The Monday after the World Track Championships was really a day of recovery after a hectic week to-ing and fro-ing from Manchester.
I?d put all my pictures to DVD so that they went back down to the CW office in Croydon with Simon Richardson as he and Lionel Birnie departed after Sunday?s final session. It meant Monday was made slightly easier for me with not having to do too much work with pictures.
I set about writing my blog and got that sent by the early afternoon. It meant I could go for a pedal in the afternoon to stretch the legs. I?d not touched the bike since the previous Tuesday, so it was good to back aboard. Just did two hours with a run out to Bakewell and back. The weather was ok and temperatures were quite spring like.
Tuesday and I was up early to get a ride in with John Charlesworth. He?d phoned on Monday evening saying he?d be on a late shift at work and would be out every morning in the week. We arranged to meet at the old Riverlin post office for 09:15.
It was bright and breezy morning with the odd spit of rain in the air from time to time. Still, it was quite mild and it was nice to be out in just legwarmers and a intermediate top. It felt so must better than when you have all you winter gear on. We pedalled up the A57 and down to Ladybower reservoir. Left at the lights there and along to Bamford and then straight along the Hope Valley to Hathersage. Taking a right in Hathersage, we cut through to Grindleford and on to Calver. Left at the crossroads there and along the bottom to Baslow. We then picked up the usual Matlock run from there. I quite enjoyed it and we put in a couple of testing efforts in places in what was already quite a brisk tempo ride. Got back with 63miles on the computer. John said he?d got eighty or so on by the time he got home.
John and I arranged to meet up again on Wednesday morning at 09:30, once again at the old Riverlin post office. As we set off I heard my first Chiffchaff of the spring in the woody area behind the post office. This small olive-brown warbler is a migrant to our woodlands each spring and departs in late August, early September. It was good to hear a sound of Spring in the air.
Wednesday?s ride took us to Ladybower reservoir and round to Bamford before heading right at the lights to take the road towards Hope and Castleton. Just before Hope we turned left and went up to Bradwell and then on over to Tideswell. From there we dropped down to Litton and down Cressbrook.
Instead of climbing back out up the Monsal Hill climb route, we took the left up the less steep but longer climb out towards Wardlow. At the top it was right and down past Monsal Head and in to Ashford-in-the-Water . The route back was then up to Thirteen Bends, back along the valley to Calver and up Froggatt. My legs felt better up Froggatt than the previous days ascent were I had grovelled a bit. A good 45 mile route for me and done at a good tempo.
Thursday and one last ride before going away for over a week for the Spring Classics of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. Met up with John once again and we both agreed to a recovery ride as both of us were suffering sore legs from the previous two days rides. So it was just a steady ride to Castleton from our Riverlin start point.
In Castleton we went round Pindale and in to the back of Bradwell were we went back along to Brough to take the valley road back along to Hathersage. For a change we road along to Grindleford and then took the climb up to Fox House past Padley Gorge. Got home with just over 34 miles on the computer. The legs felt much better.
Did a few jobs in the afternoon to finalise a few things for the weekend. Booked a ferry crossing rather than EuroTunnel and saved £150 there alone. Then phoned to extend a hotel booking for my stay in Kortrijk after Flanders. Also booked an Ibis in Cambrai for the Paris-Roubaix build up. It?s a good spot to stay so as to do some reconnaissance of the route over the nearby pave sectors. That done it was a matter of getting packed and sorted for the off on Friday morning.
I was up at 05:30 and away for around 6:30 for the drive down to Dover for my 13:30 sailing. Had a good run down as there wasn?t too much traffic due I think to the extended Easter holidays still having some effect.
Enjoyed the crossing. I went up on to the rear decks as we left Dover port. It was quite bracing but enjoyable watching the gulls follow the boat out of port. They skilfully manoeuvred on the winds, coming in close to try and take the assortment of food people were throwing up for them to catch. Some people were allowing the gulls to take chips from their hand. I had fun photographing them with my little Canon G7. Used the shutter priority and continuous AF to capture the action.
Got in to Calais just before 16:00 local time and started my drive over to Brugge. Had to stop on route for a snooze as I was feeling tried by now.
Arrived in Brugge and found my Boterhuis Hotel just behind the main square in Brugge where the race always starts. Put the car in the underground parking just a few yards round the corner from the hotel. A really nice family hotel set up in what was the old Butter House dating back to the 1600?s I think. Very good rates too for B&B to say you were in the centre of Brugge.
After checking in I wandered to the main square and got some euros from the bank on the end of the civil buildings there. I?ve found it seems to be one of the few banks in Brugge that allows you to withdraw money with a card. Then it was a wander to find a place to eat. I chose a little Italian restaurant on the side road that leads towards the canal from the big clock tower that dominates the square. A little note here is that for those wanting to venture up the tower there?s a step for every day of the year to reach the lookout at the top.
