete slabbed climb
of the Braambrugstratt. Doesn't sound much but with a 14%
sting in it, you can be sure it grabs your attention as you near the
The top of
the climb takes you towards Mater with its long, long, long stretch of
cobbles laid out before you. And don't think you can hop on a
pavement either; where there is a pavement, that's cobbled too.
This isn't our crowd, it's from last year's Tour of Flanders.
I snicked up the gears, got to the centre of the road
and gunned it as hard as I could. I'll never tire of the noise
a bike makes when it's smashing over cobbles. There is no
gliding, it's mayhem; and with a couple of hundred riders around you
it's mayhem on a grand scale, all wrapped up in a cacophony blanket.
For this ride I took one of my older Colnago's. the E1, with "loads
of spokes" wheels and 25 mm tyres. It handles superbly and
I've been here many times in the last eight years and
know it as well as any road back home. I also know that as soon as we get to the end of this cobbled
monstrosity, we turn left and it's 200 metres to the Roman Brewery
and the second feed. I'm still smiling.
More Tea Vicar...
a quick punch of the carnet, a photo for the boys back home (they're
coming to do a cobbled classic next year and wanted to see where the
beer was made!) and it's back on the road in quick order to head for
I filled a final bottle with water and decided to
give the Ename blonde beer a miss. When we did the Eroica they
were handing brandy out at the feed, here its beer. Old Johnny
Foreigner really knows how to do cycle races!
We leave for Horebeke in the beautiful sunshine
and head to the last two (categorised) climbs of the day; the 500 metre,
8%, Armekleie, with an 11% lip for the last 100 metres; and the
stupidly steep Vossenhol which is another Tour of Flanders
again, I find my climbing legs and ride away from the group on the
slower, steeper climbs. It's the shallow, fast ones I'm
struggling with and once again there's a photographer to capture the
moment. How good is that?
Route One Home
As we leave the last climb I pick up riders from the
other distances and start to work with like minded others to form a
group of our own. Around ten of us seem to settle in to our
own little rhythm and everyone seems happy. So we crack on,
working through and off or forming echelons as the wind direction
around ten k to go, that was me done. I'd noticed that fewer
riders were coming through so I did a long pull on the front then
peeled off to take a look at the damage. There's only three of
Switch to Survival Mode
There's a huge Belgian bloke, mid forties in full on
Belgian race kit; his mate, mid-thirties, head to foot Lotto kit;
and me in a sartorial melange of red race jacket, (my Flamme Rouge van Hooydonks only cover the knee, so it's)
my blue winter weight Exte Ondo's, and black gloves. As it's Belgium
there's no need for a
Now our Lotto friend is
strong, but he's more knackered than me and sits at the back. I wanted to do a turn
but just couldn't get to the front. Our Belgian wearing power
went to the front and banged it out at 38 kph all the way to the
finish for the last ten k.
Never once did he turn
round, ask for assistance or flick his elbow. We caught and
passed people with alarming regularity; due to the tremendous speed,
no one could jump on as we went past. You could see there was
a raging headwind by the way people were struggling ahead of us.
He never seemed to notice, bless him.
I started seeing double
but there was no way I was letting this wheel go. Then, like a
shining beacon of hope I saw the flamme rouge hanging above the road
from the Shimano Arch. I rode along side my new friend and
thanked him for saving my life. A bit melodramatic I grant you
but it would of been a long ride home without him. He seemed
genuinely surprised and a bit embarrassed, he was just doing what he
does best. We shook hands and I patted his back; top man!
His mate had been
shouting from the back for the last five k, "are we nearly there
yet?" He made me laugh and when we got to the the arch I
shouted back, "we're nearly there". He was a happy man at
I was going to get a
photo with them to celebrate our epic escape, but with 200 metres to
go they pulled off and went to their car. Probably never see
them ever again, but I'll never forget them. And isn't that what all this cycling lark
is meant to be about?
Another fantastic ride
and a day to remember. Dianne is still a little nervous about
cobbles after her Belgian clavicle snapping incident of last year,
so she sat this one out and finished her new book.
Packed the car, savoured
the atmos at the finish for a bit, and got back to the hotel just in
time to see the last 20k of Milan San Remo. Job done.