As part of our training for our Ride Across Britain, we thought it would be a good idea to take in one of the classic sportives linked with the Spring Classics. So the Ronde van Vlaanderen was booked.
We took the channel tunnel to Calais, and drove up to a remote (and rather nice) farmhouse in the Flanders Countryside. This would be our base for the weekend – ride the sportive on Saturday, watch the Pros race on Sunday, then back under the channel.
Our team was doing the shorter 75 km Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo route that still manages to take in most of the iconic cobbled climbs.
One great aspect of this event is that the organisers place video cameras along the route and use your timing chip to give you a link to when you passed the camera. I’ve included these links below – you’ll see me in my Team Dulux jersey, white helmet and shoes and black bike with green bars. For the first one at the official start I had my white gilet and arm-warmers on, as it was rather chilly. Later in the day, however, it got upto 20°C.
Koppenburg (10:32, average gradient 9.4%, maximum gradient 22%, length 700m)
First cobbled climb of the day. Very narrow, and by the time we reach the top there is a log-jam of riders who can no longer continue, or have fallen off. Everyone has to walk the final part.
This is not so much a hill (though it does have a hill in it), but 2km of cobbled hell. It starts downhill, and riding down the cobbles is probably worse than climbing up them, as the speed rattles your brain inside your head and makes your hands feel like you’re operating a road drill.
It then does climb up, so you get some respite. There’s a small railway crossing where you get a couple of metres of smooth tarmac either side (bliss) before back to the hammering.
By this stage plenty of people had lost their water bottles, and some had even lost their bottle cages.
Taaienberg (10:56, average gradient 6.1%, maximum gradient 16%, length 890m)
At this point, having been traumatised by the long section across the Steenbeekdries, I had a go at riding up the gutter, which was certainly easier on the bike and body, but seemed to miss the point. Cobbles for the rest of the route.
Kaperij, Kanarieberg, Kruisberg, Karnemelbeekstraat
All passed in a pleasant few hours of cycling.
Oude Kwaremont (13:22, average gradient 4%, maximum gradient 11.6%, length 2200m)
As we descended on the cycle track on Ronse Baan, you could see to the right the hospitality tents for the Oude Kwaremont, and riders struggling up the steep cobbled ascent. A quick run along the bottom , and then you turn onto the climb.
Paterburg (13:37, average gradient 12.9%, maximum gradient 20.3%, length 360m)
Getting towards the end of the ride now, rather warm, and the final steep and narrow Patterburg to climb. Most people were walking, either due to fatigue or bad luck in hitting a bottleneck from people falling off. Due to some extraordinary luck, I managed to navigate a way through the crowds and do a clean ascent.
At the top of the Paterburg I didn’t notice Neal and Anthony, so carried on. This resulted in me doing the last (flat and fast) 15 km alone, wondering if they were ahead of me or behind me.
The official finish was crowded, and then a ride through Oudenaarde town, where many had stopped for a post-ride beer. I carried on to the Qubus sportive finish, where ten minutes later the rest of the team arrived, and we had our celebratory beer.
After a while, it’s time to ride home, and we take a nice steady pace through beautiful countryside, before getting cleaned up and heading out for a celebratory dinner.
Sunday 6 April
The crowds we’re gathering as we arrived, and some ad-hoc entertainment from a nun and Scooby Doo was laid on (we think they’d been in the pub a while…).
First up was the women’s race, with grimaces and bottles flying out of cages showing just how those cobbles rattle.
After a short lunch break at the pub, it was time for the men’s race.
The first group arrived, with five in a bunch and a couple trailing. The motorcycle said they had about three minutes lead on the main peloton. When the main bunch arrived the Sky Train was nowhere in evidence, then along comes Geraint Thomas, alone and cut-up from his earlier crash, and clips his back wheel on the curb in the turn, causing a rapid stop. He had to wait for the peloton to clear before the team cars arrive to give him a new bike. Despite this, he later manager to regain the group and get eighth place overall. No mean feat.
Then it was time to ride back to the farmhouse, pack up the cars, and head back to Britain.