the ronde van vlaanderen – raceday

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.
gunwalls
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.
race day
don't ask
as we crested the hill, we were met with the smell of a dozen bar-b-qs and the sound of belgians having fun!
little piece of flanders cumberland
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
primus
and then the race come by in a flash.
when they arrived, there were two riders a minute in front of the peleton.
battle
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
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…
paterberg gurning
click for a closer look!

within 5 minutes, the riders were through, the ambulances had passed and the road was returned to the spectators
paterberg cobbles
kbc
and people began to drift away
home time
kostuums
or in some cases, rushing off to try to see the race again at a later stage
going home

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.
shade
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.
more primus
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!
belgian go wild
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!

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