I am having a MAMIL moment. Apologies, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

My aim with this blog is to keep a balance. A wide variety of cycling content mixed in with some travel, food and Belgian life.

On the cycling side it means that I try to balance my personal love of for sporty riding like great races and mountain biking with rides for everyone in amazing locations and great company.

However regular readers may have noticed a trend creeping in over the past few months. Since December I have been doing a lot of long hard rides. Thankfully you have all been very appreciative of the long touring days, the hard cross country and recently the excursion to Taiwan’s mountains.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am having a MAMIL moment. I am a Middle Aged Man in Lycra, racing around the countryside in search of cycling achievement.

Here is my confession.

I ended last summer feeling good about my riding and I was determined to keep it up over the winter for the first time since moving to Belgium.  The idea became firmer when I found our club’s previously secret winter riding gang that would get me out on Sunday mornings, just like back in the UK.

However that innocent aim got hi-jacked by a moment of MAMIL madness. I was clicking around the web one evening when I found the site for the Tour of Flanders challenge ride on the Saturday before the legendary classic. The race I have been visiting since I got here, only growing in my estimation now I live in Belgium.

Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen

Click, enter your details. 130 kilometres, all the famous climbs, I can do that, click. Enter credit card, click. (I would like to blame mixing Belgian beer with a double espresso, or similar over-stimulation, but I suspect I just had a moment.) And with that I went off to bed dreaming of becoming a Flandrian.

Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen

A couple of days later I made my true confession. “Well I may have just sort of….” and “I was just thinking maybe I could ride an event Easter weekend.” “The Tour of Flanders Cyclo….”

Once again Mrs Idonotdespair showed the insight into my behaviour that kept our marriage happy for twenty five years. She cut straight through my woffle, gave me a withering look and said “Oh no, you are going to start training aren’t you?”

I promised that it wasn’t the case. No obsessive behaviour. No doubling the food bill. No sneaky rides at inappropriate moments. Because I had no doubt I would not be training for this ride. I would try to “get fit”, but in my head that is a process of just a few longer fun rides on top of my usual schedule.

Training is what you do when you become slave to an objective. Faster, higher, stronger. To beat a time or a rival. No I am not going to be training, I am just going for a long ride.

Reality bites.

About a week after I signed up for the Tour of Flanders ride I began my schedule by setting set out for a thrash up a few hills on Saturday morning. This did not go well at all and I promptly came down with flu and then a chest infection which lasted almost through to Christmas. Best winter in years? No chance.

So I did the only realistic thing in the circumstances. I panicked.

Well almost. I had 13 weeks to create the man in my head who was bouncing up steep cobbled hills with enthusiasm and energy, not somebody crawling to the line in pain and suffering. Yes the Tour of Flanders classic allows for fun riders who can take up to 12 hours to do just 70km, something I can handle even when totally unfit. But that’s not the point for me, I want it to feel sporty, I want to be able to follow bunches of other riders, I want to be able to look at it on the TV the next day when the pros ride and I want to be able to say “I did that”.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It has however been really hard, especially in my head. It is five years since I last got myself anywhere near this level of fitness, in fact probably nearer ten. The body forgets. I have ached, I have groaned, I have been wet and cold rather more times than I wanted. I was much more tired than I had expected as I stepped up the riding/training.

Riding with the club’s winter group I found myself struggling unexpectedly to keep up. People I rode with all last year were dropping me on Sundays. I blamed my old winter bikes and the fact that I was riding 3 or 4 days in the week to so I was more tired than them, but if you had asked me at the end of February “How’s it going?” I really was not happy. And perhaps that’s my main point, the stress of the target took a lot of the shine off the riding, it was something I “had to do”, not “wanted to do”.

I think I might have been training. Oh dear!


March arrived.

The mornings offered a hint of spring.

I extracted my best bike from its winter hibernation and enjoyed the swish of lightweight tyres on dry roads.

My strategy for surviving the annual diet of jetlag, late dinners and over-consumption at the Taipei Cycle Show paid off brilliantly with the two extra days for cycling acting as a wonderful final warm weather training camp.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And then I went out on a Sunday and whizzed round with our fast group, something I could not possibly have done a year ago. And as I started enjoying myself the aches and pains eased away. I am about 4kg lighter than I was in October and a hell of a lot fitter, I really can enjoy this.

Maybe, just maybe I am ready for my MAMIL moment on Saturday.

Lessons learned.

I have no enthusiasm whatsoever to turn training for cycling into a way of life again. I intend to keep my rides nicely balanced with a return to regular city and gentle touring rides.

Photo by Andrzej Felczak

All credit to the veteran racers and born again MAMILs that bring so much energy and passion to their cycling. Yes I am going to try and keep fairly fit. I can see some great rides coming up over the rest of the year and as I am in Belgium I will stretch out for some more links to the classics.

But I am going to keep it fun. If the wind is howling and the rain coming down horizontally like it was this morning, I will roll over, take an extra hour and go for the train later.


Part 2 of my guest post for DiscoveringBelgium.com “New Year’s Revolutions: The Best of Belgian Cycling for 2015”

Part 2 of my guest post for Denzil Walton’s www.discoveringbelgium.com has been published today.

Last week it was all about places for you to ride.

This week its “Watching cycling with the Belgians – beer, frites and the most passionate fans in the world” 

I have suggested some of the best cycling to watch this year including the Six Days of Ghent, the great settings for cyclocross races and  of course the road classics.

An extra bonus for 2015 is the Tour de France which comes to Wallonia in July.


For links to my own accounts of visiting the various races mentioned click the tabs at the bottom of the page.

Thanks again Denzil for the opportunity to spread the word and for the great ideas on your blog.


