I lived in Belgium for a couple of years in the late 90’s but it was before I began cycling. So I was excited to meet up with several Podium Café friends to ride the Tour of Flanders Cyclosportive on Saturday, the day before the pros.
I would ride the 141 km route with Drew, and Paul. I had an absolute blast, but wow, do I hate descending on cobbles! BUMPY 😉
We were given a helpful chart with all the climbs on the route:
At the start, Jens screamed rather loudly as he realised he had forgotten his helmet. But this is Flanders, they happily sold him one. Phew.
The challenge of this ride were the numerous cobbled stretches including a bunch of short, very sharp climbs. I had thought long and hard about tires, and tire pressure deciding on 28c tires and high pressure, sacrificing comfort for “hopefully” fewer flats. At the end of the first cobbled stretch, there were literally dozens of riders with flats. But I would somehow survive the entire ride with no issues.
There were 16,000 people riding, but the start was open between 7am and 10am so it wasn’t too crazy. Lots of tiny, lovely roads.
Unfortunately, 60 kilometres in, Paul’s wheel gave out. We couldn’t fix it and eventually left him (but fortunately there was a bike store 500 metres away that sold him a wheel and he would eventually complete the course).
I almost crashed once when a car passed me and turned into my corner but cleverly I was wearing mountain bike cleats and unclipped and planted my foot as my bike skidded. A kind flemish man grabbed me, yelled at the car, and we laughed. No harm done.
A mid-route cow photo:
I felt pretty good and managed all the cobbled climbs reasonably well. There were lots of people kindly and enthusiastically cheering old slow guys like me. Much appreciated. Only the legendary Koppenberg created some problems as so many people were walking this crazy steep bumpy “road.” A big guy fell into me a third of the way up, so I jogged the middle third, finally clipping back in higher up.
100 kilometres in the Police were waving to stop bike traffic on a busy road to let cars pass. I made it through but Drew stopped. I waited on course in central Ronse and a Belgian fan gave me a beer. Woohoo! Drew appeared a minute later speechless but happy to share. Only in Belgium.
There was some wind, and several long flat stretches and Drew kindly let me wheel-suck much of the day. After several hours I grew to love the view of his bum. Only rarely was he behind. And always cheerful.
The final climb, the Paterberg, was steep but superb. Trust me, it’s difficult to pull out the camera while pedalling bumpy cobbles but I managed a photo of Drew near the top.
The finish was near the lovely town of Oudenaarde and its amazing main square. Thousands of cyclists, including me, drinking beers and telling cobble stories. Cobbles were a new experience for me. This was a challenging, but well-organised event, and so much fun riding with friends. Oh, and the beer here is excellent.
— Sarah Connolly ? (@PWCycling) April 1, 2017