Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One long Weekend...

The Cycling Season has begun !!!  For me anyway and judging by the numbers a load of other riders too.

Saturday was Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders and Sunday was the Paris-Roubaix Challenge.  Both very different and both a load of fun and just under 400KM of quality training and fun all in one weekend.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

So the first thing you do when you get to an event is get the bike out of the car and put it together.  Then you wonder why the wheel won't spin and quickly find the broken spoke.  Oh Shit. !!!  Nothing open at 8pm at night. Thank heavens for the spare wheels !!!

They moved the start this year to a stadium outside the city.  Great for them but near impossible for me.  I'd booked a hotel in the Centre of Brugge because I knew it started in the square.  So riding around at 6:45am in the dark trying to find some Stadium is impossible.  Fortunately the secret is to ride around in circles till you find another biker and ask them where to go.  Thanks to the three Dutch lads who had a map I made the start.

The first 50KM or so was fairly uneventful except for the poor guy that crashed about 3km from the start.  Never a good look.  We hooked up into a fairly large group after the first feed station and cruising at 40-50Km/h.  I skipped the next feed station because it came far to quick for me.  I don't seem to recall any hills till close on 150km. 

I remember having a chat with some anxious brits.  Never ridden on the cobbles.  Said that they were about to hit the best 100KM of cycling in Belgium.  And just around the corner was the Koppenburg. We hit it from the other direction this year.  Rounded the corner and it's a load of cyclists trying to walk up the road.  With lots of yelling from me enough space was created in the middle to let me through.  I must say this was one of the most daunting climbs for me last year.  This year it was a breeze.  Think I climbed it in my 39x21 as well and felt very good

Over the top of the hill I linked up with another chap.  Never got to speak to him but we basically rode the next 100KM together on and off.  The only hill I really recall was challenging was the Paterburg.  Seeing the Pros on TV struggling up on the third lap was good.

I finished in seven hours and 45 mins!!!  Well stoked.  I did nine hours and 30 mins last year so this was a huge improvement.  OK the course was 15 KM shorter but still.  In regards to the new course?  Well I preferred the old.  More cobbles and more hills.  Although the GPS route says the same amount of climbing the old just felt more complete.

A couple of observations.  You really want to make sure your bike is in good working order.  There must have been several hundred people on the side of the road with flat tyres and I lost count of how many chains I saw snap.  Most likely those rubbish shimano ones !!!


So the mad dash to St-Quentin to try and find some 28mm tyres and pick up the registration pack.  How many places does it take to visit to buy 28mm tyres?  A lot and I never found any.  A mad Frenchman trying to sell me 24mm Vittoria tyres because Tom Boonen rides them and they are the best.  I tried to point out they run 27mm Tubs but he wasn't hearing it.  In short I gave up and rode my 25mm Continental GP4 season's.  I got the Mavic service crew to pump them up before the stage. 110psi in the back and 100psi in the front.  More than I ride when training but thought they would know. 

Hotel,  Once again another lesson learnt.  Get one that serves an early breakfast and try and find one closer than a 45 mins drive away.  Saves a lot of problems first thing in the morning.  Eating cereal out of a container on the way to the start line is never good.

It was cold.  1500 people standing on the start line.  Some in shorts and shirts and others in Artic survival gear.  I dumped my overshoes and gillet right at the start and went for long sleeve and leg warmers and a hat.  Two degrees and cold !!!

We were in the 4th group to set off.  Closed roads and cruising in a big bunch at 40km for the next hour.  The police doing a great job.  We must have picked up the the first dropped riders within 10km.  The French were out in the streets cheering and clapping as we went past.  It was a blast.  Every body was having a great time and lots of friendly gestures between riders and chatting when time allowed.  I think our group had swelled to 300 riders by the time the Pave came.

The first Pave section was unreal.  I was way to far back and had to fight my way past the chaos.  Adan who I met at the hotel the night before and been riding with just took off.  The dust the noise the bikers everywhere.  The yellow mavic cars and Mavic motorbikes helping people with tyres and bidons scattered everywhere.  Chaos ensured.  We regrouped after the first Pave and suddenly there was only about 75 of us.  The next Pave and we must have been 25 riders.  I got the hint to ride at the front and choose your line and it's easier.
The Pave, Yes it's rough rocks and lots of dirt.

It must have been the 3rd or 4th Pave Section and I looked down and only had one bidon left.  So much for the steal bottle cages being better.  Of course it was the full one.  We regrouped again at a feed station and topped up remaining bottle and grabbed anything to eat and a coke or two.  I was in such a hurry I even forgot to stop for a wee.  Must have been the next Pave section and felt something hit my leg.  I looked down and my second bottle was gone.  It was going to be a long day.

Then in maybe section seven or eight after several big hits it was a fairly distinctive hiss phat hiss my rear tyre was gone.  Five mins later and I was back on the bike.  I stopped 100 metres on to grab a bidon off the ground that didn't have much in but beggars can't be choosers.  Threw my tube at a local and yelled "Merci" when I exited the Pave.  What I didn't realise was I passed Adan who had punctured about 1km past me.

I don't recall much after this.  A big group came steaming past and I latched onto the back.  I was feeling quite sore in the right quad at this point with 300km in the last 24 hours in my legs.  Couldn't get out of the saddle but fine sitting down.  I stayed with this group for a while and then we hit the Tranchée d'Arenberg section.  I hit the front somewhere here and had a blast. Picking the right line and just going for it was great.  I had a huge smile on my face

We finished Arenberg and the group was gone.  I hooked up with a very small group and we made some good progress.  Rode with two Americans on there very very nice fully sponsored Trek bikes with power meters.  We took turns until the next feed stop.  Some cokes and cakes were grabbed before I set off on my own.  I rode slowly waiting for a group of any sort and not much appeared.  I started to get on with in and 10 mins later a few riders appeared and we made some decent progress again.

About 30-45 mins later the Americans appeared.  Asked them were they'd been as they seemed to be the best to ride with.  Said I'd been waiting for them.  The next Pave section the three of us left the group's we'd formed behind again.  Out the other side we formed a new group of riders before loosing them on the cobbles each time.  On the last pave section one of the Americans punctured and I was on my own again.  The last 20KM was solo.  I picked up several hangers on but none could or wanted to work or help.  We turned onto the tree lined street right near the end and one of them asked me how far to the finish.  I had to laugh and say it was a long way away.  The lap on the Stadium was brief and one of the buggers I'd towed to the finish sprinted past me.

I'd beaten the wife to the finish line and had a catch up with Adan and the Americans.  I'd wondered why they had such low race numbers and had steam rolled past me.  Their bus driver was late to the start and they started behind the last group !!!  Adan said he'd yelled at me as I passed but I guess the speed, excitement and all the noise on the cobbles I just didn't hear or see anything.  He was maybe 30 mins behind me which again was not to bad.

Hint of smile and a hard days work done.

I was well impressed with my time.  5:01:11 Wow !!!  That is 164th out of the approx 1400 who started (900 or so finished).  54th in my age group.  Not bad for a first timer !!!  Maybe next year I'll get to ride with the fast guys at the front !!! Also the winner was in my age group and his time was 4:20 !!!

Brilliant event and hope to do it again.  I loved the closed roads and the french support.  If you ride on the cobbles slowly or on the grass on the side of the cobbles they ignore you.  Charge at the cobbles in the middle of the road and give it some they yell and clap and give encouragement.

Lets hope the rest of the events this year can continue in similar fashion.

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