Time for a quick gallery of photos from Tour of Flanders weekend!
It is the first weekend in April and there is only one place to be for cycling fan in Belgium. Once again I had the best excuse to go to the Tour of Flanders and its associated Tour of Flanders Cyclo for us amateurs, because another family member was on his way over looking for the full Flanders experience.
This time it is step-brother Dean with partner Debbie, both of them regular club cyclists in the flat-lands of England around Cambridge, looking forward to a taste of the atmosphere of a Tour of Flanders weekend. And despite the fact that they live in the one bit of the UK that is as flat as the Netherlands Dean had entered the sportif version of the challenge for the Saturday, pitting himself against the classic cobbled Hellingen of the Flemish Ardennes. So it would have been rude not to join in, wouldn’t it?
I am pleased to say from the photos we actually look like were enjoying it, because we were, most of the time. And by setting off early we had the benefit of being ahead of the masses, giving us largely uninterrupted riding*.
Dean had a bit of a sore back from the bouncing around, but he took to the cobbles like a duck to water, exhibiting a style that was as steady as a rock when others around him were either walking or labouring like nodding donkeys.
Including me, because I really don’t have the power in my legs that I did two years ago when I had trained for several months for the ride. I knew I felt laboured and over-geared on the worst climbs, but then I downloaded the video of the Paterberg from the automatic cameras by the route. I am glad the sound wasn’t recording because the groaning was on the “wounded animal” end of the spectrum. You can spot my white shoulders labouring from way down the hill, while Dean is shortly behind me, smooth as silk.
And so to Sunday, and the chance to see the stars in action.
Once again I recommended that we base ourselves around the village of Kwaremont and the longest cobbled climb of the route – the Oude Kwaremont which had to be climbed by the men three times. It is also home to one of the biggest hospitality centres of the race, so it attracts a great crowd.
The crowds on the high sided embankments create a canyon effect all the way up that seems to make the riders smaller against the backdrop. Apparently Vincenzo Nibali said that he had experienced nothing like it, which is something coming from a man who has won the biggest events in the world.
And the Kwaremont is a great viewing point because the seemingly endless cobbles string out the riders into a long line so we can see all the stars lined before us.
The Tour of Flanders weekend must be on any sporty cyclists’ bucket list. Thousands of visitors from all over the world blend together with some of the most knowledgeable and passionate home fans in the sport. This really is an Easter pilgrimage.
With 40km to go in the race were all watching the big screens intently as the race hit the legendary Koppenberg. While the front men fought their way up without serious trouble there was a moment when someone in the middle of the peleton touched a foot down and the whole group were reduced to a stop, with no prospect of a restart. And as it happened the there was a small cheer and knowing laughter from our crowd.
It was the sound of a shared experience. I failed to get up it again.
I do not despair about that bloody hill. Another excuse to go back I guess.