Paris Roubaix – I Do Not Despair experiences the “Queen of the Classics”

Paris Roubaix 2014 Arenberg dust Arenberg Paris Roubaix 2014

“I didn’t really understand the point. Putting a race over all these all tracks just so they can race over cobbles. But now I have seen all this I know it has to be preserved.”

The words of my father as we joined the crowds to watch the Paris Roubaix bike race at the legendary Trouée d’Arenberg, the Arenberg Trench.

Occasional observers of cycle sport probably know that the way the fans watch cycling is to set off for the big hills so you can see the decisive moments and the riders spread out over a distance, just like I did last week at the Tour of Flanders. At Paris Roubaix there are no hills, their symbolic place in the race is taken by notorious stretches of old cobbled farm tracks and minor roads in the north of France. A hundred years ago when the race was founded they were the standard road surfaces but today sections have to be discovered or “restored” to retain the integrity of the route. Restored means “made lumpy, muddy and brutal to cycle on”.

Today the Arenberg is one of the stars of the show. This was a former service road to the old mines of Wallers-Arenberg, discovered hidden in forest by a former rider who not only lived nearby but had worked in the mines. When local roads were improved and made too easy Paris Roubaix diverted over this section and a legend was born.

The route is traffic free all year round and shaded by trees so moss grows on the stones creating havoc in wet conditions. The closeness of the fans and the trees gives it the appearance of a tunnel, heightening the impact. It was actually kicked off the race route for a few years because it became too dangerous for even Paris Roubaix but the local community rallied round and paid for the stones to be restored.

It isn’t the decisive moment in the race because there is still 100km to go but it is known as the place where the main action starts. So when I was choosing a place for us to watch our first Paris Roubaix I had no doubt at all where I wanted to be, I have seen it on TV so many times I wanted to be part of that atmosphere.

When my research found that there is also a fan village run by the community with the obligatory food, drink, hospitality area and big screen the decision was confirmed, we could watch the race come through and then follow it through to the finish on the screen. The backdrop is the mining museum which celebrates the heritage of the area.

Watching Paris Roubaix at Arenberg

We parked about an hour’s ride away and pedalled our way around and through the forest on some delightful car free roads and tracks until we popped out of the trees onto the course.

Foret de rasmes France

entrance to the Arenberg paris Roubaix

From here the spectators walk along the 2km of arrow straight road that form the route, or as we did they thread their way through the surrounding forest on foot and on bikes.

Paris Roubaix 2014

Almost by luck we found a great spot. Almost 2km from the fan village there are slightly fewer spectators and the line at the barrier was not as deep, plus we came out by an official service area which meant there was a bend in the barriers.Waiting for Paris Roubaix 2014

By standing on the corner of this bend we had an almost unobscured view right down the course which was great in itself, but what we realised was that desperate riders being battered by cobbles will seek any sort of refuge and even 20 metres of smooth path is a huge temptation so they would actually be riding straight at us for a few seconds.

And then the atmosphere built up rapidly to an explosion of colour, noise and yellow dust.

First a few service cars slewing sideways on the cambered cobblestones, then the police outriders on special trials motorbikes used only for this event. The arrival of the TV helicopter overhead says the race is upon us and the first three riders in a breakaway group hammered by, grimacing as their bikes bounced and clattered over the stones.

This is however just an hors d’ouvre. Two minutes behind the breakaway comes the peloton and there are 100 riders going flat out, probably over 45km per hour despite the cobbles, the dust, the slight uphill. At the front the leaders’ team riders were grim faced, spread across the road hammering out an incredible pace each hoping that the centre ridge or one of the gutters is marginally smoother.

Paris Roubaix Peloton 2014 Arenberg Close up Paris roubaix cyclists

And at the back of the string the body language was one of complete desperation with riders going through hell just to follow the wheels of the hard men while being hammered by the surface. Noticeably many of the long tail were the small riders who suffer horribly in these conditions compared to the big power men at the front.

Paris Roubaix 2014 Arenberg

And all the time the dust, made worse for the later riders by the team cars trying to get through to people with punctures and mechanical failures caused by the terrain.

Within minutes it was over and the noise subsided to the excited chatter of the crowd as they melted back into the woods to trudge to their cars and head for home to watch the final two hours on TV. We expected a huge crowd to gather at the big screen however we were going completely against the flow as most French people left, having had their moment and knowing that there was still over an hour to go to find a place to watch. This meant that the crowd down at the fan village had a strong international flavour with the Belgians loudly cheering “Mr Paris-Roubaix”, Tom Boonen, and even a lot of Brits giving a shout when Bradley Wiggins featured in the final kilometres. Final shout of the day was left to the Dutch when their man Niki Terpstra broke away to win the race.

A lovely and unexpected feature was when Terpstra crossed the line our whole crowd just broke into applause. A huge appreciation of what we had seen, and knowledge that Paris Roubaix has never been won by a poor rider.

And then my final treat, if you can call it that.

With the forest quiet except for the service crews clearing the barriers and bagging the rubbish the Arenberg Trench was going back to sleep for another year. The crowd were clearing off towards their cars and I realised I had the whole road to myself. Time to ride the Arenberg!

Arenberg Trench Paris Roubaix

Dad made it very clear that he wasn’t going to ride the cobbles, but the side path was now open so he could ride on the smooth section while I went for it.

What a ride. I stuck it into the biggest gear I could turn and just hammered down the centre ridge as hard as I could, which was not very hard at all. More of a wobbly plod in fact. I could say I have ridden worse cobbles in Belgium. I could say I know some roads round my home with bigger potholes. But kept up for 2km, slightly up hill much of the way, funnelled into a relatively narrow width it feels unrelenting. I was puffing and sweating like I had just climbed a mountain for ten minutes.

