To the cobbles born – Mum cycles Belgium

I have written numerous times about riding on cobbles in Belgium, in particular the effect it has on visitors. Most recently I was worried that visiting author Andrew Sykes might suffer wheel damage somewhere between here and the North of Norway after a day or two with me in Belgium. I am mighty relieved that he made it to the North Cape this week and is on his way home without a wheel collapse.

Photo Kevin Mayne

However I have also noticed that some visitors just take the lumps and bumps in their stride, without any obvious reason why. After April’s Tour of Flanders Challenge the English language web sites were full of moaning Brits muttering about the pounding they received, but my brother and I were seemingly not as discomforted as many others.

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We put this down to the fact that we have both mountain biked a fair bit so the idea of a bike bouncing around underneath us is really not a novelty.

However today I found that there may be another source …. genetics.

As the days of drizzle and gusty winds finally drew to an end and we have got some proper sunshine I took my mother and stepfather out for a long overdue spin as part of their holiday stay. We had a glorious ride through golden cornfields that are just waiting for the harvest.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

To avoid too much traffic and to enjoy the tranquility I took them carefully along some minor tracks and trails that include a few short stretches of the bumpy stuff.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Patrick behaved entirely appropriately for a Brit on the pave, he was really quite discomforted.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

However there has rarely been anything that stops my indomitable Mum and some simple Belgian stones were dismissed with disdain as she bowled over them without missing a single revolution.

Extremely impressive, her first exposure to the dreaded stones at the age of 73 and she looked like someone who has been on the cobbles all her life.

Chapeau indeed!

British Tour de France winner? Time to wear the yellow again!

When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 I rode round the UK countryside like I had won the race myself. And it inspired one of my personal favourite posts on idonotdespair.com “On Sunday I shall wear yellow”.

Kevin mayne

It is one of favourites because I had so much fun writing it and I was on a euphoric high of fandom. Back in the summer of 2012 not so many people read my blog, but it did get a link in the weekly CTC newsletter so it was probably my record number of views at the time, therefore I was even more chuffed. And any excuse to listen to the wonderful Jenny Joseph poem I plagiarised is a good one.

I may even have gone a bit over the top around the same time when I took on the mad Norwegian football commentator challenge.

Then in 2013 Chris Froome became the second British winner so I could don the yellow again, this time to ride out with my new Belgian cycling club which caused some smiles.

It is almost inconceivable that since 2012 there have been 3 British winners of the tour after 100 years of occasional flurries and few stage wins.

So on Sunday I feel I have no choice – it is out with the faded CTC yellow top again to celebrate Froome’s victory. A bit smug perhaps in the land of Eddie Merckx, the poor old Belgians haven’t had too much joy in the tour of late although Greg van Avermaet and Serge Pauwels gave them some good moments and the Belgian teams Lotto and Etixx have won a lot of stages.

But Sunday will be our day. On Sunday I shall wear yellow. Now I wonder if Cavendish can do something special on the Champs?

Tour de France in Belgium 2015 – unforgettable moments

Gallery

This gallery contains 12 photos.

It is now four days since I cycled to Huy to watch the Tour de France stage finish at the summit of the legendary Muy de Huy. In the way of these things the excitement of the Tour has rolled … Continue reading

Long day. Tour de France viewing at Mur de Huy, and back!

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin MayneThat’s a long hard day under our belts. or rather our wheels.

160 km for me and nearer 200km for Thomas and we got to see an amazing, eventful stage that ended in Huy

There will not be much blogging tonight. It has been a 2 beer ride, and I don’t say that very often with Belgian beer on offer.

So that’s it – most important job of the week done. Fantasy Tour de France Team submitted

There may be lawns to mow, bikes to ride and repair, dog to walk, emails to send.

But the week before the Tour de France the annual challenge has been issued and only one task matters. Building a Tour de France team to beat my brothers and my son.

This is a great way of bringing some extra entertainment to our watching, even if we really want the British riders to do well we can add some spice by hoping for a daily win. Not that I need any incentive, it looks like the most exciting Tour in years.

So here, unveiled for the first time is this year’s I Do Not Despair roster over on www.velogames.com , our chosen platform.

fantasy velogames

On Monday I will be reporting in from the top of the Muy de Huy as the race goes for an exciting stage finish at the top of the climb used for the annual Fleche Wallonne classic race in the spring time. With temperatures over 30 degrees at the moment it might be a long hot ride down there, but I have had this day in my diary all year, so I’m going, cooked or not.

Not much prospect of a Belgian winner on the Mur as Philippe Gilbert is injured, but apparently they are expecting over 100,000 spectators to this little town for the finish in this ampitheatre of sport.

