Tour of Flanders 2015
Belgium-RONDE VAN VLAANDEREN CYCLO
The idea of riding the Tour of Flanders Sportive was suggested by Julie in Autumn 2014.But when it came down to it only Brian and I took up the Challenge from Brackley Nova. Unfortunately Julie and Andy both had work commitments. We also invited a Yorkshire TDF friend of ours Max Lloyd from Rugby Velo We booked our Entries to the Tour of Flanders in mid-December, the Channel Tunnel and Hotel, as they get fully booked for this event.
The training began in earnest (well my training began the week of Christmas 2014). I joined a spinning class on the 1st Monday of January so the pattern began – spinning Monday, Circuits Tuesday, Spinning Wednesday and a ride in all weathers on and off road at the weekend.
I learnt the benefits from Brian, our super-fast Grand Vet… He has been spinning for the last year and a bit, and increasing road mileage since Christmas. It has had good benefits in shedding weight for both of us.
We planned to go in my car which involved getting lots of extra insurances, 3 fluorescent jackets, a spare bulb kit, GB sticker, warning triangle and a breathalyser kit (only for France, maybe you need one, maybe not), headlight deflectors and a sat nav. We also filled in the API form which is now a stipulation for leaving the UK. (Not as easy as when my parents or Brian cycled to Paris, when all you needed was a passport to go abroad.)
We exchanged horror videos of past Tours of Flanders and advice from different pro teams on what tyre pressures to ride and what extra bar tape to put on the bike.
Our best bit of advice came from Julie’s husband Andy, an old pro at riding this sort of Sportive abroad on tyre choice ( I chose 25c Conti Gaterskins bought from Thornton Cycles Rugby and Brian rode his faithful 28c Schwalbe Marathon Plus, with his secret weapon, a suspension seat post, fitted before Wiggo announced his Pinarello suspension cobble bike. Andy also recommended a good place for us to watch the Pros on the Sunday, the Oude Kwaremont, where they climb the 2,000m cobbled hill three times, and the women’s race once.
Easter weekend 2015 soon dawned on us. A few last minute checks (Brian having a last minute panic over another bottom bracket, which he decided to change on Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately the one he ordered ended up in Gatwick. it arrived in Evenley on Thursday morning, but Brian had his team at Broadribb Cycles in Banbury primed for a quick fit.
His nickname shouldn’t be Pyro but BB-30 Bottom Bracket Kid !!
Brian and I packed our bikes into my car Thursday afternoon and off we went to pick Max up from Rugby. We had a quick re-pack in the evening back at Brian`s.
We were up and raring to go with the lark on Good Friday, round to pick up Brian and the journey began in pouring rain down to the Channel Tunnel supplied with some wonderful Easter cakes made by Brian’s daughter. A bit of a delay before boarding the Channel Tunnel train, and then it was Brackley Nova Easter cake time!
We arrived in France and put the sat nav on, but I couldn’t stand her droning, so I had Brian on the maps, we went on a route to Dunkirk , Kortrijk, then we turned the sat nav on for some close action work about a mile on right road to the hotel only for it to take us in completely the wrong direction heading for Ghent. We disposed of her again, found the Hotel Troopeird, booked in, got some local knowledge of the best way to Oudenaarde, the sportive HQ to sign in for the Tour of Flanders plus a local map. Stored our bikes in a secure cellar. We went off and signed in and got our numbers for the event plus a top tube sticker identifying our nine climbs. We found the venue very easily, well organised as all things cycling in Belgium are.
We then headed back to where our hotel was and found one of our favourite restaurants, the local friterie, a huge pile of frites and whatever you wanted as a main plus a beer for 15 euros. Place your order, sit down, 5 mins later food on the table, huge portions. It was rammed full of locals getting take-aways or eating in, then it was time for bed.
Event day dawned at 6.30am, still dark, on Easter Saturday. We loaded the bikes, had a hearty breakfast with a wide selection of cereals, fruit, pastries, ham, cheese, rolls and an omelette each. We were well fuelled for the ride. We then headed off to Oudenaarde and the start of the ride. Of course it was cold and raining as we prepared the bikes for the start. The adrenaline kicked in as we all rode together to the start and Max went off on his ride of 127km. Brian and I started our 71km in the wet out along the river Schelde along nice smooth cycle paths. With thousands of other riders we hit the cobbles of our first hill. The water and mud was streaming down the hill. We stopped after a hundred yards and started to walk up the Koppenburg, 22%. We had fairly flat winter shoes but others were slipping with regular road shoe cleats and were clinging to the Barriers to haul themselves up walking with their bikes. We went up and down dale travelling not too fast on the cobbles that were wet, muddy and very slippery, especially on the downhill sections with plenty of braking. It was like riding a bike on a pneumatic drill on a bucking bronco.
We passed someone on a hobby horse – no brakes, wooden wheels with metals rims. He was Czech, a Tour of Flanders regular. We continued up many hills, many cobbled. Tarmac was a real luxury after the pounding of the cobbles, Brian and I swapping the lead. On the Taaienberg we decided to stop for our first refreshment stop, a can of Red Bull. It didn’t give us wings but made me ask a team we had been following if their Jerseys with Doen Health meant they were sponsored by a dog food company, but it was a health food company in Flemish. That’s what Red Bull does for me. Brian nearly died laughing. We asked for a friendly photo with them to avoid an international incident and carried on our merry way all smiles. We may be invited back to Brussels as Euro MP`s.
We cycled up and down a few more hills. The rain stopped. We stopped at another food break. The choice was overwhelming, 8 different foods and drinks, and then we arrived at the Oud Kwaremont and both cycled up the narrow cobbled hill and then swooped down some narrow and wet tight corners to the Paterberg for more walking up the Paterberg, 20.3% then downhill for the final 10 km of flat to the official finish across the line where the Pros finish. 46 miles of cobbles in 4hrs then we tootled along to where we had started for our free Tee shirt, nice medal, drinks bottle and drink powder. Then off to the car to change at the nearest Cafe to have two or three cups of warm drinks to feel the end of our fingers again. Max duly arrived at the finish after completing 78 Crueling Miles in 5.5hrs, we met up with some friends of mine Jeremy and Julie touring on their Motorbike.
Then off to the pub for a well-earned meal and a few Belgian beers at Brian’s local called the “Oldies”.
We watched the Pros the next day – Yorkshire, eat your heart out!! Free parking, free bus to and from the Oude Kwaremont, free large screen to watch the race and free coffee, pain au chocolat and soup…
Ride this event to appreciate how skilled and brave the professional riders are.
The event was thoroughly enjoyable and so well organised by the Belgians. The cycling, food and beer and people were brilliant and I would thoroughly recommend the experience and atmosphere to everyone. It is very special!
Thank you, Julie…
Cost £250.00 Each including 3 nights Hotel ,Travel, food and Beer!!
All I have to do is cycle it again when I am 77 …that’s correct Brian, isn’t it!!
A new Brackley club age standard has been set for the Tour of Flanders.
….Facebook linked to ride with videos and photos UK sportives/Cycle Races … have a lot to learn…about value for money! Liege Bastogne Liege beckons next year for some of us….
An Owen, Brian and Max Production…