Cycleottignies a Paris Roubaix

Then I imagined the riders doing 45kmph, after 150km, with another 17 sections of pave to come. They are super-human at times.

On 9th July Tour de France fans will see these roads in a special 1st World War commemorative stage from Ypres to Arenberg. The occasional watchers of the TV coverage may wonder what all the fuss is about but those who have seen the “Hell of the North” will know that they are witnessing something special. The favoured Tour riders who hate these hard roads of the north and spend these weeks of the cobbled classics riding in Spain and Italy could suffer a lot on a day like this.

For my part I will be glued to the coverage because I can say “I was there”. Another unique cycling experience added to my collection.

What an extraordinarily diverse machine the bicycle is. I do not despair!

Watching the Tour of Flanders by bike – great day out

Kevin and Vincent at the Koppenberg

Tpor of Flanders riders Haaghoek

I was not sure how to watch the Tour of Flanders this year. As I was going on my own I had concluded that this was probably a good day for a long spring ride from home. I would then rest at a vantage point and ride home, making perhaps my first 100 mile ride for a long time.

But with a couple of days to go Vincent from Ghent was on the email – “any plans for Sunday? I will probably bike from “hotspot” to “hotspot” between Oudenaarde and Ronse. In this way I can work on my personal condition and watch the race.”

I probably should have looked a bit more closely at the “work on my personal condition” part of the invitation as Vincent is a faster rider than me, but the prospect of company and somebody to map out a route between vantage points was too good to miss. I also knew that it would be great to ride with real fans, local riders with a passion not only for the Flemish riders but “their race”, the culmination of a season of Flanders mini-classics on their roads which build up over several weeks and culminate in the Ronde.

The arrangement was quickly made that I would go by train to Ghent, meet the guys and we would ride down to the course. This is relatively easy in Belgium because once you have bought your 24 hour bike ticket you have unlimited access to the rail network for the bike, it is not the lottery experienced in many countries. So I could plan to jump on a train home from any number of stations in the area without hassle.

Watching the race

The Tour of Flanders is one of the most spectator friendly races in the professional cycling calendar. Many of the great bike races flash by from place to place and the only way to watch is to chase the race by car or soak up the atmosphere and watch the rest of the race in a bar.

Official Route Map (from Flanders Classics)

Official Route Map (from Flanders Classics)

With the Tour of Flanders the organisers give flat West Flanders a taste by sending them off into the flat country for 100 or more kilometres, then they bring the race into the Flemish Ardennes and pack 150 km of racing into a small range of steep sided hills just 20km long by 10km wide. This is done by a complicated set of loops and laps which mean that cars find it hard to move almost anywhere in the network of lanes but by bike it is easy to plot a route to see the race several times if you have some local insight.

The organisers also cater for the spectators brilliantly by running shuttle buses up to three spectator villages with food, bars and big screens at the main vantage points. It is quite unique in sport, the crowd encouraged away from the towns into fields beside tiny villages. And instead of grumbling about the inconvenience and the intrusion the local communities fill many of the gardens with their friends, get out the beer and the barbeque and welcome their race.

Tour of Flanders

(I published several posts last year from the Paterberg that can be found under the Tour of Flanders tab below)

Our route

Our ride was a bit of a mini version of the race route which I have crudely sketched on to the map below (Blue line) By starting from Ghent we would mirror the elites by riding straight into the stiff south westerly breeze. Near to Oudenaarde we swing south into the hills to the Molenberg. From there apparently there was just enough time if we hurried to catch them again on the cobbled section at Haaghoek before a 10-15km ride to the Oude Kwaremont where we should see them twice and watch the race unfold on the big screen. About 80km/50miles I estimated for that part, my whole day was around 75miles/120km.

Tour of Flanders our route

Tour of Flanders Molenberg

This route was really good because I would never have chosen the Molenberg or Haaghoek to watch, I just didn’t have the knowledge of what to expect and they come early in the action. As it turned out they gave me some new experiences because the top of Molenberg was a tiny lane with the bunch funnelled down right in front of people’s gardens whereas the section at Haaghoek was a wider cobbled road across a shallow valley with a great view of the whole race cavalcade rattling down the stones and sweeping up in front of fans two deep on the railings.

The Oude Kwaremont is at the other end of the spectrum, one of the famous and decisive climbs with just 20km to go in the race. I have ridden it and it is nowhere as steep as the Paterberg or the Koppenberg but it just seems to go on for ages, all cobbled. It is ridden 3 times and at the end it is a great place to see the favourites impose themselves. For that reason it is of course popular, with a big spectator village at the top and you have to fight for a view at the roadside, but then we can all watch the finale.

Oude Kwaremont summit

Our ride.

Cyclists Suspension bridge GhentTo get out of Ghent we nipped through the suburbs and then up and over a superb new cyclists suspension bridge which has been built over the motorway as part of the access to a new football stadium. The stadium itself has an impressive mobility plan which encourages local fans to come by bike with lots of cycle routes and cycle parking.

We quickly joined the flat car free route beside the Scheldt river (hope of the infamous ribbelstroken) and soon knocked off the kilometres towards Oudenaarde. I was already grateful for the company given the surprising strength of the wind, especially when I realised that my original plan would have seen me riding 50 miles into this on my own.

IMG_4018Leaving the riverside we were quickly zig-zagging through a maze of lanes that I would never have found on my own and relatively rapidly came up a tiny side road to the top of the Molenberg. Everything seemed very quiet, then suddenly the final climb was covered in parked cars, telling us the race route must be nearby. Great navigation because we popped out right at the top of the village and joined a mix of locals and visitors by the roadside, all being handed flags with the black lion of Flanders.

