Watching a race on tv and actually knowing the course is a pretty cool. Riding the course the previous day and have it be Ronde van Vlaaderen, well, that raises the bar a bit. We had 7 for the ride on Saturday. 4 of us did the 244k and 3 did the 144k.
Our Group at the start in Brugge (Me, James, Geert, Maikel)
Both courses did the cobbles, the climbs and the cobbled climbs. About 4000 riders did the long course. It was an open start so after the big first wave at 7, we ended up riding in "smaller" groups of 20-100. The first 100k was twitchy with the groups hoping between the road and cycle paths.
Then we hit the cobbles....
This is my first ride with real stones, and I have a couple observations
1) If you want free bidons, just hang around the cobbles and collect them.
2) Riding over them in a pace line seems like suicide.
3) Downhill was crazy. Front wheel bouncing all over the place. The few turns on the decents were dangerous.
4) This was the only time my upper body hurt more then my legs by the end of the day.
Then we hit the climbs, 16 in all. About 10 of them were also cobbled. Most of them are only about a 1k and like 6% averages but most max at 15% or so. Add stone to double the difficulty, riding up them is punishing. I couldn't imagine having to hammer up each one racing at full power.
Sadly, I don't have many pictures of the climbs. I took these as I walk up portions of the Koppenberg and Paterberg(the pros did the climb 3 times...). They are so narrow and once people ahead of you stop, no choice but to walk yourself.
Koppenberg - 700 meters long, Ave 9.4%, Max 19%
Even the pros have had to walk
Paterberg - 360 meters long, Ave 12.9%, Max 20%
The Pro's Finish - Great finish for a great ride.
Finishers 244k - Fresh as a daisy.
Finishers 144k - Dalton, Sophie and her father at the finish. Champs on the stones.
So the next day we got to watch the real crew show us how they do it. We caught the start in Brugge and saw them roll out. The winner of the Ronde is a complete animal, 250k+, climbs, stones and wind. Abi caught some great pictures of the peloton as they rolled out of Brugge. We walked over to a bar and watched the race with some good beer.
Cancellara in one piece
Boonen ready for number 3
Belgium - Great food, great cycling and even better beer.
Can't wait for next year's edition. If anyone wants to make the trip next year from NC, let me know.