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!

 

On Monday, I had taken a day off and decided to go shopping for new pedals. I did not have access to a car, and was forced to rethink my route to Aalst. I decided to combine my two favourite modes of transportation and take my bike on the train.

It is actually quite easy to do so, here in Belgium. You just have to buy a ticket for your bike (on top of your normal train ticket). Of course, this being Belgium, you cannot buy the bike ticket at the machine, but have to wait in line at the counter. It costs 5 euros for a one-way ticket, 8 euros for a return ticket.

You have to go to the ticket inspector when the train arrives at the station (they normally get out of the train). I experienced a conscientious flemish lady which locked up my bike in the dedicated compartment and let me stay in the 1st class section next to it (“It’s nicer to be close to the bike”). I also experienced a careless flemish guy who just told me to put it  just outside the 1st class compartment, and let me sit on the floor.

You can use this system to go out biking further away from Brussels (or wherever you are in Belgium). This gives you a lot of freedom over using a car: you don’t have to do a loop and if you plan your trip well, you can stop at any train station and get back home. The fietsnet, combined with the website of the national train company (SNCB), should be all you need.

On Monday, my plan was to get to Aalst by train and cycle back to Brussels. In the end, the guy from Van Eyck Sport who sold me the pedals and was supposed to mount them for me was also selling a 7500 euro Look 695 at the same time. Guess who got priority… In the end, it took me too much time and I had to rush back to Brussels. So I rode only the 10 km to the Denderleuuw train station, along the Dender river. The weather was perfect and the landscape very nice. I will probably try this again some time, but this time all the way to Brussels!

Update: The explanations for the use of the Fietsnet system can be found in one of my first posts here.

A great video from Holland Pro, the dutch tv show presented by Wilfried de Jong, on VPRO. In black and white and a great soundtrack, it really underlines the violence and pain of riding on those pavés. It feels like an charge from warriors of a by-gone area. It is worth it to watch it full screen.

 

 

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.

After reading the post on the Cycling Tips Blog (don’t miss it!), I had to share this promo video, which really makes you want to watch on Sunday:

As we all know, this Sunday is Paris-Roubaix (the official page here). I have guests at home, so I will not be watching it live.

In the meantime, this post is an invitation to get back to the roots and re-watch the classic Sunday in Hell, one of the coolest cycling movies ever, documenting the 1976 Paris-Roubaix.

The full movie is available on Youtube (see below). But even if you don’t watch the whole movie, don’t miss the introduction, with the most eloquently filmed bike wash in the history of cinema:

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!