The next part of the ride was the hardest because after standing around for half an hour we suddenly had to dash across several small folds in the landscape and by the time we reached the top of the final one my legs were groaning and my lungs gasping to keep up with Vincent and Wouter. We actually got to ride a very short stretch of the course just ahead of the race as we cut through but we were mainly on some lanes which looked lovely with the spring blossom everywhere, a year ago I watched under snowflakes and spring seemed quite distant.

A good crowd was gathered at Haagenhoek because of the excellent views and the extremely well placed bar where the party of Dutch cargo bikers were refuelling.

Tour of Flanders Haaghoek

We weren’t there long before the race came through so this time I didn’t stiffen up so much before we were back on the bikes to ride a longer section to the Kwaremont. Again the benefits of local knowledge were apparent, would I have gone down an apparent footpath between two houses without Vincent leading? No chance!

Short cut to Tour of Flanders

Cycle touring path near OudenaardeThe stiff wind was still in our faces but by now it was clear that Wouter is a strong rider into the wind so I was happy to be tucked up behind them when we cleared the lanes and joined an excellent cycle route that ended up on an former railway line that sliced across the open fields in the flat valley of the Scheldt. This was a good way of taking in the topography of the area because as we rolled west the hills of the Flemish Ardennes were lined up to our left and we could look across and spot the bergs, knowing the riders were out there somewhere sweeping up down and around the fiendish final 100km of the race. Our route cut right across the foot of the awesome Koppenberg that completely defeated me earlier in the year so we stopped for a photo-call to prove we were there, but maybe another time for the climb.

Shortly after the foot of the Koppenberg we were into Berchem, the small town below the village of Kwaremont which looks down over the valley. We were running a bit tight for time to get up the climb before the riders so the suggestion was a detour to watch the field come down the new main road which bypasses Kwaremont. This turned out to be inspired because again we saw another aspect of the race that none of us had seen before. The bunch was jockeying for position before the key climb which means that they spread out across the whole road and descended past us at just extraordinary speed. (80kmph/50mph at least) Given that they were only a few metres from a road narrowing and a sharp right hand bend the sight was even more terrifying. As bike riders ourselves we appreciated how much skill and confidence in each other the pros must have to do that. The day was dark, gloomy and threatening rain so the lights of the cars and motorbikes only emphasised the impression.

Tour of Flanders Kwaremont

Once they were past us Wouter suddenly suggested that if we were quick we might actually catch them again at the top of the hill because they had to go down, through Berchem and up the long cobbled climb while we “only” had to go up the main road to the top. My legs were aching again from the combination of riding and standing so the other two soon left me behind even though the slope was not steep. However I was soon bumping my bike across the field with the big screen to get to the barriers and see the bunch in time.

We were then able to hang out, refuel (essential frites) and watch the race unfold on the big screen. Then with just 20km to go it was a rush to get a great spot by the barriers and hopefully see the decisive moment, then back to the screens to watch them climb the Paterberg and then the run in to the finish at Oudenaarde.

Tour of Flanders on the big screen

The race

The race itself was a cracker. For the first time in three years the two strongest riders of recent years were both fit and the Flemish were very excited about Tom Boonen’s prospects. There were also a host of strong riders from what might be called “the new generation” sniping at the heels of the favourites and several of them are Belgian.

The break of the day went away early and held on for a long time but it was clear that on home soil Boonen’s Omega Pharma Quickstep team meant business, they were massed at the front every time we saw them and the crowds were getting very excited.

Look its Tom Boonen at Tour of Flanders

In the final 30km it was the new generation that appeared charge and home fans were excited to see Greg van Avermaet of BMC pulling away in front of us on the Kwaremont with his Quickstep shadow Stijn Vandenbergh, also Belgian, and more excitingly for the locals he was from a village nearby.

Belgians attack on the Oude Kwaremont

But ominously a pair of riders came up just behind them and one of them was Spartacus, Fabian Cancellara towing Sep Vanmarcke who had pushed him so hard in last year’s Paris Roubaix.  In the final 20km we almost saw Van Avermaet get away on the Paterberg and the other Belgians took it in turns to attack but they could not shake off the Swiss master. Every Belgian attack was greeted by cheers and shouts, but to a huge groan from the crowd Cancellara took the sprint from the three Flemish young pretenders.

However what I liked is that even as we walked away the talk turned to what a great race it had been and respect for Cancellara. Not only because he is a great rider but because it is clear he respects the race and its traditions. One press report I saw said that he even apologised to the host Belgian broadcaster in his post-race interview for beating three Belgians! A real nice guy by all accounts and one of my favourite riders. (Click here for a video of one of his greatest descents – awesome stuff)

In summary?

I am sure I had something complicated to say, but it’s all here. Put simply – every bike fan should come to the Tour of Flanders at least once. And if you can do it riding in the company of knowledgeable Flemish bike fans you will enjoy it all the more.

Thanks Vincent and Wouter – great day out.

Many ways to watch the Tour of Flanders

There are many ways to watch the Tour of Flanders.

Stand in your garden and go “Oh look, its Tom Boonen”

Look its Tom Boonen at Tour of Flanders


Watching the Tour of Flanders

There were even the Dutch guys who brought a lorry load of delivery bikes to cycle between bars.

Tour of Flanders Bakkiefietsen Tour

I was invited by Vincent Meerschaert and friend Wauter to join them on their 100km dash between the bergs, which is almost certainly why my legs ache so much this morning.

