After last years experience of the Tour of Flanders cycle package i came better prepared..25mm Continental Grand Prix 4 tyres ( bomb proof!!!) extra handlebar tape to absorb the shock on the wrists plus electrical tape around the bottle cages so the drink bottles don’t eject at the first cobbles!!!
Here’s my little resume of the weekend.
Gian & Richard already participated last year and Mick & Jez were new to the event
Day 1 – charged down the M1 in Mick’s La Squadra van….along the M20 we bumped into Richard/Jez who happened to notice Gian’s shiny head glistening as we drove past….rendezvous at Dover Docks..quick introduction and then boarded the ferry for Calais….once on board we went straight to the restaurant and enjoyed an excellent lunch with a few bottles of wine just to loosen up…at Calais a 2 hr 30m drive to Ghent (very beautiful city….with large piazza’s restaurants/bars amazing architecture and canals (reminded me of Brugge actually). At Oudenaarde we collected our registration details simple and stress free and headed back to Ghent to our hotel, change & dinner with long discussions over spare ribs and beer about tactics the next day..
Day 2….. 18,000 participants were registered!!!
With that number it was surprising how well organised the start was….plenty of marshals and the opportunity to get last minute provisions plus a visit to the bike mechanic for Mick who hadn’t seen/ridden his bike all year (the gears was full of winter salt)… we started @9.00 we had 140km route, 1,559 m of climbing and 14km cobbles most deeply rutted and crowned in the middle!! we were able to keep together very easily for the whole route….the first climb the infamous Koppenburg came up after only 15km and immediately we had to walk up the climb which was a big surprise ( i then realised they had changed the route from last year) this was the only problem of the day after this climb everyone was well strung out along narrow country lanes, the many short climbs were at times real brutal and the longest stretch of cobbles was 2.3km…..i hit the cobbles really hard (or as Nick Cotton would say full GAS!!)this time i had a little more control then last year however you still cant imagine the first shock of the vibration travelling through your wrist to arms to shoulders all the way down to your butt cheeks!!, the hands gripped the handle bars as never before to control your direction but you had to pedal hard to keep in control and to move forward…..cornering added even more of a test of balance and control, the feeling at the end of each section was palpable on all our faces as we gave our body’s a chance to relax before the next cobbled section.
No major incidents to report except one little scare when i heard a loud crack around my seat saddle thinking Shit i’ve broken the saddle…the result wasn’t so bad…the seat pitch had angled 15% not totally uncomfortable but it did worry me and so I made sure i didn’t sit on my saddle on the cobbled descents in case it was going to get worse… ..the last 2 climbs are the legendary Kwaremont and Paterburg both steep cobbled climbs the last being 20%. You really had to put all your weight as far forward as possible otherwise you were easily going to fall over, equally importantly at the same time was to pick your way through what little space there was on the narrow climb and keep focused on your line while you weaved in and out of the people who were walking or falling off!! These last 2 climbs were 1km apart ..all of which came towards the end…then a 15km sprint for the finish to Oudenaarde …we crossed the line after 140km….absolutely exulted…i was so pleased my extra attention in getting the bike ready paid off.. I was much more confident on the cobbles and it made a massive difference to last years experience. Other good news no one punctured or had any major mechanical problems.
After.. we hit the famous Oudenaarde cycle bar inside the cycle museum run by the famous Flandrian Legend Freddy Maertens..he was there again…the place was buzzing with Brits and Belgiums all congratulating each other on a great ride….evening we treated ourselves to a major dinner in a really cool restaurant and toasted each other to a job well done..
We cycled to Kwaremont, I had booked a restaurant location for our little group which was located at the top of the climb with our own TV screen so that we were we were able to watch the race unfold and as the race passed by Kwaremont 3 times we were able to head out each time to watch by the side of the cobbled road and watch all the riders pass real excitement and shouts of encouragement plus cow bells from a mix bag of Brits and Belgiums. Local Pro Russ Downing was participating in this event for the very first time. After the last time the pro’s came past we sat down to hot chocolate and watched the final 15km on TV then headed to the finish at Oudenaarde were we mixed in with all the teams buses and riders and watched nearby Sagan and Cancellara being interviewed on stage…bumped into Russ who had finished 60th a great result in his first Tour of Flanders!! after that we hit the famous cycle bar again for beer and chips and a natter with the locals.
Ive participated in Etape, Gran Fondo’s, Maratona dels Dolomites and L’eroica but this event is quite unique, low key, stress free and great fun a full 48 hours of participating and watching one of the oldest classics in the cycling calendar…. roll on next year!!…