So, as planned, we did the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Cyclo on Sunday. This was my very first cyclosportive, so I did not know what to expect really. In three words: a great experience!

The first good surprise was the weather. We were expecting some rain, or at least a drizzle. On Saturday, the PROs had it pretty rough, with strong winds and heavy rain. On Sunday, it was windy all right, but sunny and a pleasant 7-8°C. A second nice surprise was that the organizers had signaled the way from the recommended parking spot to Sint-Pietersplein, which made it very easy to do those 2 km to the start. This might seem silly, but there’s nothing more unpleasant than circling in a city you don’t know very well, instead of riding a cyclosportive… It also provided a good sign of the quality of the organisation.

After paying the 8€ entry fee, we set off. We were probably amongst the last ones to leave (which meant an uncrowded sign-up area). After a quick ride through the city, we were soon riding along the Schelde. Being used to the rough jointed concrete pavement of the Brussels-Charleroi canal, the tarmac along the river was a bliss. The landscape is also really beautiful there. Also, the parcours was well marked, with numerous orange arrows. This first section felt like a fast-paced training ride with good marking, basically.

At Nederzwalm, the 65 km and 95 km loops separated, and we left the river to go into the countryside. After a while, I decided to eat something and took out a cereal bar. These things are kind of tricky to open with winter gloves (without using the PRO method of course, which involves ripping it open with the teeth and spitting out the little plastic pieces that inevitably come off). Then suddenly, there was a left turn, which took me by surprise.

And here I was, at the bottom of the Molenberg helling (462m of cobblestones at 7% with some parts at 14,2%), with my large chainring and a small sprocket and a cereal bar in my hand. The cobblestones were relatively dry but my rear wheel was slipping. People kept on coming up, panting. I decided to put my foot down. My advice: don’t put your foot down on a helling.

The PROs riding the Molenberg on Sunday (Photo by Cindy Trossaert)

I somehow climbed back on the bike, fell down, picked myself up and rode up to the end. My friend handled this much better and was patiently waiting at the end. I am very disappointed by my performance (I would have loved to pull a Cancellara on the Molenberg), but at least I learned something. Repeat after me: don’t put your foot down on a helling.

After some more riding, we encountered our first pavé section, the Paddestraat in Velzeke. It has been a road since the Roman times (part of the Boulogne-sur-Mer/Köln road) but thankfully they have redone the cobblestones since.

I applied what I had read in a post by Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) on the Cycling Tips Blog, “How to ride the cobbles”:

“On  cobbles you tend to ride a big gear. It just feels good and it’s easier to keep constant pressure on the back wheel so it doesn’t start bouncing. Of course this is a good thing but it will cost you a lot of energy doing this for a long time so it’s important to ride on a smaller gear early on to save your legs. (…) When going all out on a cobbled section ride the big chainring but, as always, too big a gear is never good!: put on a gear as large as possible and just ride hard.”

So I rode as high a gear I could, and it was actually quite fun. You don’t feel your legs or your hands really, it is tricky to change your gears and your are like glued to the road. But at the same time, it feels fast. As I said, quite fun.

Paddestraat, Velveze (Photo: Bram Souffreau)

At the end of the cobble section was the feeding station, which was welcome (on the menu: bananas, pain d’épice, as well as cereal bars and a sports drink provided by Sports Control).

Now that we were on the same route as the 95km loop (since the Molenberg, actually), there were a lot more people, which made it feel more like an event. Since it was super windy, I was thinking of trying to draft behind a peloton. But for that, you need to be really close and I was way too scared to ride 30-50cm behind people I don’t know. Riding in a peloton is a technique I will need to work on, at one point or another. I read somewhere than you can win 40% more power by drafting.

The rest was pretty uneventful (except for a couple of pavé sections), and we got to the end after riding for 2:20. We parked our bikes (there was even a sort of valet service) and went for a beer in the Flanders Classics tent.

I really loved this first experience, and will clearly do it again. As expected, I did not get anywhere near my limits with this 65km ride, but that was never the point. It was a really nice entry into the season. What is certain is that I will be riding more cyclosportives this year!

