Peter van Petegem Classic

Overall Distance 145k Time Taken 5:10
Height Climbed 955 metres Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Category Position  
Date April 2008 Country Belgium
Entrants 4250 Region Both Parts!

The Peter van Petegem Classic forms part of the 8 round Belgian Lotto Cycling Tour.  The series of events take in all of the Flandrian and Ardennes classic climbs, roads and monuments.  And obviously being Belgian based, you're guaranteed to come up against a massive turnout of spectacularly talented, friendly and happy riders.  Does it get any better?

How sad are we?
Well, we are officially the saddest people in Europe, or we were in early January when I organised our calendar and trips for the year ahead.  I check all of my chosen event's websites on a daily basis early on so I can confirm ferries, hotels, dog sitting arrangements etc, etc. 

With the Peter van Petegem I clicked daily for two weeks before the site opened for business, when it did I naturally got my entry in then sorted the other paraphernalia that goes to make up a European road trip.  When my race pack arrived the week before the event, guess who got numbers 1 & 2?  How happy, sad, and shallow, am I?  Very, a lot and probably are the answers.

With Peter himself, Serge Baguet, Sven Nys and 4250 others all on the start line I felt a little conspicuous with my number 1 plate.  Still, no one knows how big a slacker I am, so I'll front it out for a bit and see what happens on the road.

The van Petegem takes in many of the climbs of the Tour of Flanders and Het Volk and even drifts in to the Ardennes for good measure.   It's a real mix of cobbled roads, cobbled climbs, Flandrian farm tracks and Ardennes forests.  Real Classics country; it's the stuff of legends.

We stayed in the heart of Oudenaarde at the Pomme D'Or hotel right on the market place, 20 metres from the Flanders Cycle Museum, where we saw Boonen's previous Sunday's victorious, and still dusty, Paris Roubaix machine and a host of cycling memorabilia from a bygone age.   Freddy Maertens (twice world champion and with too many victories to count (13 Stages in just one Vuelta Espana!)) was there, giving a warm welcome, really friendly advice and taking my money from me as I did a supermarket sweep in the museum shop.

If nothing else it got us in the right frame of mind for our next days travails.  After an excellent evening meal in the comfy hotel we went to bed early for our 6:30am breakfast call.  The route opens at 7:30am and we needed to be off sharpish as we had a 7 hour drive back to St Malo and a ferry to catch at 8 pm.  So it was up with the larks for breakfast and a two k ride/warm up to the start.  We weren't alone.

Phase One
This 145k ride had four distinct phases that centre around the route's feed stations and checkpoints.  Leaving Oudenaarde it was a nice peaceful ride north, along the banks of the river at a very sedate 30 kmh.  With barges cruising along to our right, everyone seemed to be taking things easy and chatting, fidgeting with arm warmers and other other extremities and generally, but nervously, soaking up the ambiance.

After 5k we turn sharp left for a 100 meters then double back on ourselves to climb a bridge that takes us to the other side of the river.  We all get in to single file to take the tight, narrow hairpin then the accelerations out of the corner start.  We're now sprinting over the bridge; honeymoon period over!  This sheds a few and a large group of around 50 riders are now tempo-ing at 40 kph towards our first objective.

The speed picks up and up and up until we're two kilometres from the Molenberg, my favourite Flandrian climb.  I've ridden it four times but this is the first time I've approached it from Horebeke and the first time I've had to hit 30 mph just to keep up with the race to the base!

In a flash we leave the quiet smooth running tarmac, where all you could hear was the gliding of chain over gears and the rhythmic breathing of the riders.  Now it's nothing short of absolute mayhem.

The mechanical cacophony when 50 riders smash over the broken, loose and irregular cobbles of the climb have to be sensed to be believed.  As a bonus there are quite a few supporters on the course all adding to the noise and the atmosphere. 

It really must be something to behold, to be there when a professional peloton of 200 riders scream up between walls of noise.  Especially when followed by hordes of motorbikes with thousands of screaming, flag waving spectators at the roadside and helicopters hovering overhead.  As it was, it was just us with a few families and friends, and it was just brilliant.

After 500 metres of cobbled upness, and pushing past the 15% gradient, it's time to grab a wheel, hold on tight and force your way in to the echelon that forms across the exposed plain for the run in to the Berendries, just 10 kilometres away.  Before we know it this monster of a climb is upon us.  It's not as steep as the Molenberg but it's twice as long and has a nasty extended 14% gradient in the middle. 

I decided to go straight to my threshold wattage, keep my head down and  just push to the top.   I entered that trance like state you get when you're grinding out a climb when all I could hear behind me, getting louder, was Flemish chatting.  As I reached the crest with around ten other riders, all equally fatigued, three Jartazi-Mitsubishi  pros just cruised past us without a care in the world; they even said hello as they swanned past.  Just how do you get to be that good?

Exiting the Berendries we stayed on top of the Flandrian plain before dropping down in to Brakel for the first checkpoint at 27 kilometres.  A quick punch of the card and we're back on our way heading south to climb the 1400 meter pretty constant 5% Fayte, before leaving Flanders for the French speaking Walloon region.  

Phase Two & Three
Rue HoguenneIn quick succession come the 1100 meter van Frasnes and the 1800 metre farm track Rue Hoguenne.  The roads are green in the middle and very, very slippery but the pace remains the hard side of comfortable. 

