Well, after all my training (🤥) the time finally came to begin our journey to Belgium.
Cycling has to be the biggest faff of any sport and the amount of fussing over kit was astronomical. I love new kit so I’m liking that aspect of cycling, but deciding what to wear on a ride is something else! We’d studied the weather forecast and it was looking like sunny intervals with a chance of rain.
In reality we shouldn’t have fussed because we ended up packing everything- just in case.
We took the ferry across from Hull to Oudenaarde, meeting up with Ed’s Dad Peter on the way. It was a pleasant enough crossing and we enjoyed a surprisingly ok dinner before retiring to our cabins to quietly fret about the challenge ahead.
The next day we headed to the campsite, met with the rest of our party and settled in. We needed to register for the race in Oudenaarde (10 miles from the campsite) and so we got suited up and headed off. I was keen to try out some of my spanking new kit- including my Castelli Perfetto jacket 😍.
A flat ride along cycle paths later (and some confusion about where exactly registration was) we arrived and collected our numbers. We also stopped off for some Beligian specialties- beer and frites.
I consumed my bodyweight in frites.
The ride home was wet. It poured down, soaking all of our kit. Luckily, courtesy of my Dad, we had our monster heater Rutherford on hand in the van and we spent a long afternoon nursing soppy kit in front of him. Thankfully we were dry before bed and hit the bar for a few beers and last discussions about the race ahead.
So my longest ride was around 30 miles and we had to add an additional distance of 20 miles there and back (plus the 48 of the race..) it was starting to look a bit more scary than I thought.
We had to set off in the light because we hadn’t got lights on our bikes. A somber 10miles led us to the start and over the timing mat to begin the 72km Tour of Flanders.
It was generally well spaced out and my lack of bike-craft was pretty well concealed in the first few flat miles. These flew by and before we knew it, the first of ten climbs was upon us- The Koppaberg.
We attacked it with gusto- momentum seemed to be key on the greasy cobbles. I fought my way up the climb, knowing that Ed and Peter were around me somewhere. Stopping was lethal but again and again, people did, dismounting in the middle of the narrow road and pushing their bikes. There was no respect for those battling on and again and again I had to take evasive action to dodge these people. I ground to a halt finally when two riders on a tandem crossed my path horizontally and dismounted in my path.
I pushed and then got back on a while after, feeling disappointed that I hadn’t made it. Ed and Peter had faced the same experience and none of us were able to ride the whole way- not down to fitness at all. (We rode all the other 9 climbs without stopping)
Our shared experience meant that we were able to rationalise our ‘failure’ and not let it phase us for the remaining climbs and we were all buoyed by how easy the next couple of climbs were. Ed lost the contents of his saddlebag on a flat section of cobbles with a helpful rider shouting after him ‘you have dropped many things!’ On we rode, teeth chattering and elbows rattling to the rhythm of the cobbles.
We were a great team and I can honestly say that there was no low points between us. We smashed through the other climbs- The Kwaremont and The Paterberg being the most notable. We’d learned from the Kopperberg to give no quarter and to ride with confidence through the field, carving our way through the Lycra-clad obstacles as we went.
Powered by Belgian waffles, we reached the finish line together. A final sprint across the line saw me almost take us all down as my previously mentioned bike handling skills showed their limitations. Luckily Peter had the experience stay vertical and save us all- we crossed the finish like heroes. It was such an amazing feeling and it made it truly special to share it with Ed and Peter.
Post race fuelling was burger, frites and beer. We ate like kings and rode the 10miles home- I never wanted it to end.