By Josh Cole-Hossain
On the 30th March, 24 VCL members set off for Ghent, Belgium for the annual Tour of Flanders trip organised by Steve Cave. There were many newcomers on the trip aswell as those who had some previous experience riding over the famous cobbled climbs of Flanders. After everyone arrived at the hotel we all went to ‘stock up’ on energy before the long hard ride the next day. Once we were full, we went to bed ready for the hard hills and horrible headwinds of the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportive.
The next day we were up nice and early for breakfast before what, for many, was the longest ride they have done. We drove out to the new start in Oudenaarde feeling excited on a cold, cloudy morning. We were told to park up in a field were we all got ready and started cycling to the start where we split up. One group was doing the 140km ride while the others were doing the 80km ride. The much talked about changes to the course affected the sportive with the Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremont coming later than in previous years.
The shorter ride was also made harder by the increase of climbs from just 5 to 13 climbs. Although it sounded a lot harder, the new course wasn’t too challenging for the 11 strong riders who did it. Many hills were packed with other riders meaning many riders had to either trackstand or get off (VCL riders don’t fall off) their bikes and walk up the rest of the hill. Unfortunately, this happened to many of the riders in both long and short rides. However, the short ride did not encounter the same kind of mechanicals that plague the Northern classics and only suffered one minor difficulty.
The same could not be said about the long ride where I (on a new bike-my dad’s decision) suffered various mechanicals, Freddie and Chris dropped their chains on the Koppenberg and Chris got 3 pich punctures in the first 50km. Thankfullly when we got to the first feed zone, our bikes began to cope with the cobbles propely.
However, the short,steep,sharp climbs were just begginning and there were 8 coming up in the next 40km. The last of these climbs was the Kruisberg-45km from the finish with gradients of 9% it goes on for 1.8km and were the first of the four hardest as well as the last climbs of the day. After the Kruisberg, there another 1.5km hill which led up to the 2.2km cobbled Oude Kwaremont with gradients of 12%. This was a gruelling test of the energy levels left with just 3km till the Paterberg. Only 300metres in length it may not seem the nastiest hill to finish on but with an average gradient of 13% and a maximum of 22% it is a real killer. Unfortunately, when we all reached the top we had another mechanical. Freddie’s rear derailleur snapped and he was left to do the last 15km stuck in one gear. Thankfully, we were over all the hills and it was just a short descent and a 10km finish straight to go. In the end we finished in two groups with Jason, Chris and Phil staying with Freddie.
Once everyone got back to the hotel and showered, we headed out to our normal bistro to enjoy a well deserved meal looking foward to seeing the pros suffer the next day.
As is now tradition, we went to see the start of the ‘girlies’ race in Oudenaarde. We were able to see Lizzie Armistead, Emma Pooley and Lucy Martin in their AA drink team as well as Nicole Cooke in her Faren Honda team. We watched them sign on and be presented to the crowd before watching them start what was the third round of the World Cup. Before leaving Oudenaarde we decided where to go to watch the men and womens race. The Oude Kwaremont was the final decision as we could see the women go up it before the men go up it 3 times.
When we arrived, Caveman got out a fishing pole with a Flanders flag and an England flag on aswell as wigs for him and Tony.
We had to wait a while before seeing the women come past and another hour for the men. The first time the men came round, there was a break of 13 including sprinter Tyler Farrar and breakaway specialist Pablo Lastras. By the second time around, Omloop Het Nieuwsblaasd winner Sep Vanmarcke was pushing the pace on the front with the breakaway already absorbed back into the peloton. Before seeing them for the third time, we moved up the hill where there were two big screens so we could watch the last 20km. As expected, the Kwaremont was decisive and we saw Alessandro Ballan go off the front shortly to be joined by Tom Boonen and Pipo Pozzato further up the climb.
This was the winning move and we watched the last 10km intensely as the three upfront rode away from the 25-strong chasing group. They had enough of a gap to start a match sprint for the final few kilometres and as the sprint was launched the crowd went mad cheering for Boonen and there was an eruption of noise as Boonen lunged for the line and stuck his fist in the air.
On the day, there were some 15,000 riders from all over the world taking part in this sportive which gets more popular every year. Hopefully we can get a few more VCL riders to experience the cobbles and climbs next year. If you want a taster of the ride over the cobbles here are some videos of my uncle going over them:Flandrian Cobbles
There were also some photo spots on the route. If you haven’t seem them already here is the link: http://www.sportograf.com/en/shop/event/1415. Simply enter your number and you can buy some photos of you on the ride.
Another exciting and thoroughly enjoyable trip very well organised by Steve Cave.