Critical Section

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...

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