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 :)
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"...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 :)