At the top there was a drinks station where I grabbed an energy drink, punched my card and continued all in one motion.  We're at 54k, time is pushing on and the tide waits for no man.  So it's back north and the climb of D'Hoppe.  Again I've covered this road a few times.  It's a fast sweeping 1500 meter climb through the forest that exits at a T-junction. 

It's right for the big ride and left for the medium 114k one.  We turn right and it's a mad scream and long pace line back to Brakel to return to the previously visited feed.

On the way, a local rider who's adopted me in to his group of six friends. points out Robbie McKewen's house and a minute later we pass by his Australian flagged decked out fan club/cafe in the middle of the town.  A nice touch for the man known as the Kangaroo of Flanders!  But there's no time for celeb spotting, it's hold that wheel time again. 

For our second visit we approach the feed from a different direction and at unabated pace.  There are now at least a thousand riders heading in to, out of and hovering around the feed.  I nose in to the gate, get my card stamped and turn around to leave just as quickly to get back on the road.  No time lost (about 30 seconds), no food or drinks taken.  75k covered, halfway there.

Phase Four
It's straight out of the feed and straight in to the climb of the Veldman.  A 1000 metres at 5%, not a killer but It'd be a better descent and there's a lot worse to come.  At least now we're all warmed up.

The next climb is the monumentally tough Taaienberg.  It's 20k away but there isn't a single piece of flat road between it and the climb we're on.  My new friends took great delight in telling me this as we crested the Veldman.  Local knowledge should never be underestimated.

The TaaienbergThe Taaienberg is a cruel, cruel hill.  It's 800 metres long and has an overall rated gradient of "only" 6%.  But that isn't the full story.  It starts off at 7%, flattens slightly to 4% to allow you to get on top of the gear, then jumps to a max of 18% percent for the next 200 metres before flattening back to just 5% for a long, long drag to the main road.  And it's all cobbled.

Along the inside edge (you can't see it in the photo it's full of leaves) is a wide rain gutter that everyone dives for.  Everyone except me.  I haven't driven for seven hours to ride in a gutter.  I go to the centre of the road and ride the crest of the ridge all the way up.  It batters you to hell, but it's the greatest feeling ever. 

The TaaienbergOver the top, it's another 500 metres of cobbles, the gutter beckons but I fight the temptation and just manage to hang on to the group, all of whom took the "easy" way out.  My new friends look at me like I'm mad.  I suppose when you have no choice but to ride cobbles everyday they lose their wow factor a little bit.

The End Game
VarentWe're now a 100k in and two thirds of the way home.  The 1700 metre Frunte at 4% is a pain in the legs because the speed remains undiminished as the Belgians just seem to ignore these long drags.  I slide to the back of the group but keep in touch over the top and prepare myself for the Varent.

It's 700 metres long and averages 9.9, lets call it 10, percent!  It's as steep as it looks in the photo and after 110k, it stings the legs a bit.

But from there it's a short ride to the last feed at the Flanders Brewery.  A regular stop it seems for every sportive in this part of Belgium.  I've been here so many times it feels like my local.

Heading out of the feed with the final punch on my brevet, it's through the hideously cobbled roads of Mater and a constantly undulating ride back to Oudenaarde with only the Rotse climb to get in the way. 

At 350 metres it shouldn't be hard, but the extended 18% bit in the middle forces you out of the saddle when your legs would least thank you for it.  I stay in the drops to get more leverage and manage to survive to the top.  Job done, it's time to scream back to van Petegem Central.

Everyone remains chatty and friendly but the pace picks up and up as we get closer to the finish line.  The last few k are at full gas and I'm beginning to wonder where my sprint is going to come from and which wheel I should grab.  Then everyone sits up and glides in to the finish without even breaking sweat.  How civilised.

A bit of an anti-climax but a great way to end a great ride in a great country.  The organisation, the people and the parcours were as good as it gets.  As you cross the line they give you a PvP T-shirt (in Astana Blue!?), a medal and a bidon.  Everyone goes home happy.  We didn't have time to stay for the food, as we packed the bus and were out of there with the minimum of fuss.  We made the ferry with 20 minutes to spare.

Dianne ~ Lost again
After much worrying about whether to do this ride or not I convinced Dianne that if she can climb La Redoute, she can get over the Molenberg.  I think the Molenberg spooked her because it was a cobbled climb.  In the end she loved it and despite being "advised" to stay to the right hand side, she rode up it dead centre "like the pro's do," evidently.  Women, eh?

She was supposed to ride the 75k route that took in the Molenberg, Berendries, Veldman, Frunte and Rotse.  Five Flandrian climbs should be enough for anyone.  But no, somehow she missed the turn for the 75k ride then, obviously, ignored the turn a kilometre later for the 114k ride and ended up on the 15k loop of the big ride heading for the dreaded Taaienberg.

Once again, she climbed it on the ridge and kept going over the top following the big route back to Foreest, where it rejoined, and she picked up, her normal route.  So in the end she did 90k, and six classified, climbs and numerous others that the Belgians don't even count.  Once more she had plenty of company and had a fantastic time.

Somehow all of the photographers seemed to miss her but her Garmin trace proved she was there.  Another classic climb in the bag. 

All in all another cracking Belgian adventure and it didn't rain.  What more can you ask?

website Peter van Petegem Classic

Pomme D'Or Oudenaarde