“You are not going out dressed like that”

I strongly appreciate the fact that in Brussels there is a sense that cycling is something that you do in your day clothes, on your way to work, shopping, leisure or wherever your local trips take you.

ECF riding in Brussels

It is a strong contrast to places like the UK or Australia where to my eyes the majority of riders still seem to be in some sort of uniform, be it hipster/fixie or sports clothing. 

However I was reminded today that I must work harder on my appreciation of other people’s “normal”.

As I cycled the last few kilometres of a wonderful ride through the sunny countryside I came up behind a women cycling gently along in a smart dress towards the EU district. But my expert eye told me there was something odd about her bike, because there were some strange attachments to her pedals that kept flashing in the sunlight, even from a distance.

It was only as I went to pass her that I realised that I was seeing the most enormous pair of silver stiletto heels, on a scale that suggested she might be coming home from a night club rather than heading to any office I could imagine.

I am so glad I never had a daughter, I fear I would have been the sort of dreadful dad that barricades the door and shouts “you are not going out dressed like that”.

However after I had passed I spotted my reflection in a shop window and reminded myself exactly what I was wearing. Possibly the brightest, most explosively coloured piece of lycra I possess, paired with bright purple cycling gloves and a mismatched cycling cap.

If I had a daughter she would have said “You are not going out looking like that”

FLCA cycling top

Five smiles to finish Waterloo 200 – things we might not have seen in 1815

Waterloo 2015 Wifi zone Waterloo 2015 characters 11a

When a modern day re-enactment meets the challenge of recreating a 200 year old battle we all have to suspend belief a bit and get in to the mood.

As I said in my previous posts there were some organisational cock-ups that were frustrating and for some people might have ruined their enjoyment.

The travel planning certainly didn’t go according to expectations!

waterloo 2015 travel

But here to close my coverage of our visit are five moments that just appeal to my sense of amusement and make me smile when I look back at my photos.

Walerloo 2015 by bike

Bicycles to be involved of course. Two years after Waterloo Count von Drais invented a two wheeled machine for propelling himself around Mannheim. Perhaps he had other inspiration?

And of course if there is a party going on, anywhere in the world, do you imagine it could go ahead without a few Aussies and Kiwis gatecrashing? Hmm, wonder what to wear as a disguise?

Waterloo 2015 Anzus batallion badge

In terms of the re-enactment itself we were placed close to the recreation of the battle for the farm-chateau of Hougoumont. In reality this sturdy example of Brabaconne architecture stood firm all day, resisting waves of French attacks and the same walls are still there today.

Unfortunately the model reconstruction was not so resilient.

Waterloo 2015 Hougoumont farm reconstruction

Within 5 minutes of the first simulated attack the structures started to collapse like the very worst Do-It-Yourself project. In front of the grandstands we were highly amused by the French and British re-enacters handing each other bits of wood and scratching their heads wondering how they might create an air of invincibility. By day 2 the impregnable brick walls had transformed themselves into the barricades of a street revolution, and everyone clearly had instructions “Don’t lean on the walls”. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a TV comedy.

The actor playing the Duke of Wellington did a fine job looking authoritative and inspecting his troops. What was totally hilarious was the behaviour of the press gallery nearby who couldn’t help themselves and started behaving like the paparazzi on the Hollywood red carpet. “Give us a wave your dukeship”. “Over here, Duke, just a quick look”, “one for the press sir?”

Fortunately for them noblesse did oblige. Celebrity was probably easier in 1815.

Waterloo 2015 Duke of Wellington photocall

Finally of course we have to end with the intrusion of the smartphone.

To be fair the re-enacters were brilliant, when they went in to character all the modern stuff seemed to disappear, we saw no phones and the air was not filled with ringtones and bleeps.

Unfortunately nobody told this on-field steward, who seemed to spend half of both battles engaged in deep conversation. Quite how he carried on a chat with the Battle of Waterloo raging around him I have no idea but he somehow must have felt the smoke made him invisible to the 50,000 spectators behind him.

Waterloo 2015 steward on phone

And one little group of re-enacters did lose their discipline, right at the end. When the Hougoumont farm re-eactment tailed off the “defenders” had probably the best view of the whole audience for the march of the French Imperial Guard. This was by far the most impressive sight of the whole two days as every French re-enacter on site was marched right down the centre of the battlefield. The relaxing actors clearly couldn’t resist a quick snapshot on their phones because it was a great sight. Probably no-one would have noticed, except for the fact that in the near dark those phone screens are a real giveaway.  Waterloo 2015 camera phones

This was not lost on some of the marching French troops who suddenly broke away from the main march and launched what was clearly an unexpected assault. There were phones flying all over the place and complete panic stations as they tried to get back into character!

They are all forgiven for providing us with such entertainment.