Vlaanderen Part 2
A Day Before |
Leading up to the Ronde van Vlaaderen Cyclo Sportive I must admit, I was a little worried about the distance not because I have never ridden 230km before. It was more because I know how badly you can completely fall apart north of 180km of riding, especially when you’re not prepared. Thankfully I had some miles from a trip to Girona, Spain earlier in the month. However, I didn’t ride much further than 100km on any given day because I had been sick. While back in Toronto for 10 days, life was busy and I didn’t ride much. It all happened so fast, and before I knew it I was on the train to Antwerp, Belgium a day before the 230km sportive. I explained these concerns to my wife Sam and all she said to me was, “you’re soft.” My wife was calling me out, which is all the motivation I needed. It was from that moment I decided mentally to just get on with it, regardless of what the day may throw at me.
The Start |
Riders could begin the Sportive on their own timeline between 7am and 8am. It was not a mass start. Before the ride, I was able met a friend at the registration, get sorted and we were on our way. The first 100km featured a predominantly flat course, without any cobbles and as the ride pressed on, the size and number of participants (16 000) became far more evident. My friend and I were able to jump from group to group, catching faster wheels where we could – it was a lot of fun. We averaged approximately 35k/h for that stretch without much effort and then we then hit the cobbles!
The Cobbles |
The first section was the Leberg – just under a kilometre in length, not particularly steep, but fast! With the words of my loving wife in mind, “you’re soft” I decided to pop into the drops and have a bit of dig on the first section, because riding cobble fast is a bit nicer than riding them slow and second it’s just fun. Also, I had to prove to myself I was not soft and that I was at least, a “hard AF” never-has-been enthusiast. It was at that precise moment that my saddle bag exploded all over the cobbles unbeknownst to me because of the noise of the cobbles. It was not until the end of the section that I noticed my last CO2 cartridge falling out and my friend Owen was not on my wheel. When I pulled over to the left side, a lady yelled in English, “your friend went back to get your stuff!” Finally, I saw Owen crest the hill, he kindly informed he had picked up nothing because he couldn’t find it all and it was way back there. We decided with 130km to go and 10 or so cobbled sections to come, we should at least try to get my spare tubes. We went back, and surprisingly we found everything scattered across the cobbles. It was sketchy to pick up, but we managed! I ate a bar and jammed all of it into my back pocket and continued on. Having a friend that situation was really helpful – thank you Owen!
Onward we went – I had another mechanical about 10km later, my rear derailleur had worked itself loose somehow. I shifted into my 25 on climb and it went right into my rear wheel. I stopped, didn’t panic and managed to get chain back on. It meant that my smallest gear was a 39x23 for a while as a precaution. We continued, berg after berg with a steady rhythm the entire day and oddly enough, the only thing that hurt was my knuckles.
We rode up many of the most iconic climbs of Flanders, the Muur Geraardsergen, Valkenburg, Koppenberg and the Oude Kwaremont to name a few.
The Finale |
After the final berg, the Paterberg, we had 13km to. Following a fun descent, and like in all “fondos” I have ridden there’s a natural progression of speed in the finale. Riders just started hammering on the flat with 10km to go. There was no conversation, and everyone was taking pulls. My friend Owen was the only rider I knew of about 20 riders. Every rider was exhausted and yet completely committed to riding as hard as they could to the finish, for no reason really other than going fast is fun. It was a special thing to experience camaraderie that way and a ton of fun.
The ride for me was 234.5km in total according to my computer – and one that I’d highly recommend for anyone who loves cycling and the cobbled spring classics. It really provides a great context for the race itself and what the pros endure. You become a super fan, as the next day we watched the pros race the same roads. Part 3 is to come soon!
Thanks for reading.