Lotsa riders on Saturday (Photo Belga)

 

This week-end I exceptionally rode on Saturday and took the opportunity to ride the Peter Van Petegem Classic, which is part of the Bank van De Post Cycling Tour circuit of cyclos. It was the first time I did it, and I was quite impressed.

 

The route was not linked to a specific PRO race, contrary to what is often the case, and was just a pleasant ride across the Flemish Ardennes, all the way to the Zwalmstreek (the region along the Zwalm river). The cyclo is sold as a ride on the training grounds of Peter Van Petegem, a former classics specialist from the Quick Step – Innergetic PRO team. He now lives in the region, in Horebeke. His wife runs a Bed and Breakfast there, Le Pavé.

 

The Flemish Ardennes, with nicer weather than Saturday though. (Photo by Seven2358)

 

The Flemish Ardennes are probably at the center of cycling in Flanders and thus in the galaxy. It is the region between Aalst, Geraardsbergen, Waregem and Merelbeke, or, as a Belgian would probably say, the part of East Flanders (see Google Maps) south of the E40 and east of the E17 freeways. It is an area with gently sloping landscapes, picturesque villages, winding roads and rows of poplars. And lots of cyclists, because it is really an ideal place to cycle.

 

The turn-out for the Peter Van Petegem Classic was pretty large (6000 people in total). I arrived quite late, at 9:45, and it was challenging to find a parking spot. In the end I parked along Siesegemlaan, the main highway coming from the E40 freeway. I then cycled to the start, paid my 11 euros and went off.

 

I only did the short route of 85 km (other options were 162 - 136 – 113 km, and even 41 km), which meant I only encountered two real bergs: the Muur of Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg. Those two, when taken alone, are fun and manageable, even with lots of other cyclists on them, especially in dry weather. The rest of the route was quite flat, with just a few modest and short slopes. Very little cobblestones as well, just one or two very short stretches. The other routes did not contain many more bergs, just a little more cobblestones and a few more slopes .

 

So something quite different from the Tour of Flanders Cyclo, but far from monotonous. The scenery was glorious, the roads largely traffic free (or rendered safe through the number of cyclists on them) and the main crossings secured by stewards. Plus this started in Aalst, about 30 minutes away from Ixelles, so at Brussels’ door basically.

 

The ride was pretty uneventful I would  say, just really pleasant. Probably one of the most beautiful I have done until now, with just the right amount of people to make you feel you’re part of a mass event (but not up to the point where it actually causes massive bike traffic jams like at the Ronde cyclo). And with just enough climbs and slopes to make it interesting, but nothing too hard.

 

Included in the price, at the end, an Adriaen Brouwer Dark Gold beer. Only in Belgium. I love this country.

 

 

 

The alarm clock went off at  5:00 and my girlfriend pushed me out of the bed. A shower, four slices of bread with butter and jam and a good cup of coffee later, I was in my friend C.’s car with our bikes and all the gear.

 

We drove easily out of Brussels and along the E17, all the way to Gent and then down to Oudenaarde. The cars were already cuing up to get into one of the five parking lots prepared for the cyclo. We found a parking spot and got ready. I just could not make up my mind as to what to wear. It was still dark, but already overcast. The weather forecast for the morning was cloudy, humid, with a light breeze and 8°C.

 

I was hesitating between my versions of what the bicycling.com “what to wear” engine is recommending for those conditions and 5°C (long sleeved thermal Craft underwear and winter windstopper) and my version of what they recommend for 10°C (jersey, arm warmers and a rain jacket). In the end, I went for the second option: I knew the bergs would eventually warm me up. And they did.

 

We went for the 87 km route. This was the second time I was doing the Tour of Flanders Cyclo (on the first time: read here). I was not ready to queue up at the bottom of the hellingen like last year.  Hence the solution of doing the “short” route.  The decision was easy to take this year, since it only meant losing four hellingen out of fourteen. Last year, the short route only contained three out of fourteen, which would have been frustrating. I mean, so much less pain for so little less distance?

 

I also have had less time to train this year, with my second boy coming in December and all. I have a much better basis, of course, because I have now been riding seriously for one and a half year, and not six months like last time. But I was afraid my knees would not survive the 134 km course.

 

Plus the friend I was doing it with, C., was less than enthusiastic about doing more than the « small » 87 km course for his first Ronde. So the decision was an easy one.

 

So from the parking area we took off to reach the start. Since we had done the pre-registration on the web and gotten our number plaque, we just took off. The first kilometres were really pleasant, we just enjoyed the ride. First along the Schelde and then on a converted railway track. After a while, we looked back and a good group of ten-fifteen people were shielding themselves from the wind behind our back.

 

After about half an hour, we turned left and there it was, the Koppenberg (600m at 10% on average with a maximum at 19%).

