A weekend at the Ronde van Vlaanderen
23rd April 2015
Ten Bec set off for a weekend in Flanders, riding the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo sportive on the Saturday and watching the Pros do the same, but a bit quicker, on the Sunday.
A bargain weekend thanks to the cheap cost of foreign sportives, organised to a very professional standard with traffic stopped for us at every junction, and Bruce sorting out our accommodation at an outdoor centre a mere bidon’s throw from the race’s finish line. You’re not quite sure what you’ll get when you sign up for sleeping with eight clubmates in a dorm, but the centre was modern, with good bunks and firm matresses, and everyone behaved themselves. Ian was on the official tour and staying elsewhere.
Sam, Darron and Dom were doing the shorter route with a later start so the rest of us (James, Keith, Tim, Shaun, Bruce and Andrew/me) made sure we made enough noise to wake them up when we set off at 4.30am for our transfer to Bruges for the full distance start.
It looked like we’d have a nice day for the 240km but on the coach to Bruges the drizzle started. We were therefore blessed with typical Belgian weather to ensure we got the full experience.
The first 100km is a mix of some main roads, town centres and cycle paths to wind your way down towards Oudenaarde and cobbled climb central. We were unlucky to be accompanied by near constant rain which only stopped occasionally for five minutes to give false hope of it stopping for good. We mixed in and out of various groups in an attempt to keep warm as much draft and save our legs for later. At the top of a drag James and I stopped as we had lost the rest. We watched a couple of groups go passed and James phoned back to find out there had been a puncture. Cue 20 minutes of James and I dancing about and flailing our arms in an attempt to ward off the cold, meanwhile the rest were back down the road wrestling a tube change with numb fingers with everyone taking turns to reinflate the tyre as it was the only way to generate body heat. Reunited we were now swelled in numbers as Ian had caught up, having started a bit later and chased us down.
There was a universal joy as the rain finally stopped after about four hours and then we hit our first section of cobbles. The first experience of pave for most of us and we quickly found out how well we’d screwed our bikes together as they battered us remorselessly. Each cobble seems to be set just far enough apart to ensure that your tyre smashes in to the leading edge of the next irrespective of how fast you try and ride them. Keith had a small off but fortunately only came away with a bruised ego and no real damage to body or bike.
From here on in the cobbles and many climbs kicked in, never more than a few kilometres between either a flat cobbled section or a climb, which all bar a couple were cobbled. The climbs are best tackled seated and a brute force and ignorance approach seems to work better than any dainty dancing on the pedals. That said with a most climbs peaking at between 12% and 20% seated isn’t always an option, although it became more of a bike wrestling match than stylish souplesse on the steep sections. With all the climbs being fairly short it’s like doing repeated all out intervals.
We smashed, bashed and wrestled our way up and over every climb, only being annoyingly forced to walk at the top of the Koppenberg when a couple of riders fell in front of us. Being so narrow there is just no room to pass and everyone behind was forced to put a foot down and then walk, not easy on a 20% section of pave!
The final climb is another brutal cobbled 20% affair, the Paterberg, but once over this you get a smooth 10km run in to the finish. James got his tail up here and was impervious to the raging block headwind as he hammered through it to the finish at a steady 20mph. Keith and I managed to grab his wheel and clung on like limpets, unluckily the rest of our group missed this train but rolled in together just behind us with Tim’s rear wheel tinkling to the sound of a broken spoke and his joy that it only happened 4km from the finish. The final run in being fully set up for the following day’s race meant we got the full experience, barriered finish, advertising hoardings, finish gantry, the only thing we missed was being able to get up on the podium.
240kms, including 9.5kms of flat cobbles, 14.5kms of climbing – 12kms of which are cobbles. 9.5hours ride time.
Finish line photo, and then back “home” to catch up with the others. Dom had guided Sam and Darron round with plenty of advice and fixing Sam’s bike when she was knocked off by someone less adept than her at riding the cobbles. They had had to put up with the same rain as the rest of us for the whole of their ride, the shorter route not the easy option, it takes in every one of the cobbles and climbs just missing off the run down from Bruges.
The evening was spent stuffing our faces with frittes and beer, when in Belgium...
The Sunday started with a pack up before heading off to Brakel which is on the edge of one of the loops the course covers. We found a great cafe to enjoy food and drink and watch the race with locals. When the Pros were on their way we walked just outside the town to catch the action live on the Valkenberg, then back down the road to the cafe and watch the finish in the packed cafe.
Race over, and now our race back to Calais. It was all calm and smooth in the car and we caught an earlier shuttle, the rest in the van had a more exciting finale to the weekend. A fuel stop and a wrong turning had Darron driving through the port like he’d stolen it, bouncing over speed bumps and just squeezing through the barrier as the last vehicle let on the ferry before they closed the doors.
All in a brilliant weekend, now which Spring Classic are we riding next year?
(Webmaster note: Thanks to Andrew for the write up)