The best bit of racing during the Winter means I can be indulgent and slowly plod through all the things on my bucket list. I don’t have to worry about tapering or recovering! So when asked what I wanted for my birthday it was easy. Not matching handbag and shoes, but the chance to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo.
In preparation I racked up a few extra miles, taking in the pleasures of the Cheshire Cat on the way and a crawl up the infamous Mow Cop. I had the miles, sorted the gearing and so just needed to get on the Shuttle.
Lucky for me, I have friends in Ghent. Once in Calais, the journey was an easy hour and a half. I had reservations about being in Ghent, aware that many people stay in Brugge, but it was perfect and only took thirty minutes to get to Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is the Cyclo’s administrative centre and the start of the middle and short courses. All the courses finish there too.
I signed on Friday afternoon to avoid the Saturday morning panic.The town was already packed and humming with impending excitement. I felt more nervous than I do for a race!
Bleary eyed, I left Ghent at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. The prospect of cycling round with nearly 16,000 other riders, seemed mind blowing. However with people arriving at different times, and those riding the longer course starting in Brugge,it was easy. Big bunches gathered at the start and then seemed to dissipate. I’m guessing if you haven’t sat in a big bunch before it might seem a bit daunting, but generally the standard of riding was good, so I wasn’t worried. I certainly have felt far more vulnerable riding sportives at home.
The cobbles are an interesting experience but for someone used to riding off road, seemed very manageable. With temperatures topping out at 20 degrees, we certainly had it easy. Best mode of attack seemed to be, sit down, stay loose and step on the gas. An injection of speed seemed to do two things. It ensured I was controlling the bike, rather than it ricocheting in all directions and mentally it helped me get through.
Armed with many gears including a 32 on the back, I spun up all the climbs. If it had been wet and muddy, I had enough gears to go into off road mode, weight all the wheels and climb with maximum traction. If it’s wet and you think you might end up mauling, you’re in for an interesting experience. Cobbles are interspersed with smooth narrow lanes so there’s time to gather your thoughts. Feed stations are plentiful and the traffic is stopped at strategic places.
As I approached the latter part of the ride, the road became wider and people stopped talking. What’s this madness I thought as groups of riders racked up the pace dreaming of fame and glory. It did make me smile. Which one is Cancellara I thought? Ok, so I joined in, but we can all dream can’t we? I crossed the line greeted by cheer leaders waving golden pom poms and smiles all round.
The town was now packed with riders celebrating in the sunshine, drinking Belgium beer. The atmosphere was electric and I was really proud to have taken part with so many kindred spirits from so many far flung places.
In the past I raced in both international and regional events abroad. In retrospect I realise that the most amazing thing about any foreign event, whether it’s competitive or not, is chatting to people from different places; sharing an amazing experience and seeing what’s really possible. Can that person really be that old, go that fast and look that classy? Well yes it seems they can. Now that really does hit the spot for this old gal’ ! It’s all food for the soul.
For details of next year’s event, check out www. rondevanlaanderen.com See you there !