 

 

Our legs were already warmed up, but were clearly unprepared for that helling! The cobblestones were nice and dry and the road free of cyclists. But it just hurt and my heart rate went through the roof. And the people who were shielding behind us just flew up the hill.

 

From there on, it was just up, down, a few kilometres, up, down, a few kilometres. Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Kapelleberg, Varent, Foreest, Berg Ten Houte, Kruisberg. Some with asphalt roads, others with cobblestones. But it was really fun, with the dry cobblestones and the unpopulated roads.

 

The Karnemelkbeekstraat was the last berg before the last circuit, a nice little road going through a small wood. Then a long wide road, a right turn and the Oude Kwaremont.

 

The fields on each side were already covered with huge installations for the VIP areas for the race the next day. That is really when you fully realise that the Ronde is a big deal in Flanders! The berg itself was relatively flat (2200m at 4% on average with a maximum at 10%), but the cobblestones pretty rough.

 

The last hellinge was the Paterberg.

 

 

 

A massive hill for the finish (360m at 13% on average with a maximum at 20%). I ground to a halt and with the cobblestones, almost fell off. I decided I would just walk up the remainder. Not very proud of myself, but I certainly did not want to fall off (and hurt my precious bike) just for the sake of having done all the bergs on my bike. C. was more courageous and strong, and he zig-zagged his way up, on the bike.

 

We finished the last 13 km of flat roads by getting the hammer down and time-trialling back to town. The road was closed to cars for the last couple of kilometres and we sprinted the last two hundred meters to the finish line. It was amusing seeing Tommeke, Pozzato and Ballan do the same thing the next day, on TV. Sort of the same thing.

 

Anyway, we then rode into Oudenaarde. There you directly witness the importance of the Ronde in Flanders: almost every bar and every shop window had bikes in them or on them, portraits of cyclists, team kits on mannequins, flags, etc. And of course, you pass the Center Ronde Van Vlaanderen located directly on the centre square, right across from the town hall.

 

So all in all, it was a great experience, like last year. It was very different, shorter, less populated and thus less stressful. Plus without the sun, a mild breeze and 8°C, it was less … Californian.

 

I know I’ll be back next year!

 

(Picture by placid casual)

The week-end before last was my first ride in Belgium for a long time. I want to do the Tour of Flanders Cyclo again this year and have to get in shape. To be honest, I am not quite there yet. Especially as my knees tend to hurt after only 60-70 km, even without cobble stones.

 

Anyway, until now, I had been mostly riding alone or with a friend, be it during “training” (big word, should perhaps rather say  ”self-planned”) rides or during cyclosportives. Not always easy to start around 9:00 when your partner has to stay at home with the small ones. So going alone allows for a much earlier start. But the week-end before last I finally got to ride with a club.

 

The first taste of club riding I got last autumn, when I did the really nice Brevet organized by the Aurore Cyclo of Anderlecht.

 

Since I was hesitating on the distance to choose, they just suggested I hook up with some of their members who were about to take off. It was quite nice to be able to chat and just ride along. You also get to hide behind a diesel locomotive for part of the ride. As they say, depending on the size of the cyclist in front and the distance you are able to keep with that cyclist in front, you can save from 10 to 40% energy. Not sure about how they get to those numbers, but it is pretty clear you don’t work as hard when you are drafting (i.e. riding in the slipstream close behind someone’s rear wheel).

 

Also, you do not have to worry about getting lost. Because when you ride alone, even with a GPS, you tend to get lost. I am not even talking when your ride with the fietsnet system, which is fantastic, but sometimes quite tricky… Those Flemish villages and roads all look the same.

 

And finally, last but least, you get to meet people who share your passion, which is really nice.

 

So after that experience, I decided I would try to ride with a club at the earliest opportunity. Now Anderlecht, the home base of the Aurore Cyclo club, is pretty far away from where I live. But there are clubs all over Brussels, and I chose to just try riding with the Brussels Big Bracket, who start their Sunday rides a few streets down from where I live, in the Bois de La Cambre. Plus they are somewhat international and have the coolest jersey of the Brussels cycle scene. Check out their website, they have plenty of resources on there, including interesting routes and a calendar. Plus vivid accounts of rides, which make one want to pick up the bike and go ride (the account of the ride I attended is here).

 

What to say about the experience? Well, there was a great atmosphere and club spirit. The group was of 16 guys, of all ages and all walks of life, some of them members of the club, others not. We rode along, stopping at the top of hills or when one of us flatted.  The rhythm was really optimal, about 27 km/h on average: not too hard, but not too easy either. Some of them were going harder or taking longer pulls in front. Others rode at a relaxed pace. But the idea is very much: out together, back together and having a good time.

 

I am not sure whether I will have other opportunities soon to ride with them, but it was a great experience!

 

The cyclo clubs in Brussels are listed on the website of the Fédération Belge du Cyclotourisme et du VTT.

