Chipps reports from a chilly Belgium at last weekend’s Tour of Flanders.
Ahead of an influx of new content for grit.cx, I thought it’d be good to have a gallery from last weekend’s Tour of Flanders to get you in the off-road, drop-bar mood – especially ahead of the upcoming Paris Roubaix.
Although I’ve been over to watch Flanders a few times, this was my first go at following the race around, nipping between viewing spots. Luckily, I had some expert drivers from Ridley Bikes to help navigate from berg to berg.
One of the funny, but obvious, things about following the ‘Ronde’ is that, as you’re rushing from place to place, sometimes driving for half an hour to be sure to get ahead of the (44km/h) racers, is that for half of Belgium, it’s a normal Sunday and, so in between all of the press, public and team cars racing to get into place, are a load of oblivious folks heading off to the DIY superstore or for lunch with friends…
The day for the teams starts just after 8am as team trucks start heading into one of the squares in Bruges, ready for the sign-on amidst huge crowds of fans.
After checking out the bikes for sign-on, we whizzed off to another couple of spots on the way. The first, a gradual tarmac climb with a cobbled descent, was also a feed station, so many riders were munching on snacks and joking around rather than in full pursuit. That, however, all changed by the time we got to the Molenberg. This steep, narrow, cobbled climb sits in a hollow, so riders have no option but to keep to the cobbled crown, away from the greasier verges.
We were all set up for photos on the Molenberg as we heard the telltale sound of the TV helicopter
And then, a couple of minutes before the first riders arrived, a cavalcade of eight press photographers on their motorbikes arrived, dismounted and set themselves up on the grass bank in front of us. It seems that there are hierarchies, even within the press corps… We all moved around, just in time for the riders to arrive.
Being in such close quarters to a road race is always thrilling. The noise is huge and the riders so fast and colourful. It’s only afterwards that you can look to see who it was you were actually photographing as they go past so quickly
We rushed off to try to snag a fourth point of the day in which to see the riders come past, but the crowds streaming from the Molenberg with the same idea slowed us down, so we decided we’d head straight for the finish. And on our way, we were stopped by the Police with a bunch of other cars. There could be no other reason… and everyone probably without exception, left their cars in a hurry like a cheap B-Movie disaster flick as we rushed to the front of the roadblock, just in time to see the leading riders and the chasing group hot on their heels. Then everyone rushed back to their cars to hot-foot it back to the finish in Oudenaarde.
Once parked up in Oudenaarde, we made it to the huge, free, finish party. There were Euro-house party tents and big screens, DJs and commentators, beer and frites with mayo. Everyone seemed to be having a great day, despite the barely double digit temps.
As the riders came into the finish, we all watched on the big screens while feeling the buzz of the same thing happening 50 metres away from us. There was a rush (among us lucky folks with press lanyards) to get to the ‘Mixed Zone’ where riders (if they wanted to, or were well trained to) would give interviews after this gruelling race. I don’t know about you, but the last time I rode more than 200km, my face didn’t work properly and all I could do was crave frites and a beer. These guys, battered and bruised from going full gas for six hours were still giving friendly chats in their race Lycra!
We had to leave before the women’s race hit town, but that was a whole ‘nother world of pain and cobbles. One for next time…
And if you haven’t ever gone to Belgium to watch bike racing – be that cyclocross, spring classics or MTB cross country, you really need to see how bike racing is done properly. Imagine the crowds and enthusiasm of Fort William, only spread over an entire country, rather than a single hillside.
Members Extra Galleries
There’s no world-beating tech scoops here, though, I’m just not up on my road bike geekery enough to spot that kind of thing, though I did discover that Tom Pidcock is running Shimano 11speed chainrings on his otherwise 12 speed DuraAce setup. Drops the chain less often apparently…Oops! There\’s something to see here that only our full members get to see. Join us today for instant access to this content and more.
Winter Wout tries to warm up.
The sheer amount of organisation that goes into the even is extraordinary. Every road junction, big or small, had a tabarded volunteer. Every cafe was open. Every local seemed happy to hang out. There was no ‘But I always drive my car down the middle of the road on a Sunday lunchtime grumping. Belgians either love cycling or they accept it as something that happens for a few days a year, which brings tourists, money and publicity to their villages and towns. Some houses had marquees in the gardens and tables full of partygoers to watch the fun. Others were silent and shuttered. It’s like living in Glastonbury – if the festival was 275km long…Oops! There\’s something to see here that only our full members get to see. Join us today for instant access to this content and more.
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