So we got to take in some superb Flemish cycling infrastructure such as the brilliant new suspension bridge near Ghent,

Cyclists Suspension bridge Ghent

Arrow straight touring routes

Cycle touring path near Oudenaarde

And to hang around the legendary spots like the Koppenberg and the Oude Kwaremont to take in the atmosphere and see the race unfold.

Kevin and Vincent at the Koppenberg

I will post a few more photos and a more about the ride, but it is fair to say I had a great day out once again with the Belgian cycling fans. It is an amazing sport that we have which lets everybody feel so close to the riders and become part of the race. Surely Flanders is one of its spiritual homes.

Tpor of Flanders riders Haaghoek


Mayne rides to solo victory in the Fleche Waltonne

Trevor Mayne Photo Geradline Walker

Even those who don’t follow cycling as a sport recognise the victory salute of a winning rider as he or she crosses the line, preferably having dropped your breakaway companions and soloed to the line with time to sit up and do the full arms raised salute. Someone may even take your photo in victory.

A much smaller number of people know what that actually feels like, even within the sport. I never did it in about 20 years of racing and I am pretty sure that I am not going to now. Oh sure, I dreamt it a few times and I have certainly felt like I lived every pedal stroke when cheering a favourite rider to a win on the TV. But to actually feel it? I wish.

So full credit to my brother Trevor. He still races to a high standard in the UK and in his 50th year he set himself the goal of winning a road race. He has accumulated a whole range of awards and trophies in time-trialing in the past few years but said his season’s goal was a road race.

Well he only went and did it in the first event of the season.

As the report of Leicestershire’s Fleche Waltonne says:

C/D Race

The wind played havoc in this race and after only 1 lap the field was significantly strung out. A break of 5 established itself quite early containing Paul Caton Trevor Mayne and Karl Moseley amongst others. Mike Twelves attacked from the pack to try and bridge to the leaders , and got within 10 seconds of them before reinforcements from behind came up , these riders included strongmen, Andy Eagers and Jon Stephenson. Eventually, a very strong group of 6 were well clear of the rest.

In a move that was a copycat of the A B race, Trevor Mayne attacked in Walton village with just over 1 lap to go. Trevor, an expert timetrialist, pushed on alone to a fine victory by around a minute and a half.


Words from http://lvrc.org/race_results.asp?r=1072&y=2014

All credit to him. And putting any sibling rivalry aside I am not only very proud of his successes, but in this instance more than a little envious – because that’s the way to do it.

The only cautionary note is that having completed his season’s target in the first month of the year his excuses for avoiding DIY tasks have significantly diminished. Peaked too soon maybe? However I clearly need the training, so I’m off out on my bike. Maybe I need to practice my victory salutes a bit, just in case.

Dream on.

A special New Year’s Day Ride – the classic climbs of the Tour of Flanders

Belgium, Ronde Van Vlaanderen fietsroute

Ronde van Vlaanderen Blue route

The New Year’s Day ride is a ritual for me, the year hasn’t really started until I have turned the pedals. But this year’s ride was something really uniquely Belgian, or rather Flemish.

The presence of my Kiwi cycling brother-in-law meant that we had an excuse to finish his stay in Belgium with a classic ride – one of the many marked Tour of Flanders race routes, this one taking in nine of the classic climbs from the final section in the Flemish Ardennes. The Kruisberg, Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg are climbs written into cycling folklore. While I watched the race last year I have not actually ridden them and he couldn’t come to Belgium without trying one of the legends so we had the reason we needed to head off. This would also be payoff for our days of flogging through the rain and mud on mountain bikes before Christmas, this was a treat for the fans.

Andrew on the Paterberg

We had a plan to get up early and get ourselves over to Ronse for a few hours of special riding. However if you had asked me if it was going to be a top day’s cycling when the alarm went at 8am I would not have been able to give you a very positive answer, New Year’s Eve’s aftermath left me thinking that an afternoon potter through the lanes would be a much more sensible plan. However the requirement of being a good host and the promise of a special route was just about enough to get me going, or rather a pint of tea and a start line coffee did the job.

I chose the 78km Blue Route (De Blauwe Lus) one of three published by the Tour of Flanders centre in Oudenaarde, but by starting from Ronse on the Southern edge of the route we planned to cut out the flat start and finish sections in and out of Oudenaarde and make it into a 55km circular route, quite enough for a New Year’s blow-out. (map image and downloads from Routeyou.com )

It was an overcast blustery day with rain forecast later so we had to take on the mid-morning chill, but overall it was a stunning ride. The flat country lanes between the climbs were a bit muddy and horribly exposed whenever we turned into the wind, but provided enough respite to give the hills our full attention and the views from the top were great. 

Kicking off on the Kruisberg with 1.8km of cobbled climbing up to 9% gradient meant we were plenty warm enough before we felt the full force of the wind on the exposed hill tops. However the Kruisberg cobbles are well maintained and like a carpet compared to what was coming. The Monte de l’Enclus wasn’t too steep or cobbled but from when we hit the Oude Kwaremont we understood the challenge.

The lower slope was deceptive as the village church could be seen on at the summit and it didn’t look too steep, but the smooth road surface was a trap for the unwary.

Bottom of the Oude Kwaremont

The cobbles soon started and the reality struck. Andrew looked smooth as if he was born part Belgian but I was labouring away finding it very hard to keep my gear moving despite a triple chainset.