 


This really look like an idiotically hard and fun contest, which I’m looking forward to see published as a faced-paced video on the Red Bull website. If I had the time, I would probably give it a try.


Basically, it is a 300 meter time-trial up the Muur van Geraardsbergen/Kapelmuur (the last 300 M, with a gradient of around 15-20%). Finalists will then go through a Knock-Out, 6 by 6, at night.

More info here.

There is also another similar (yet a bit less teenagey) event organized on 11 March 2012, the Skoda Muur Challenge. They have a regular cyclo, but also include a time-trial up the Muur. Not 300 m, but the whole 1 km.

 

Anyway, don’t know when I’ll have the next opportunity to go up the Muur this year. Indeed, now that it has been removed from the Ronde van Vlaanderen pro event, it will also be excluded from the cyclo version. Which is really unfortunate, because it was probably the most iconic hellig to go up.

 

I guess I’ll just have to include it in one of my Sunday rides!

Rapha sponsors fantastic videos, such as the one below. Fantastic, but a little pretentious. I don’t get why they interview the riders, who come across as caricatures of Brooklyn hipsters straight out of a Bike Snob blog post. Does this really “stir the longings of desk-bound he-man riders of means“?

Anyway, these are still inspiring and make one go out and ride!

Rapha Continental – The Movie from RAPHA on Vimeo.

This week-end I will be riding the Tilff-Bastogne-Tilff cyclo. We rented a house in the Ardennes (via Ardennes Etapes, which I can highly recommend) with a couple of friends. C. and I will be doing the cyclo, while the ladies will be enjoying the day with the kids.

The landscapes are really gorgeous and we are sort of lucky with the weather. There are showers and the temperatures are fresh for the season (around 15°C), but the sun is shining and the light is great. Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer and without rain.

I have not been training as much as I would have liked, so it’s going to be a chllenging and “epic” ride. But since C. has trained less, we should be able to suffer together on this.

Nice promotional video for the Gravel Metric! (Crazy Americans.)

Gravel Metric from Seth Deming on Vimeo.

(via All Hail the Black Market)

 

In previous posts, I had linked info on cyclotourist events, i.e. untimed randonnées, which are numerous in Belgium, and especially in Flanders (see the posts in the Belgian Cyclo Calendar 2011 category). By the way, a very good website for an uncluttered and simplified calendar is the Go Cycling website.

However, as a reader pointed out, I have not provided any links to Gran Fondo events, or timed Cyclosportives. They are less numerous, and can be fairly easily listed here. It’s interesting that all of them take place in the Ardennes, and are thus located in Walloonia and not in Flanders.

First, the three Bio Racer Ardennes Challenge (registration here)

Gran Fondo Ardennaise (5 June 2011, Hamoir)

- La Magnifique des Ardennes (25 June 2011, Bouillon)

Super Grimpeur des Ardennes (20 August 2011, Malmedy)

And the others are:

- The Gran Fondo Eddy Merckx (18 June 2011, Huy) (which is the most “prestigious” event and event part of the UCI World Cycling Tour)

- The Velomediane Claude Criquelion (27 August 2011, La Roche-en-Ardenne)

La Christophe Brandt (18 September 2011, Verviers).

And a last one which takes place close by, in Luxembourg:

- La Charly Gaul (4 september 2011, Echternach).

To have  a more exhaustive listing including cyclosportives in neighbouring countries, you can use the Cyclobenelux website. All in Dutch, but it is pretty straight forward to get the main informations (click on “Cyclo’s” in the main menu and then use the “Browse Projects” to get the listings per country).

As far as I’m concerned, I’m thinking of doing one in August or September. In the meantime, I’m planning on doing the 136 km circuit of the Tilff-Bastogne-Tilff cyclo. I understand it is quite hard and different from what we are used to here around Brussels hills-wise, but it does not have any pavés. So it can’t be that bad.

 

As a follow-up to my earlier post concerning the Bianchi Trofee, I have to mention the labeling of events organised under the umbrella of the Vlaamse Wielrijdersbond (VWB – the Flemish Cyclists Union, not to be confused with the Wielerbond Vlaanderen, affiliated to the UCI).

They award the top events the Heroica Classics label. For 2011, twelve events have this label. They include the two “Classics”: the Superklassiker, on 1 May 2011, and the Sean Kelly Classic on 6 August 2011.

The next category are the 52 “Semi-classics” (some of which are included under the Heroica Classics label). The “Open category” groups other good events which don’t apply the official VWB tariff (some of which are also included under the Heroica Classics label). Then come the “1st category rides”, which are aspiring semi-classics. The other events are not labelled.

The calendar of the VWB is available on their website.

Plenty of interesting rides!

 

 

So I did it, the whole 140km of it! It was a great experience, painful, crowded, but very fun.

