Another three month goal ticked off… Tour of Flanders

8 04 2013

Long time since I’ve posted on the blog but I have been out and about on the bike with some short, sharp training rides at lunchtime to get the legs spinning before the Tour of Flanders cyclosportif on the Easter weekend. I had only managed a few 100km rides in the run up to the 133km event but I’d been doing lots of short hills (and some longer ones in preparation) so was feeling confident of getting up the hills; I was just hoping my back held out for the distance as I still seem to getting a bit of a sore lower back after three to four hours in the saddle.

Need not have worried really. A cold start at 0830 saw us roll into town (Oudenaarde) from the hotel in Gent and get sorted in a field with a huge mix of other nations, mainly from France, Holland and the host nation, but a lot of Brits were there too.

We’d registered the previous day, after a dash round the bikes shops to replace a damaged stem on one bike, so the actual sprotive departure just entailed rolling over a timing mat and off on a sunny but very chilly bike path and canalside towpath for a good flat 15km warm up before the first berg. We could see it coming – marked by the sea of bobbing bike helmets as everyone bottled necked on the first climb; we were all brought to a standstill followed by a slow push to the top (don’t take your best overshoes!). Back on at the top as this was the last walking I’d be doing all day. I managed to carve a path through the punters on the second berg with some last minute line swapping and lots of shouting (‘Rider’ or ‘Up, Up, Up’ seemed to do the trick). The remainder of the bergs enroute had much thinned out traffic and so were managable by staying on a relatively central line although the smoother cobbles were often to be had at the edges.

We (Jason, Rachel and me) had decided to stick together and make a socialable day of it. We managed a 6.5 hour ride (http://app.strava.com/activities/46821279) and I felt surprisingly OK at the finish. The steep bergs were very rideable at slow speed; I wasn’t finding the cobbles that intimidating and traction was good in the dry.
A berg in Flanders

But lulled into a false sense of security I barrelled down a long undulating 2.4km stretch of cobbles and nearly lost my fillings. Big gear, push hard and keep your bum just off the saddle (“float like a buffalo, sting like a bear”). Pretty tough and at speed you had to keep your eyes peeled for loose or rough patchs as well as all the bottles/pumps/tools/random bits on the road as everyone began shedding stuff. Jason lost a cage bolt and had his bottle swing into his leg on one section. I lost a bottle (that I went back for) on one section but needed this as it was a long way to the next feedstation so I stopped for it (old inner tube on the cage backs next time). The feed stations were well served with Shimano workshops sorting out all the battered bikes and helped out Jason too.

Weather was dry and cold with an easterly breeze all day. We were all starting to feel the chill towards the end of the ride and the long drag home with a few wheelsuckers didn’t help. Nice T-shirt and warming bath in the Gent hotel preceded a traditional Belgian meal and beers.

We went to see the pro’s racing on Oude Kwaremont the following day – they were looping the last three climbs so they came past three times in an hour and half, then we all crammed into the village square to watch Fabian Cancellara time trial to the finish having lost Peter Sagan on the final climb of the Paterberg (FC seemed to have the measure of PS as he came past us on their last lap)
Oude Kwaremont RVV 2013

I would recommend doing this trip as a self-organised one. We booked a hotel in Gent (great city), travelled over on the Chunnel (just over £100 for a car plus three plus bikes), entered on line for 30 Euros (bargain sportive) and ate like kings in Gent’s restaurants. Make sure you know where the car is on your return from the ride; it’s not easy navigating back out of town when you’re cold and tired and have something warm in the car to change into; we all chilled quickly in the easterly winds once we’d stopped. It all seemed loads less hassle than a Sports Tours type trip (Jason had done this the year before). We could be back in the hotel while they were waiting for the last rider on the bus to finish.

All in all a great weekend and I’ll be doing this again with a faster time in mind for next year. Cheers.
Flanders Sports Recovery Drinks


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