The key lesson about this sort of riding is that you are denied the fallback of getting out of the saddle when the hill gets steep. As soon as I stood up to get a bit of extra leverage the back wheel started to bounce and all grip was lost, you just have to stay hard in the saddle and heave the pedals round from a seated position. This completely exposed the fact that I have never had that kind of strength, I have always been an out of the saddle climber and it was tough. Andrew found out the grip problem the hard way on the Paterberg when his back wheel just shot from underneath him and dumped him on the cobbles, but as he said “its not as it I was moving very fast”. He did get back on and complete the hill – although you can see the effort!

Suffering on the Paterberg

The Koppenberg defeated us both as the big damp greasy stones and the 19% gradient proved an impossible combination with no traction whatsoever.

Ronde Van Vlaaderen Fietsroute

Tour of Flanders Cycle route

We were entirely philosophical about it as the Koppenberg has seen the majority of the professional peloton walking in the Tour of Flanders, especially when wet. Fans always recall the incident in 1987 when Danish rider Jesper Skibby had broken away from the chasers and fell off on the narrow hill. The race director then promptly ran over his fallen bike with Skibby still on it, apparently to keep clear of the chasing group. Opinion varies on whether he would have done that it Skibby had been Flemish!

The descents had to be treated with respect too, the roads were drying out but these are tiny agricultural lanes with quite a bit of mud and gusty cross winds stopping us taking full advantage.Tour of Flanders Cycle Route Ronde Van Vlaanderen Fietsroute

But here’s the thing. Once again rural Belgium was a cyclists’ paradise. Every climb was car free, we had the complete width of the roads to wobble and wander and on most of the minor roads we hardly saw a vehicle. Apart of the one or two main roads we had to cross we probably saw as many cyclists as cars and those were countable on one hand. However you are never divorced from the cycling heritage round here as this farm’s mural paid testament to the heroes of the nation.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Mural Flanders Belgian cycling heroes on mural

It is also entirely possible that we might be considered completely mad by the locals. The sensible Flemish who live nearby can do this every day and it takes an Englishman and a Kiwi to get up early on a cold New Year’s morning to ride De Ronde so they left us to it. If that’s the case I accept the charge, but I personally can’t think of a better way to make 2014 a special cycling year – christened by riding De Ronde Van Vlaanderen Fietsroute on New Year’s Day.

Tour of Flanders Cycle Route

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.

Front page news – white stripes, wheeled terrorists, the Tour de France and the Prime Minister. Only in Flanders?

Last Friday I was taken to the front line of a full on cycling row that has erupted in Flanders, finally forcing the Prime Minister who was on a foreign trip on to the front pages of De Standaard to insist that he “would be looking in to it”

I have to share this storm in the tiniest of teacups because I don’t think we would see anything like this anywhere else except in the cycle sports mad world that exists around Ghent. And the story also has the dumbest punchline.

The background to the story is common enough. The community in Gavere, about 10km south of Ghent have complained that the “wheeled terrorists” have taken over their riverside and that they are constantly afraid. We have heard that before in many countries, most recently in the UK where there is a simmering row about the numbers of cyclists on canal towpaths or around the Olympic Road Race circuit at Box Hill.

However the difference here is the scale and the political fallout as the “terrorists” hit back.

Scheldt River path Gavere Flanders

The battleground is a long wide and perfectly smooth traffic free path that follows the Scheldt south from Ghent for miles making a perfect environment for cycling and walking.

But its strengths are its weakness.

The smooth asphalt is a beautiful temptation for roadies to fly along at speed and the width means that the sort of club groups that are common in Belgium can travel down it in big echelons, especially at the weekend. And we are talking big, I see groups of 30-50 riders where I live and round Ghent I guess numbers are huge.

And speeds are high, as we rode the three of us were doing close to 20mph at times and we were passed by faster groups.

So out of the blue a series of white “rumble strips” – the now notorious ribbelstroken have appeared across the path.ribbelstroken

The first row was apparently whether they were initiated by the municipality or by Waterwegen en Zeekanaal (waterway and sea canals) who manage the navigation. Had the mayor of Gavere exceeded his authority? Or does the fact that they are spread over a wider area implicate the navigation managers?

But regardless of the origins of the work the sports cyclists were soon up in arms that anybody would mess with their training route. With their influence it soon hit the pages of De Standard and ribbelstroken became a new hot topic. While we were out for a ride there was another newspaper photographer out for the evening getting background shots and pictures of the offending strips. His presence prompted a stop for a lively debate by the roadside.

By Monday it had got to the Prime Minister of Flanders Kris Peeters, far away in France on a visit to Le Tour. Another distinctly Flemish twist, when was the last time your Prime Minister nipped off to see the Tour in another country? Well it was all above board, he was there as a guest of DCM, the Flemish company that co-sponsors the Vacansoleil pro bike team in the tour, not a jolly of course.

He probably thought he was away from domestic concerns but in France he had the misfortune to be ambushed by Vancansoleil pro Thomas De Gendt who it turns out likes to use the offending route for his speed training.

I have to say that the prospect of one of the world’s top riders doing 50kmph down a riverside path probably confirms every local citizen’s worst prejudices about wheeled terrorists, but he certainly got the Prime Minister on the spot. So by Monday the ribbelstroken were right up there on the front page news of De Standaard right beside the pictures of Chris Froome and within the day the Mobility Minister was out there riding her bike up and down the towpath with the local cycling groups.

The punchline?

Well it looks like the Mobility Minister was discrete in her words when she said “It was not as dramatic as I had heard.”

Not dramatic? It was pathetic!

This is a country with some of the finest cobblestones on the planet. Cyclists go out of their way to race over the rumbly stuff. It is the world centre of cyclocross. And frankly Belgian road surfaces can at times be almost third world. Anybody who remotely considers himself to be a serious cyclist around Ghent should be laughing at the pathetic little ripples on the path.

