Tour of Flanders from Garry Hill of CATS MBC

Organisers site

The Tour of Flanders is one of the biggest one day professional cycling races in the world.
Since the 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.

Gary 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 2004.
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.

Three thousand 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.

Small 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 Belgians.

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 it.

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.

Martine's 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 Tear)

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 Tour of Flanders