Next time I ride on the cobbles though, I will try mounting wider tires (700×25 instead of my 700×23) with more grip. And not put my foot down on the helligen.

Really nice video, gets you into the mood for the spring classics and the cyclosportives events. Kinda scary at the same time though…

This week-end, with a couple of friends, we are doing the cyclosportive version of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which takes place in and around Gent on Sunday 27 February. It starts at the Sint-Pietersplein, between 8 and 10 AM.

There are two lenght: one loop is 63 km long, the other 91 km. Basically, the shorter loop just cuts off at around mid-course, near Nederzwalm, and most of the parcours is the same. The main difference is that the shorter loop misses out on 3 hills out of 4 and also misses out on a lot of the pavé sectors. We decided to do the short loop.

The turn by turn description can be found on the website of the cyclo Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. However, having a map (and a course for the GPS device) is also useful, to visualise the course.

For the 63/65 km, you can find the map here:

For the 91/95 km loop, you can find the map here:

The latter map also includes the pavé sectors (“Kasseistrook”), the hills (“Helling”) and the supply areas (“Bevoorrading”).

 Just to give all of this some perspective, the PROs are going to race for 203 km. For live coverage, you can either watch it on the TV channel één as of 14:05, or if you are outside Belgium, watch it on

The excellent song “Le Cycliste”, by Ghislain Granthil, which uses sequences from the movie Le vélo de Ghislain Lambert, a movie with Benoît Poelvoorde about a modest Belgian bike racer.

via Cycling Tips Blog (posterous)

The winter is still here, but the spring is already within reach and with it, the first races and cyclosportives here in Belgium.

Indeed, with the spring comes the start of the season. The PROs have been racing in Australia (Tour Down Under), the Middle-East (Tour of Oman, Tour of Qatar) and the Iberian Peninsula (Vuelta a Andalucia, Volta ao Algarve).

But it is not unfair to say that the season really starts with the classics: Milan-San Remo (La Primavera), Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Gent–Wevelgem, Paris–Roubaix (L’Enfer du Nord), Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège (La Doyenne). Before and after Milan-San Remo, the calendar is also sprinkled with “semi-classics” on the cobble-stones of Flanders.

Last year, in 2010, the main flemish classics and semi-classics were united under the umbrella Flanders Classics, headed by the flemish television-tycoon Wouter Vandenhaute. 

The idea is to promote flemish cobble-stone races through a brand and give those races more bargaining power towards sponsors and the media (and most probably towards teams as well).

The Tour of Flanders (Tour of Flanders/Tour des Flandres) has a strong position in the international cycling circuit, and this is used to help lift the other Flemish spring races: Omloop Het Nieuwblad (Circuit Het Nieuwblad, the Belgian season opener previously known as Omloop Het Volk), Dwars door Vlaanderen (Across Flanders/A travers les Flandres), Gent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs, (Grand Prix of the Schelde/Grand Prix de l’Escaut), Brabantse Pijl (Brabant Arrow/Flèche Brabançonne).

This year, the PRO races are complemented with cyclosportives open to the rest of us. A cyclosportive was already organised for the Tour of Flanders for a while, but now all six have their cyclo event.

All the info can be found through the links bellow:

Personally, I will go for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next week-end with friends. We will do the 65 km circuit, which is going to be  a good fitness test. This is getting exciting!

Btw, for more sources of info on forthcoming (and smaller) races, I had written a post previously here: Spring Planning.

End of January was the cyclo-cross world championship in St-Wendel in Germany. The sun was shining, the arses were freezing, and Marianne Vos took the win. I was actually quite happy that she won, I’m not a big fan of Katie Compton, the American champ who finished second. Kathernie Nash was third.

Again, a super nice video by Laurent Charras, of the Elite women race (more on

Championnat du monde Cyclo cross 2011 – Dames Elites from Web Petitesreines on Vimeo.

Riccardo “the Cobra” Riccò, the man with a haematocrit higher than his IQ,  almost died last week from kidney failure, probably after having done a transfusion with poorly conserved blood.

Mark “Manx Missile” Cavendish’s reaction:

“I hope he does recover well, but … you know I really hope he becomes somebody’s bitch in prison”.