In line skaters – yes, big disruption. Wheelchair users – definitely an issue. So yes the strips will be cut back to allow movement round the ends.

Ribbelstroken GevereBut the self-promoting hardest bike riders in Europe? Come on chaps, give us a break! Even the senior citizens ride didn’t bat an eyelid.

But the hard men of Ghent have spoken, apparently the experiment will not be continued.


I do not despair at the Ardennes Classics – by the roadside with the Walloons

Elite men Mur de Huy

Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont 5

A slightly belated look back at my trips to the cycling monuments as they come to my new home province. I can tell you now, add it to your bucket list if you have one – take in a Belgian spring classic and do some riding in the surrounding countryside, it is unique.

In search of my Belgian cycling fix I took a day off work on Wednesday ten days ago to cycle down to Huy to watch the Flèche Wallonne. Then last Sunday, my wife and I spent a tourist day in the Ardennes before sneaking onto the roadside in a small town with to see Liege-Bastogne-Liege come through similar terrain.

They were very different atmospheres, the football fan fervour of the massed ranks on the Mur de Huy on the Wednesday and then the ownership of the locals in Sprimont on the Sunday as the race came up “their hill”.  But both form part of my induction to this whole new world.

These races are part of what is known as the Ardennes week, with the previous week’s Amstel Gold in the hilly area of the southern Netherlands, then across south Belgium skirting the French border to arrive at the edge of the Ardennes proper in Huy, finally the longest and hardest through the bigger climbs of La Doyenne, (the old lady) Liege-Bastogne-Liege. If the Flemish have their days on the cobbles then this is the territory of the Walloons, the French speaking Belgians. The riding has a different kind of drama because these races favour climbers, especially Liege which has been won by most of the grand tour greats in its history and this year attracted riders like Contador, Froome and Nibali who are much more likely to be seen on Alpine passes. But two years ago local man Philippe Gilbert joined the local heroes when he was one of the very few people in history to do the Ardennes triple, something he has been trying to live up to ever since.

Flèche Wallonne, the Walloon Arrow.

Watching the Fleche 1There was quite a different atmosphere at the Flèche compared to the Tour of Flanders (previous post here), not least because it was a warm sunny day with a real sense of spring. Unexpectedly the roads are open to traffic between the race circuits Watching the Fleche 4so I was able to ride around part of the course in reverse direction and see the families by the roadside, even the tiniest road junction having someone who had pulled out the deck chairs to sit and wait. And the cafes were bursting with people just taking the sun for a few hours.

And once I arrived at Huy it was clear that because the race was almost all about getting to the last climb of the Mur de Huy that’s where the big numbers of fans were too. So there was a very enthusiastic and well lubricated crowd several deep against the barriers all the way up and a huge sea of faces looking at the big screen. With twice up the climb for the women and three times for the men it really is the focal point for the whole event. The beer tent was doing great business and the frites wagon wasn’t far behind. I felt it my duty to sample both!

Fleche big screen1

Young Gilbert fanThe other thing that made the atmosphere much livelier was a home favourite. There were a lot of World Champion jerseys around, Philippe Gilbert fan club t-shirts and the fans were willing to burst into chants at almost any moment. It had elements of a football crowd at times, not something I’ve seen at cycling before.

The Walloons weren’t alone. I bumped into a few English fans (How do South West Road Club manage to be in so many places at once?) and there was a lot of Dutch being spoken too. Some of them were definitely down from Flanders but also from the Netherlands to cheer the phenomenon that is Marianne Vos in the women’s event. There are always BasquesAnd Basques – that flag gets everywhere, what a region of cycling fans.

Actually many of the commentators I read believe that Fleche Walloon has become a boring race because it is so much about the Mur. There may be the usual break of the day but the teams of the favourites are always going to keep everything together until the final climb. (Mur=wall in French)

But for excitement that makes it pretty special. We could see the race build as the first two times established the pattern of the cruising favourites at the front and the labouring journeymen battling to hold the group.

Watching the Fleche 3

Also because the climbs up the Mur are well spaced the build-up becomes more intense. First with 95km still to go, then just 31 and then the finalé. And in between that as an hors d’oeuvre the women’s race.

Vos was pretty amazing, For the women’s finish I was standing where I could see the big screen out of one corner of my eye so I could see the breakaway on the lower slopes. When she attacked it was decisive and she shot by my position absolutely flying for a comfortable win, nobody else looked as smooth.

Fleche Wallonne Fenminin 2

Once she had passed I was able to capture some of the agony on camera, not least Britain’s Olympic star Laura Trott who was discovering that 120km in Belgium is very different to track racing, she was suffering!Laura Trott Fleche Wallonne

The end of the men’s race was a very strange affair and it was only when I watched the re-run on the TV in the evening that I understood what I had seen. I got a great spot about 90 metres from the finish, just above the steepest point on the course. The catch was that it because so noisy we couldn’t hear the commentator and nobody knew what was happening.

First thing we saw was a AG2R rider round the bend and apparently almost stop. He was so laboured  I really thought he was a lapped rider who had somehow got mixed up with the leaders and had nothing to do with the sprint.Fleche Wallonne

Meanwhile on the other side of the road a Katusha team red and white rider absolutely flew up the hill making almost everything we had seen before look static. Seeing the red and white I immediately called the win for Rodriguez and when he had passed looked back for Gilbert and company, ignoring the slow moving AG2R rider.Moreno wins Fleche

The next strange moment was seeing Gilbert himself almost stop, then veer across the road and join a head to head with Anton, Martin and another Katusha.. minor places Fleche Wallonne

Then the rest – scatted over minutes and in varying states of agony. But they all got cheered loudly, especially the Belgians.

