the day after the sportive and i felt great – legs were a little heavy and they certainly knew they’d done the ride the day before but after a massive, £30 breakfast, i was ready to go again.
four bikes, four bags and four blokes were carefully loaded back into the car in a masterpiece of 3D problem solving and we hit the road west, heading for the paterberg once more.
amazingly we drove straight to it with no crowds or traffic. we left the car and walked up the road that drops down off the back of the climb.
as we crested the hill, we were met with the smell of a dozen bar-b-qs and the sound of belgians having fun!
everywhere you looked was the flandrian flag. they were being handed out in fistfuls. it was becoming obvious what the race means to the locals.
the climb was already pretty well lined and so to get a decent view, i ended up scaling a 2m high fence post to perch on to watch the race pass below.
as usual at races like this, it involved an hour or more standing at the side of the road, getting to know your fellow spectators and having polite conversations (always in english) about where we come from and how we though the race would turn out before first the publicity caravan
and then the race come by in a flash.
when they arrived, there were two riders a minute in front of the peleton.
the crowd went really mad when they saw that the peleton was being led by belgian golden-boy, former world champion and recently back from cocaine-ban tom boonen, along with some other star names…
boonen, hincapie, flecha
the pros didn’t make it look quite as easy as i had expected them to and there was some quality gurning going on…
click for a closer look!
within 5 minutes, the riders were through, the ambulances had passed and the road was returned to the spectators
and people began to drift away
or in some cases, rushing off to try to see the race again at a later stage
following a tip-off from a local, we headed for the hilltop village of kwaremont. as we arrived, the cars parked all along the main road that passed the village made me fear that we wouldn’t get close. we abandoned the car and walked up the hill to the central square. parked here was a truck with a giant screen erected from the trailer showing the race to the 3000-odd people that were enjoying the beer, sunshine and pretty exciting race.
we attempted to blend in by buying beer ourselves and cheering for the belgian riders.
then, probably the best scenario happened. there was break-away by last year’s winner, the belgian stijn devolder. the crowd loved it and once more, the flandrian flags were everywhere.
it felt like we knew each bend and cobble as we watched the closing stages, so fresh was it in our minds, legs and back-sides!
stijn went on to win at a canter and the drinking paused briefly to celebrate his success.
for us, this was the signal to begin the dash back to calais and the ferry home. we made it with 20 minutes to spare, only to find that the ferry was cancelled, we had 2 hours to wait but worst of all, we could have stayed in that beautiful belgian village enjoying the great atmosphere of the ronde….
never mind, we’ll be back next year….
all in all, it was a top weekend. a real insight into how big bike racing is the other side of the channel. to think that we are only separated by 30 miles of water, yet the attitudes to cyclists is incredibly different. the fact that the roads can be closed for a bunch of amateurs; that 19,500 turned out to ride the route that their heroes would ride the next day; the reverence for the racers and the knowledge of the sport; and the regional pride evidenced by the proliferation of flandrian flags.
30 miles could be a million!
It’s also what sport to me should be like: Never mind who you support, cheer everyone and enjoy being with people from different places.