Tour de France 2018 – our dusty day in hell

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

The sun is glaring down, baking the land in Belgium and Northern France. The landscape is fluffy clouds and blue skies above golden fields which have begun to be harvested early because of the heatwave. But across one set of … Continue reading

Easter in Flanders – a cycling pilgrimage

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

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 … Continue reading

Super super Saturday – when cycling and rugby collide

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Way back in 2012 when almost nobody read my blog except my family and a few friends I really enjoyed writing a piece about one special Saturday. The onset of spring was its theme, marked by “La Primavera”, the classic … Continue reading

Day-dreaming of cycling in Florence

Florence cycling

I’ll be taking advantage of some lovely early autumn weather to cycle in Belgium this week as I have a few days when I will be at home for a while.

But all the while I will be daydreaming of Florence and Tuscany.

Glorious city of art and culture.

Part of the Tuscany cycle tour that I convinced Mrs Idonotdespair to take part in as a first tour, and strange girl still married me two years later.

The city in which my current adventure started when I was approached to consider joining ECF as a staff member, almost exactly two years ago.

So I shall be visualising rolling hills and cypress trees, olive groves and city walls. A city I love visiting and hope to go to many more times.

But these images will be the backdrop to my other cycling passion. Classic bike racing. This year’s World Road Cycling Championships that has got me more enthusiastic than for many years because there are so many angles and interesting battles to consider, especially now I am not just looking through a British filter, I have been listening to the Belgian and French build-ups as well.

On Sunday the team time trial gave a taster as Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin led their team squads into action while Bradley Wiggins was away winning the Tour of Britain. The aerial photography showed stunning views of Florence that looked wonderful.

Time Trial at Surbiton

So on Wednesday I will be glued to the results as the big three go for it with all of them on form for the first time in two years, the proper rematch for the Olympics when Cancellara was injured and Martin maybe a bit off form.

Then at the weekend we have the road races. The women’s race is a bit of a formality, on this course it is impossible to see anyone beating Marianne Vos.

But in the men’s U23 there are some incredible young riders including Simon Yates of Great Britain who is a real star in the making and there is a resurgence in some of the other countries such as France, while the Italians have been known to pack 1-2-3 in the past. Throw in the wild cards who are still emerging in this age group and anything could happen.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen PaterbergThen on Sunday it will be hard to drag myself away from the men’s road race as the intensity builds up all day. I will probably have to go for a bike ride to distract myself or I will have spent the whole day in front of a TV.

I have no expectations of Chris Froome beating the star puncheurs of the classic’s scene. But Cancellara is on record saying that this is the race he really wants to complete his collection. Sagan is flying. Defending champion Gilbert is coming back to form and the Belgians were by far the best team last year. Vincenzo Nibali was not in full form at the Veulta but is on home roads in Tuscany. Will the Spanish all ride for Rodriguez?  There is a brilliant group of young French riders coming through and yet they have selected cycling’s top gurner Tommy V to be the sole team leader. Loads of possibilities.

Much better than football – only 2 choices of winner!

Dreaming of Tuscan hills.

“I do not despair” experiences the Tour of Flanders (1 – racing and riders)

Tour of Flanders

I am still buzzing from my visit to De Ronde Van Vlaanderen on Sunday, it was a top day out.

And many thanks to my followers and tweeters who loved the photo of Cancellara attacking Sagan on the Paterberg. Key moments in cycling can be spread out over hundreds of kilometres, that’s why it is sometimes a better sport on TV than live but now I have watched the TV highlights a number of times I realise even more what a privilege it was to be there at just the moment when the race was won.

For the full “I do not despair” experience I have selected three blog subjects that summarise my memories of my first Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

  1. The race itself. It really was top drawer single day classic racing with the top guys going mano a mano, no negative racing here.
  2. The location. A big shout out to Vincent Meershaert, cycling fan and transport consultant from Ghent whose advice on where to go and how to get there was spot on. The Paterberg was not only the key climb it was a perfect setting for watching and it attracted a boisterous crowd who brought the authentic atmosphere of Flemish cycling.
  3. Riding through the Flemish Ardennes. We chose to park and ride a round trip of about 40km through the countryside to get to the race. Thanks to guidance from Vincent we had a stunning ride on almost deserted roads which only added to the occasion.

Post 1: The race.

I really worried that we might be stuck on a hillside without a sense of the race unfurling, getting just fleeting glimpses of a peloton of riders until a final thrash up the Paterberg and then they would go away and we would only find out the result later that night.

Not a chance. A big screen was visible most of the way up the hill which combined with the chatter of the fans in multiple languages and regular updates on Twitter meant that we were in touch the action the whole time. Plus the position of the Paterberg at the centre of the closing circuits of the race meant that there were circulating helicopters alerting us to the approach and location of the riders throughout the final two hours of riding.

And the Peterberg itself gave fantastic views of the riders snaking down from the Oude Kwaremont at high speed before they hit the bottom of the vicious cobbled climb where the riders funnelled so close to us you could smell the pain. Oh the indignity, some of the hardest riders in world cycling grovelling up among the cars.

Breakaway group

So here is a small gallery of my favourite racing shots as the race unfurled.

186km gone and the break of the day sweeps down from the Oude Kwaremont and then battling up the Paterberg, great team effort by Lotto, especially big Andre Greipel who certainly isn’t built for this. In this picture you can see not only

Breakaway group

the group from the front but the camera tracking them on screen.

And then the peloton, carefully controlled by the strong teams but not yet flat out on the climb, Welsh rider Geraint Thomas well to the fore and looking settled.

Tour of Flanders

Tour of FlandersOnly when enlarging a photo did I notice that Cancellara and Sagan were already inseparable, the wise old head keeping an eye on the younger man.

219km, second time up and the pressure was on, the much smaller bunch was straining and there were a lot more riders down in the team cars. Thomas had crashed and despite flying up the climb he was already being baulked by cars and backmarkers, his game was up.

Tour of FlandersTour of Flanders

Finally we saw the race unfold on the big screen as Cancellara hit the afterburners on the Oude Kwaremont and only Sagan could hold him. They caught Jurgen Roelandts and then we watched the trio fly down the valley below us and then heard the noise erupt along the roadside. 243km and just 13 km to go, this had to be the moment and everybody knew it.

From my viewpoint I suddenly saw Sagan come in to sight on the far side of the road and knew I had a great photo. I didn’t know just how great until Cancellara burst in front of me absolutely flying, just in time to click. I didn’t dare study the picture until the evening, I had the sense it might be special, especially because we then saw him ride away to the win from that point.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Paterberg

Meanwhile our vantage point gave some great views of the following pack, straining their every sinew to form a chasing group. Not many sports let you get this close to the best. This selection includes Alexander Kristoff, eventual 4th with Johann Vansummeren 20th, Marcus Burkhardt 22nd and Geraint Thomas who lost 2:49 to finish 41st. At the top of the page are Lars Boom, Flecha and Jerome.Tour of Flanders

Tour of Flanders

Geraint Thomas

Everybody moved down the hill to watch the finale on the big screen where a burst of sporting applause from the Belgians and cheering from the Swiss accompanied the pictures of Cancellara crossing the line.

They don’t call the great races “The monuments” for nothing, and this was a classic worth of the name.

The moment the Tour of Flanders was won

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Paterberg

If I never take another cycle racing photo again I will be happy.

The Paterberg, Tour of Flanders. The final climb where Fabian Cancellara attacks Peter Sagan to break away and win the race.

At the very second I pressed the shutter.

The only thing the camera cannot show is the relative speeds. Look in Sagan’s face – he knows.

A full report on a brilliant day out to follow, but I just had to share.