I am so very glad I am not a live race reporter. If it was possible to get a result wrong, then I got it. The flying Katusha was Dani Moreno, who won the race, not Joaquin Rodriguez who was down the hill battling with Gilbert. The slow moving AG2R turned out to be Columbian climber Carlos Betancur who almost become the star of the day as he had blown the race apart on the lower slopes and just run out of gas as he reached us, and he finished on the wheel of second placed Sky rider Henao who I didn’t even notice, he went almost underneath us as I was watching Moreno. However the Gilbert stall was very real, it appeared again clearly on the TV. He explained to the press that his final 15th place meant nothing, it was only the win that mattered. On the TV we could see that he led most of the chase after Betancur on the lower slopes, looks like the hill was just 200metres too long for both of them.

A slightly subdued crowd made its way down the hill and merged with the thousands who had lined the route through the town, taking in the hospitality tents and cafes which had clearly all done a roaring trade. I wobbled my way to the station, tired and over-heated. Great day out.


I had a big cycling day on the Wednesday, not only watching the race but cycling for several hours to get down there. In the course of doing so I discovered just how delightful the Ardennes countryside is, especially with our late spring bursting out all over.


So instead of repeating my self-indulgent cycling trip I took my wife and the trusty mutt along for a day in the countryside, conceding only that we would end up somewhere significant near the end of the race to catch the flavour.

As it was we had a lovely day out discovering lots more of the area and I left it far too late to get onto one of the key climbs without risking missing the race entirely. So we chose another approach, we managed to

Watching Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont 2

circle around and get ahead of the race and into the small town of Sprimont, 2km over the top of the key climb of Cote de la Redoute, with about 35km to go. At the edge of town we discovered several groups of locals heading for a small corner at the edge of town which turned out to be a narrow steep climb out of the town.

It was a really nice mood because 

Watching Leieg Bastogne Liege Sprimont

most people appeared to be local. There were the homeowners just stepping away from their TVs into the garden, the supremely well organised TV in the car brigade and some of the local chaps just had to keep up tradition by making a very vigorous attack on a couple of cases of beer.

I was following the moves on my phone so I was able to anticipate the frantic pace of the race as class group of seven were leading the strung out bunch by just seven seconds. Both groups were flying, Daniel Cunego visible in the break and a Garmin team rider dragging the bunch hard up behind.

Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont

Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont 3

Biggest shouts of the day “Allez Philippe” of course, but he looked stressed even in the micro-second you get to catch a glimpse of a pro rider going fast. It is astonishing how close we get to these guys, it is no wonder there are the occasional accidents with spectators.Philippe Gilbert Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont

For the next 10 minutes riders came through in small groups, cheered the small crowd. And then unceremoniously it was all over. Parents collected children, drinkers collected bottles and everybody wandered back to home or cars. They were probably saying “same again next year?”

In summary?

Fleche Wallonne FemininWe listened to the race play out on the radio on the way home and then saw it again on TV in the evening. We were like small children when we yelled out “there we are” as the race went up “our hill” because unlike the big crowds at the other spots we could clearly see ourselves by the roadside. I guess throughout this spring thousands of Belgians had stood by the side of “their race” in just the same way and been part of it for a day. I was just delighted to be amongst them.

And now it is all over – my first visit to the Monuments of cycling and my first taste of Belgian cycle race culture. I am very sure it won’t be my last. With both Tour of Flanders and Fleche Wallonne using circuits for the final sections the atmosphere and build up on the Paterberg and the Mur de Huy were hard to beat, but there is something great about the locals just popping out in their deck chairs as well.Watchng the Fleche 2

Into the Ardennes – a long day’s tour and La Flèche Wallonne

Two photos from today’s trip.

Lovely scenery and a ferocious finish to the big race up on the Mur de Huy, “the wall” in French.

Two posts to follow on both subjects – cycle touring across Wallonia and watching the classic race.

IMG_0909 minor places Fleche WallonneL-R in the front row the beaten men Igor Anton, Joaquim Rodriguez, Dan Martin, Philippe Gilbert, just behind Peter Sagan. If you want to know how steep this is just look at the riders scattered over the hillside below.

Paris Roubaix write off

Not Team Sky – nuff said.

Not Sep Vanmarcke for second place. (Amazing ride by the way.)

Me. The closest I got to the Arenberg Trench was this.Arenberg Trench

Woke up this morning feeling terrible and certainly not safe to drive, let alone ride a  bike. Instead of the lovely 50km ride through the countryside of Belgium and northern France on our first decent spring day I spent my time moping about.

This afternoon I felt slightly better and in honour of 30 days of biking I pottered round the lanes for 45 minutes. Feel rubbish now, probably not a good move.

Next year 😦

Day 7. This should cheer me up ride. 50 minutes.

Brabant Wallon

“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.

Hard training for “De Ronde”

Cycling in Lasne Belgium

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Almost prepared for the highlight of my Belgian cycling life so far. We are off to join the crowds at The Tour of Flanders, De Ronde Van Vlaanderen – one of the greatest of cycling days. Time to pick a winner from Sagan, Cancellara and Boonen like all the other armchair pundits before we set off to see them on the Paterberg, our vantage point of choice.

My father arrived off the Eurostar on Wednesday and since then we have been preparing hard.

Waterloo Belgium

We have ridden some cobbles and hills, we have watched some TV and we have studied the appropriate training materials.

We have even done some special hill climb training. (256 steps of the Lion Monument at Waterloo battlefield to be precise – special low gear effort that one)

But most important of all we have talked cycling for three days solid. I mean after all, we aren’t riding, we are just going to watch!

Blue Man Taverne