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Archive: April 4, 2010

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more: riding the Tour of Flanders

Sunday,  04/04/10  11:22 PM

Yesterday I rode the Tour of Flanders (yay, me) and gave a brief report; but here's more...

(Oh, and I posted a bunch of pictures, please check 'em out if you're interested.)

You start the 260km (162 mile) ride in the medieval city of Brugge, beautiful in the early light, from the pro podium (!) which is in the central square, just in front of a gigantic cathedral.  Appropriately solemn.

the starting podium in Brugge Markt (central square)

There were 3,000+ riders, and they all looked fit; about a hundred languages were spoken, with Dutch predominant (this *is* Flanders :), French second, and English third. 

ready to roll in the early morning
I must tell you it was cold, brrr...

The first leg takes you West toward the ocean in blustery conditions, a continuous peloton of riders streams along.  Too bad the wind was from the side, and the road was too narrow for echelons.

heading West toward Oostende

Next there's a long stretch South East through West Flanders, into the teeth of a headwind; rolling farmland interrupted by quaint little villages.  Lots of company on the road, and beautiful, but urgh that wind!

heading East toward the Ardennes where the muirs and pave awaits

With 3,000 riders the checkpoints were absolutely jammed.  Besides needing food and drink, you had to get your ticket punched - literally.  Food was a bit different - Belgian waffles! - and drink was lemonade, no Hammer in sight.  I ate and drank as much of everything as I could...

the checkpoints were a zoo

And then the rain began, just in time to enter the Ardennes...  and the cobblestone stretches begin; bumpy and slippery when wet.  The climbs are hard because they're steep and slippery, and the descents are hard because they're so bumpy.  Miles and miles of it, too.

climbing the cobbles - arms sore already and much more ahead

The Ardennes features long stretches of isolated narrow roads, winding through the hills.  Some of the paths are steep and slick, but the views are amazing.

warning, slippery when wet

The climbs which combine cobbles with narrow steep sections are particularly fun, Belgian cycling at its finest :)  Here's the bottom of the famous Koppenberg - I would have taken pictures near the top, but was desperately trying to keep my bike moving.  Sitting is the key, in fact sitting back; mountain biking experience is helpful...

the Koppenberg - wet cobbles and 20% grade, Belgian cycling at its finest

After what seems like an endless series of short steep hills and cobbled stretches, punctuated by picturesque little towns, you finally reach Noneve, and there it is, the finish!

raining again but the finish is a sight for sore eyes, yay, I FINISHED!
152 miles, 12:32 riding time

After you finish the whole thing suddenly makes sense.  You need all that distance, the cold, the rain, the wind, the cobbles, and the steep climbs...  all the obstacles just making overcoming them to finish all the better.

one exhausted, wet, cold, sore rider...
and feeling rather pleased with myself

Next up, the Pros race the same course, in the legendary Tour of Flanders!  This year featuring Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, George Hincapie, Phillipe Gilbert, ... and Lance Armstrong.  Stay tuned for a report on that...


watching the (Pro) Tour of Flanders

Sunday,  04/04/10  11:40 PM

After having ridden the Tour of Flanders course yesterday, today I had a chance to watch the Pro Peloton tackle the same thing.  Wow, what a day.

I began with a little strategy, huddled over my strong Belgian coffee; where should I watch?  The 260km course features 15 muirs (hills), and twenty-five sections of pave (cobblestones), any one of which would be fun to see.  I decided on a hill - easier to watch as the riders are going slower - and then I decided on a late hill - more decisive.  And yet the very latest hills are a zoo, "everyone" is there, maybe I couldn't get a good view.  So I finally decided on the Tenbosse climb at the edge of the city of Brakel; it's the third-to-last climb, long enough and steep enough to be decisive, and because it's sort of in town, there would probably be enough viewing locations that I'd be able to see everything.  Turned out to be a great decision :)

at the top of Tenbosse climb - it will be a bit more crowded later on :)

I had plenty of time to kill - the Tour wasn't going to pass through here for four hours - so I walked into Brekel and found a cool little bar crowded with cyclists watching the early part of the Tour on a large TV.  The "Ronde de Vlaanderen" is one of the biggest sporting events in Belgium, think "World Series" or "Super Bowl"...

watching the early part of the race from a cafe on the village square

I mosied on back to the climb, hungry, and was delighted to find a vendor grilling frankfurters.  Yippee.  With some Jupiter (Belgian bier) it was perfect.

these guys' hot dogs and bier were killer

There was a little pub right near the top of the climb; I found myself a spot at the bar and watched the middle of the race.  As the peloton moved into the cobbles and climbs it splintered, and a lead group emerged which swallowed the early break.  On the famous Molenberg Fabian Cancellara attacked, and only Tom Boonen could follow, and those two took off in the lead with about 40km left.  Chasing were the usual suspects (Phillipe Gilbert, David Miller, George Hincapie, Steyn Devolder) and a little pack led by Lance Armstrong.  What a race!

watching the middle part of the race with a bunch of Belgian fans
they were rooting for Tom Boonen, as he marked an attack by Fabian Cancellara

And then suddenly it was time!  Everyone filed out of the bar and joined the [huge] crowd which had assembled lining theTenbosse climb.  I managed to find myself a prime spot, right on rail on the inside of a slight bend.  Helicopters appeared, a cavalcade of police filed by, silens wailed, and then silence ... and then there they were!  Tom Boonen flying up the hill, with Fabian Cancellara right on his wheel.  Wow.

the race leaders! Tom Boonen followed closely by Fabian Cancellara
man they just blew up this hill, amazing

Next on the road came Phillippe Gilbert and David Millar, then George Hincapie and Steyn Devolder.  And then The Boss himself, Mr. Lance Armstong, who got a huge cheer from the crowd.

the boss! - Lance Armstrong leads the next chase group
the Belgian fans cheered louder for Lance than anyone except Boonen

After the peloton passed through, everyone piled back into the bar to watch the finish.  (And I do mean "everyone"; no fire codes in Belgium, apparently :)  On the next climb, the famous Kapelmuur, Cancellara attacked! and pulled a gap, and time trialed to victory.  The Belgian fans were sad to see Terrible Tom lose, but gave Fabian a big round of applause; they knew the strongest man had one on this day.  What a race!

But my day wasn't over...  I rambled back to Ghent through the Belgian countryside in my little Peugeot diesel - watching the charming little towns go by while listening to African techno (!) - and ended up in Brugge, where I found a cute little cafe nestled among the canals.  A great dinner was the perfect ending to a great day :)

Brugge has a ton of canals (brugge means bridge)
this one is named after Jan van Eyck



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