La Grinta! Challenge
is the leading Flandrian cycling mag (of which there are a few!!) and
this is their key event, held in May each year.
This event was the fourth
round of the fantastic Lotto Cycling Tour. You can see the other
rounds (all though we've not done them all yet) in the column to the
right. They take in all of the classic cycling roads and climbs of
Choose a Flandrian cobbled
classic and an Ardennes forested legend before you get too old to enjoy
them. They're the easiest events in the world to enter, take place
on some of the most challenging roads you'll ever find and you'll
meet the nicest people in the world doing what they do best. I
intend to return every year until I'm too old to do so.
stayed at a fantastic hotel overlooking the plain not 2 k from the
start. In fact it was on the last climb of the day. We
rolled down the hill in the car to the start to get our numbers.
Didn't fancy riding back up it at the finish!
Signing on in the spring
sunshine was a doddle, as we collected our inscription packs, water
bottle and t-shirt from the Tournai Stadium in Kain, which had ample
parking for the 3000 participants.
I was heading for the
150k event (below) and Dianne had settled for the 63k as the
100k had lots of turns and 11 climbs. She felt it was do able, but
her ability to get lost in an alley secured the deal. She'll
probably end up doing 80k anyway.
So off we set for the first
three k down a cycle track! The stadium is at the crossroads of a
major road, so the only way out of there is down a back lane or a cycle
track. They chose the cycle track to get us up and at the hills as
quickly as poss.
After a 12k warm up (that's a
40kph down a cycle track Belgian warm up) we're at Vert Bios. No
easing in of the legs here. It's only 280 metres long but at an
average 10.3% it's a bit of a stinger. Unluckily for Dianne, it
was on her ride as well. Still, strung them out a bit.
I managed to jump on to a
fast moving group as they crested the rise and got a free ride to the
next climb, the Trou Robin, 890 metres and 6% but with a 17% kick in it
towards the top. Again, unluckily for Dianne this was her second
Thirty k in and there's a big
windmill and a feed. It's probably not meant for us as this
signifies the halfway mark for the shorter, but obviously no less hard,
route. As expected, none of our group opted for a light
With the two early tarmacadam
flurries out of the way, we now headed across the Flandrian Plains to
find our first cobbled fix of the day. Saule Pendu; 1100 metres of
cobbled hell, with a 10% section thrown in just to make it a tadge more
challenging. Still we had to go up that to get to Mount Mainvault,
which was the most "disappointing" of the day because at 2 kilometres
and 2% it could hardly be called a mount!
Then we came to the three
stingers of the day. The Bousee, Escalette and Hameau climbs came
in very quick succession. Each one containing sections of over
15%. As we headed for Flobecq and the feed my thoughts turned to
Everyone knows the Belgians
have the best food stops of any sportives. I thought I'd earned
one of the frangipane delicacies by climbing these monster hills.
Especially the ones with cobbles. But I was in a fantastic group.
We were riding a sort of through and off; they were going through and I
was going off. It seemed a shame to split up a winning team.
So I soldiered on.
Then we hit La Plachettes.
1100 metres and another 15%-er! Now I was really upset about my
cake. It was also at this time that I began to realise the hills
weren't getting any easier. I remarked as such to one of my
companions (they all speak perfect English). The easy ones are
behind us! He cheerily remarked. I taught him some new Anglo
Saxon words as a reward.
Thick and fast they came as
you can see below. What you don't see, is the hundreds, literally,
of small rises and humps that they don't even classify as a hill.
It was a very lumpy day. 16 categorised climbs and about a
thousand dismissed as natural terrain.
As we got towards the end my
gels and bars seemed to kick in and I got over the disappointment of
missing my cake. I screamed back home, working hard on the last
five k to head our group over the line. Although to be honest I
think they let me take the lead as they couldn't believe I'd driven all
this way to take part in "their" event. How could I not when the
roads and the company are this good?
As I rounded the last bend to
lead them through to the finish I heard a Geordie scream. It was
Dianne, already dressed and at the finish. She hadn't got lost,
had finished her event and had "an absolutely fantastic day" riding with
a load of new friends she'd found.
We retreated to the car,
freshened up and went for our food.
you can see, the stats were a little on the high side!
Max heart rate 236 bpm and
max speed 78.4 on a very long, twisty and "farmy" descent.
TSS of 457 and an
outrageous IF of 0.916, with an accurate FTP setting from the
I queued for the food while
listening to the band and just soaking up the atmos. These are
fabulous occasions and they really have a carnival atmosphere all of
their own. Everyone is happy doing what they like doing best.
Riding their bike in Belgium.
we returned to the car Dianne stopped to have a chat with one of her new
found friends. I carried on, as we had to get up and at 'em to get
back for the six hour drive for the ferry. So I organised the
I got to the car and turned
around to see her now surrounded by three or four men, all chatting to
her like they were long lost friends. When she got back, she was
all gushing saying how lovely they all were. I asked who they
were. "Oh those were the men I was riding with."
As we drove past them I
caught a proper look at her new friends as they all waved to her. It was Johann Museeuw, Serge
Baguet and the older of the three was the event director and head of the
Grinta! Magazine. I'd just been reading about him in the free mag
they gave us. There was also a lady with them, who (I later found
out) was the Ladies Belgian
National Champion! Every single one of them had their "champion's colours" on
I don't know how she does it!
And, she managed to get her photo taken eleven times on the course by
SportPhoto. I couldn't even find one of me.
Still, next one up is the
Luis Ocana in Mont Marsan in the South of France. At least
it should be warmer there...
The big route of the day...