I had promised my partner I would be back by mid-afternoon at the latest, so I set off from Brussels in the whee hours of the morning, at 6:15, after a rather short night. (Le Coriandre is a great restaurant by the way, really recommended).

I followed the recommendations from the website of the Ronde, skipped the highway and took the Ninoofsesteenweg from Brussels. Again, following instructions (I am Swiss, I can’t help myself), I parked in the designated parking area, along the Vlaamse Expresweg. I quickly got to the start area, following the flow of cyclists. Registration went super fast, and off I was.

The first 30 km were pretty relaxed, cruising along at a pace of 30-35km/h. The weather was really nice and the Flemish countryside was gently waking up.  Some guys were going pretty fast and on the smaller roads you had to stay focused not to be pushed aside. But generally, the mood was great.

Before the hills, I had a chat with an old Flandrien in a green Landbouwkrediet jersey, about the “mountains” that were coming up and about who would win the race the next day.

And then the real stuff started, with the Oude Kwaremont . It was very crowded and the cobbles were greasy and very slippery. I did not insist and walked it up. If you want to ride it up, you have to be bold and pretty much elbow your way around the slower cyclists and undisciplined walkers (“on de kant!”) and have grippy tires, to at least avoid having the back wheel slipping.

Then came the Paterberg. I was a bit cooled off by the previous hellig, but was determined not to walk up and tried to push hard. But quickly the crowds slowed me down again and my wheel just started slipping. I went down, hurt my knee and got a violent cramp in my calf. I stopped on the side of the road, had an energy gel and a drink from my bidon.

Next to me, on the field, two middle-aged Flemish ladies were watching the suffer-fest, comfortably sitting in foldable chairs, chatting and commenting. This made me smile and gave some motivation to start walking up the Paterberg.

After that, it was just one hellig after the other, with a few kilometers between each to recover. The crowds must have been thinner, because I don’t remember walking.

 

And then, on the cobbles, I realized my hand was hurting, more than what one would expect from riding on cobbles. I took my glove off and understood: I had a big blister on the side of the hand. On closer inspection, I also had blisters on my thumb. But it was actually all right because the slightly more acute pain made me forget the pain in my knee and calf.

Soon after, the road became very familiar, and I started downshifting and smiling: I would get to try the Molenberg again, after my miserable failure during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Cyclo!. This time, no slipping, no falling and, to  paraphrase Jens Voigt, I was just smoking, you know, just …*puff* go easy to the top.

 

Later, after riding on the unpleasant jointed cement roads, trying to find new creative ways to position my hands on the handlebars so that I wouldn’t hurt, came the Muur. The first part is just a street in Geraardsbergen. Steep, but nothing very impressive. Despite my total lack of classics culture, I knew something harder had to come afterwards. That was the Kapel Muur proper. It was really fun, with (what felt like) crowds looking on and sheering.

 

The last hill was the Bosberg and after resting a bit on top (I did not go for a beer and fries on the Frit Kot, even though I was very tempted), was what seemed an interminably long ride back to Ninove (thump, thump, thump, thump), with a continuous bunch of cyclists riding at a slow pace.

The arrival was a bit of an anticlimax, amongst the crowds, but that was totally irrelevant. I had made it! I was tired, I was hurting, I was sunburned, I had just spent 7 hours on the bike, but I had made it!

I got to the arrival zone, took my “Official Flandrien” tshirt, my Het Nieuwsblad and medal and just kind of stood there, a bit dazed, just happy. I had a chat with a French guy who had done it last year, in pouring rain. I’m not sure I would have done the 140km in those conditions. He told me that most people walked up the helligen and that many were on MTB. We had been lucky with the weather.

It was a great first experience. I will clearly do it again.

Edit: Don’t miss Cycling Inquisition‘s take on the cyclosportive and his week-end in Flanders.

On top of the Bosberg, the camping cars are already waiting for the PROs on Saturday morning.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen for cyclotourists started in 1992, with 517 participants. This year, on 2 April 2011, 19 870 were participating (including me). 4 000 did the 260km circuit, starting in Bruges and arriving in Ninove. Another 9 000 did the 140km. And the 7 000 others did the 75km.

As concerns nationalities, I was quite astonished to see that 2 500 came from the Netherlands (but that is not something you can easily hear, since they speak Dutch as well, just with another accent), 1000 from the UK and at least two from Colombia (one being Lucho from Cycling Inquisition and some other guy with a jersey from Cafe de Colombia – Colombia Es Pasion).

Another 1 800 came from the Quick Step team (or at least so it seemed, in view of the number of people sporting the team jersey). I saw at least three or four Belgian champions and a maillot jaune, which I easily passed going uphill. I guess this confirms that you cannot peak for the classics and for the Tour.

I will come back in the next few days with a complete debrief of this event!