Every year a large contingent of Brits cross the channel to join 17,000 other riders on the Tour of Flanders sportive. It is a chance to share in the pro rider’s experience of 17 brutal climbs and cobbled sections that make the spring classic so legendary.
There is a choice of three road distances and three mountain bike routes routes. The Ronde van Vlaanderen voor wierlertoeristen en MTBers – to quote the full title doesn’t discriminate between fat tyre funsters and road racers. Belgians are keen for everyone to ‘enjoy’ their cobbles. MTB riders have the choice of 25, 54 and 75km routes. While road riders can take on the full 259km starting from Bruges at 5am. The 140km mid-distance misses out the opening flat section but still features all the classic climbs and pave, there is also a 75km shorter ride.
Don’t discount the weather adding to the fun of the day. It can be unpredictable in April. Torrential rain in 2008 made for slippy cobbles and cross winds battered riders on the flats. The weather has also been known to dish out hale and sleet on occasion.
For 2009 riders were reprieved. Through the morning the sun tried to burn through overcast skies, roads stayed dry and there was a light wind to cool entrants atop the climbs.
Organisations at the event remain faultless. Fear not as staff at the Friday evening sign on was prepared to speak to international riders in their native tongue. Feed stations were rammed and cyclists had to queue to get in. Once in there is all manner or cake, biscuit, bananas energy and waffles to chomp through.
The more popular climbs, Muur, Koppenberg, Molenberg become a bit of a bun fight as the riders passed through due to riders of differing abilities snaking all over the shop trying to keep momentum and grind their way up. Tips from experienced Flanders sportivers, “Go armed with a few choice Flemish words. Even if you don’t intend to use them, at least you’ll know what is being said around you.”
My Cyclo-sportive – Claire Beaumont
2nd cat Road Racer
23 years old
I loved it and will be back again, no question.
The Molenberg is the first cobbled clanger. It’s narrow and coils up around to right before flattening out after 500m. I mistakenly opened up a gel just before rounding the corner to the climb. The cobbles on the Molenberg aren’t exactly even and there is a gutter of mud which runs down the right hand side. Not wanting to lose my precious gel or litter the Belgium countryside. I locked my teeth around the wrapper and set my eyeballs to vibrate.
Oude Kwaremont is the third cobbled section. It never rises more than 11 percent but the drag at just over two km is one that zaps the life from your legs. I tried hard to a speed of 12 mph fighting the feeling that I was anchored to the ground.
A few kilometres later you meet the Paterberg. It’s short and steep. 400m of cobbles, what it doesn’t have in length makes up for in height gain with leg breaking 20 percent gradient sections. To make life harder, you approach the climb after coming off a 90 degree right hander with loads of other riders on the course. I was forced to take it slow and start climbing at nearly a walking pace.
Good things come in threes with the Koppenberg being the next climb on the route. I wasn’t fooled by the picturesque countryside as I crossed an old railway line round the corner of a typical Belgium house. My advice; get into the little ring and prepare to meet a wall with a twisting cobbled backbone that stretches skyward. While my lungs were burning and legs were screaming all I could was focus on keeping going. I was afraid that if I stopped it would be impossible to start again.
Cycling fanatics can’t mention the Tour of Flanders with a word or two on the Muur, a classic climb and the penultimate on the course with a section reaching 19 percent. The approach to the Muur isn’t the same as in the race because organisers are setting up barriers and big screen TV’s for the race the following day. Its tough and an epic. To add to the atmosphere huge crowds gathered to clap and greet everyone.
What more could you want?
Team Mule Bar
30 years old
The Tour of Flanders Sportive is for me, as much about experiencing the Belgian culture as a cyclist as it is about riding the event. Riding the route of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen along with 17 000 other riders is not without its’ challenges, both physical and technical yet the atmosphere that surrounds the whole weekend is second to none
Bike shop manager, Kendal
42 years old
It is a must for any cycling fan, the combination of riding the course and then watching pros race the next day is not to be missed. Watching Devolder attack on the Muur, then running down to the village square to watch him win on a live feed in front of 20,000 plus frenzied Belgians was one word: awesome.
34 years old
My teeth chattering and giggle attacks on the cobbles morphed into thoughts of feeding my mate his chain if it broke again! Love this ride, hard at every speed. My tip: approach the Koppenburg like a D-Day landing, battle cry, adrenaline, speed, cunning, always remember… only the weak unclip!