The Tour of Flanders is one
of the biggest one day professional cycling races in the world.
Belgians are mad cycling nuts, they also put on an amateur version the day
before. Participants can choose one of 3 shorter versions, or go for the full
monty, and cover exactly the same course as the professionals do.
Hill, and friends,Brian Tear, Martine Verweij, and Adam Toft, set out to do the
big one. Brian and Martine also have an entry in the Transalp for
Here's a rough idea of how it went:
After a hectic Friday
schedule and a few calamities over ferrys, the gang meet Martine's parents (who
are doing the team car bit), stuff plenty of pasta and retire to bed.
Sat: Alarm at 5.30am. Cold chamois cream a rude awakening, as is trying
to force down rice pudding for breakfast.
Get to the market square at 7am.
Pick up some numbers, card stamped, and we are off.
people are doing the big one, another 13000 start further down the road on the
shorter options. Quickly we are rolling fairly fast, tucking in behind a group
of quick people, doing 25mph easily.
We do the neutralised section (which,
at approx 10k, is not included in the official route), then we start the route
proper just outside Bruges. The route starts off in a northerly direction,
before turning south for about 140k. I am deceived by the wind, and believe
that we will have a tail wind all the way south. However, hopes dashed when we
hit a stonking headwind at about 20k into the ride. Bugger - we are set to have
this all the way.
The groups start to fragment a bit. The quick boys are
very quick, and the battle becomes one of trying to hold position within a
sensible paced group.
First control point at 48k, and we are feeling
fine. We know that we still have 3 hours before the work really starts, so we
keep our heads down and try to keep a sensible pace. After 140k, we are fully
warmed up, and set to the task at hand. Flanders is a special route - the first
140k are flat (so usually fast, unless, ahem, you have a headwind). Then the
cobblestones start, and the hills start.
There are approx 15km of
cobbles on route (Belgian name - Kinderkopje, or children's heads), much of
which is found within the 18 hills which dot the last half of the route.
The hills themselves are fairly short (maximum was 2200 metres), but are
generally very steep (typical average is 10%, with typical maximum gradients of
15 to 22%. And they come one after the other, in short order. On a road bike,
on cobbles, with 140k in your legs already, this is interesting.
chaos at hill 3, (the first of the really nasty ones) when Martine and Brian
take a wrong turn, and have to do the hill twice.
This adds another 10k to
their distance. We learn how to ride the cobbles - turn big gear slowly, lots
of power, bum slightly over the back of the saddle, and a very light touch on
the bars - and soon we are hammering over the nasty sections as fast as the
Jacks Note: - This is the kind of cobbled road they
rode up (photo care of IN THE GC)
Where we can,
we ride on the verge, in the gutter, anything to get a rest from the shaking.
Basically we try hard on the cobbles, since this makes it much easier, and try
to recuperate on the tarmac. Starting to get tired. Hills 5, 6,7, 9,11,14,15
are all hard ones.
Meet Martine's parents for the last time before hill 14.
40 kilometers to go, and we are all pretty knackered. Bottom of hill 15 (I
think), and disaster strikes - Martine's headset comes apart, and the top cap
bounces into the grass. Must be impossible to find, and a showstopper - the
broomwagon approaches. But Gary the magpie, , comes up trumps again, and finds
Onto hill 16, and then the daddy, the Muur de Kapulmuur ('the wall of
the chapel'), at 20%. Again we get up without walking (many are now), and we
are off towards the finish. At the last moment, we miss a turning again, and go
too far beyond the last hill to retrace. It is now dark, and we can't be
bothered to retrace, so we head for Ninove and the finish.
We cross the
line 13.5 hours after setting off from Bruges. In 11 hours of actual saddle
time, we covered approx 280 kilometers (175 miles in real money), so we
averaged about 16mph. This included the neutralised section, the repeat of the
Molenberg, and the 257k of the actual route. We probably spent 10.25 hours
riding the actual route. All our legs were dead, and all of our knees (with the
exception of Martine's, of course) were very painful.
Too knackered to go
to the pub, we swig a beer in bed. Obviously we slept OK.
Sun: Up at
7.30 again to see the professional race. Saw them go off at 9.40am, then fought
our way to Hill 8 (Steenbeekdries) to watch them in action. Seeing them go up
it, knowing that you did it the day before, was fairly special.
mum bought some beer from one of the houses on the route, and soon the pain in
the legs is gone. We hot foot it to a bar to see the finale of the race. In the
same headwind conditions, they do 6 hours for the route! Ridiculous. Back home
in bed for 2am Mechanicals - very little. No punctures. One dodgy headset, 2
broken bottle cages. Girl count - out of 3000 doing the big one, Martine plus
one other. Experience - fantastic.
(written by Brian
Footnote: Jack@numplumz.......respect that sounds awesome,
sounds like a great event to think about entering in 05. Paris-Roubaix also
offers a smilar support event especially for mountainbikes, another worth
considering for 2005.
If this has wet your appetite for
2004 check out the organisers at