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