Ronde van Vlaanderen

Tour of Flanders

April 1, 2012 – When I heard that I was likely doing the Tour of Flanders a couple of weeks ago, I got goose bumps. I’ve done many ‘Rondes,’ but not The Ronde. This is one of the races that first fascinated me when I was new to the sport of cycling. Many professionals list the Ronde as their favorite racing day of the year, and now I’m in the same boat. There is something special about this race – the atmosphere at sign in, the intensity of the fans’ cheers, the history.

I got a sense of what being a Belgian superstar is like on the way to sign in. I rode there behind Tom Boonen. The sign-in presentation was about a kilometer from where the team bus was parked. On a small cobbled road, fans stood three deep on each side all the way there. They weren’t just cheering for Tom; they were screaming, yelling and clapping – like their football team had just won the Super Bowl.

The small road led to one of the beautiful squares of Brugge. An enormous stage stood at the far end, and a path led through the packed crowd. “Gibberish gibberish, Tom Boonen!” announced the presenter. The crowd roared. The King of Belgium had arrived.

The first 100 kilometers of the race before we got to Oudenaarde were flat and indecisive. The breakaway of 15 riders went relatively quickly, and Tyler Farrar was in it. The rest of us could relax. People lined the course almost all the way to Oudenaarde. The towns we passed through frequently had throngs of people held back by barriers, like one would see in the final kilometer of a typical race. Even between towns there was a consistent scattering of people.

From Oudenaarde we did a big circuit, a medium circuit and a small circuit. We did a total of 16 climbs in addition to six cobble stone sectors. The most decisive of the many notable climbs were the Kwaremont and the Paterberg, which were at the end of each lap for a total of three times.

The climbs of Flanders are something you need to experience for yourself to truly understand. The steepest ones, such as the Koppenburg, have pitches of 25 percent. To ride the climb fresh is difficult, but 200 kilometers into a race you see the dauntingly steep wall and you question whether you will be able to pedal up at all.

Positioning yourself well before the climbs is key. Even from thirtieth position, you will be blocked and won’t be able to follow the winning moves. Hit the early climbs in the second half and you won’t be out of the race, but you’ll waste precious energy chasing back on. Because of the importance of positioning, there is a sprint for every climb and sector.

Early in the race, I was one of the riders who was supposed to either be in the breakaway or making sure a big one didn’t go. Since Tyler was in it, I could relax until reaching the climbs that I helped my teammates hit in good position. To do this, the team must be organized near the front; I would lead them out for the 500-700 meters before the climb.

This was my first experience in a race of this length. My goal was to see as much of the race as possible, hopefully past the 200k mark. The first time we went over the Kwaremont and Paterberg was about 185 km into the race, and not long after was the Koppenburg. The peloton fell apart after this section, as you would expect. I was in one of the groups trailing over the top, but it didn’t take too long to chase back on.

I made it until the next time up the Kwaremont, 230 km in. Usually when I get dropped on a climb there is a period where I yo-yo off on the back of the field. After this distance the rubber band breaks immediately.

From there I rode with a small group to the finish, which included a small lap and another climb up both the Kwaremont and Paterberg. I came in 96th place in the last group of finishers, 15 minutes down. I completed The Rhonde –  265 kilometers, or nearly 165 miles – spending more than six and a half hours in the saddle. There was a huge applause when we crossed the finish line. Tom Boonen had just been called to the podium.

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13 thoughts on “Ronde van Vlaanderen

  1. Pingback: Paris-Roubaix | two-wheeled monkey

  2. You would n;t remember, but we used to race together during my brief stint in Oregon. I was impressed then, but even more so now. It’s rare to see an American success story of this magnitude and it’s great to not only see you succeed, but do it in style, with dignity and panache. Keep it up.

  3. Congrats man! Super stoked for. Getting the nod, and then finishing is a huge accomplishment. You should be proud. You’ll be even more prepared for the next go around.

    • I enjoy reading your write-ups and can clntairey relate to a few of your stories as well The Tour van Vlaanderen and Paris -Roubaix I grew up with, being from the Flanders myself. All that stuff was and still is in our blood and our way of life. Cyclocross or veldrijden’ is very popular over the winter months in Belgium and definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted. (Pardon the pun) I know that to this day there are still quite a few hard core cyclists out there, even in their late 70 s, riding hard out in groups every day of the year. And lets not forget their regular pit stops at the local village cafes for re-fuelling off course Unfortunately, immigrating to NZ in the mid 90 s changed all that for me. New Zealanders aren’t really used to cyclists so when I was struck from behind on the Wellington motorway (after many close encounters with motor vehicles) that changed everything for me. Breaking and dislocating my spine left me paralysed and with a long recovery ahead I slowly managed to walk again. 15 years down the track I still can’t cycle but can now at least ride a bike of a different sort with a big motor attached to it. I’d say keep going Ken as you would have discovered by now that us creatures are very adaptable. Enjoy whatever ride you’re on

  4. Great post, Jacob. Love your perspective and humor and you do Oregon and the USA proud. Good luck in the rest of your season and know that the full Oregon contingent will be cheering you on loudly!

    • BTW, if you don’t mind, tell your blog visitors about the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. By Darkness Hid has alderay been nominated, but we need to pass the word on so readers will know about the Readers’ Choice award and will be ready to vote.This year to be eligible to participate, voters need to have read at least two of the nominations.Thanks.Becky

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