Meal over I wandered back to the hotel not before taking a few night shots of Brugge with the G7.
Saturday I was up early and got on the road to Oudenaarde to try and catch up with Lionel Birnie and Ed Pickering from the magazine who were taking part in the Flanders Sportive. It?s a great event taking in all the classic climbs that the race covers on the Sunday. The number of people that take part has to be seen to believed. It can get a bit messy on the cobbled climbs when large numbers of riders all arrive at once.
The varying abilities and the shear numbers means some stop and fall over causing mayhem for those following. It?s then difficult to get going again and usually ends up with riders pushing their bikes up the climbs. I did the ride a few years ago and took pride in myself not having to stop or unclip on any of the climbs. There were moments where I had to track stand but I never had to put my foot down. I can recommend the sportive to anyone. A great day out.
Ed and Lionel?s day turned in to a bit of an epic. The weather was not good. Grey and cold with drizzle all morning making the cobbles slippery. More of that in their write up in the magazine.
I finally caught up with Ed on the Muur de Grammont or Muur-Kapelmuur to be precise. It had taken a few phone calls to co-ordinate our rendezvous. While I waited on the Muur I busied myself taking photos of the stream of sportive riders battling the cobbled, slippery gradient. Spotted Andrea Tafi and was able to have a quick chat with him as he waited for his group of riders he had brought over for the sportive. He had been pushing a 53×21 up the steepest section of the Muur and doing it sitting in the saddle. Made it look easy!
Caught Ed on the top section of the Muur just below the chapel. Had to give him a quick shout to stop so I could get him to do that section of the climb again as I couldn?t get a clear shot. He had chance to show me his bottom bracket which was worryingly loose in his Cervelo frame. Anyway, it got him to the finish in Ninove.
Saturday afternoon I was back in Brugge to pick up my accreditation ready for the race on Sunday. Met up with Luke Evans, past editor of Cycle Sport and now moto pilot to Graham Watson. Also caught up with my fellow snapper Luc Claessen and we all sat in a market square café having a coffee waiting for the photographers briefing at 18:00.
That over with, I left everyone and had a good evening meal in the Malpertuus -?t?Voske (Fox Hole), a nice restaurant just round the corner from my hotel and just off the main square.
Sunday dawned fairly bright considering the poor forecast for race day. I was up early and out of the hotel by 08:20. Dropped by the car park to drop my bags off in the car and then made the short walk to the race start build up in the main square.
Walked up to the team bus area and started grabbing shots of bikes and equipment for the tech pages. Heard a shout from behind the barriers while I was photographing the Lampre bikes. It was the Birkenhead North End club guys I?d met the other year. Had a quick chat before getting back to grabbing some more bike pics. No real chance to grab riders as they were still tucked up in their team buses.
Wandered back to the start area and found Ian Stannard just coming round after signing on. Had a quick chat and did a Bike of the Week with him. The wheels he was using had been brought over by his mum on the Saturday. A pair of Mavic Reflex hand built wheels from Phil Corley?s bike shop in Milton Keynes. Perfect for the cobbles.
Watched the race leave the square at 09:45 and then set off for Geraardsbergen.
There was a lot of traffic about following the race. Made it to Geraardsbergen and parked up. Had time for a sandwich before walking to the Muur to get pictures of the women?s race coming over the climb.
It was then a cold wait for the men to arrive. The earlier sunshine had given way to heavy cloud and flurries of hail from time to time. It gradually got a little brighter as the arrival of the riders neared. We had been entertained by the look alike Eddy Merckx attired in rainbow jersey making several ascents of the Muur before finally the big race moment passed before our eyes and lenses.
The black, yellow and red kit of QuickStep’s Belgium national champion came into view on the corners by the café below the chapel. It was Stijn Devolder with just a motorcycle behind for company. The crowd went mad, a Belgium leading their biggest one day race up the Muur. His lead seemed an eternity (probably around 30seconds) before Astana?s Aaron Kemps appeared followed by Nuyens, Flecha and Boonen.
Could Devolder hold on with the Bosberg still to go and the final run in to Ninove? The question was answered when a cheer went up from the Belgium crowds who?d had radios pressed to their ears awaiting the news of a Belgium win in Devolder. From my perspective on the Muur it seemed a brave attacking move and worthy of being rewarded with a win. Great stuff.
Walked back to my car and put the cameras away. Chatted to Jonathan Baxter of Sporting Tours as I did. He was passing by on the way back to the coach that had taken his clients round the Ronde. It?s how I started seeing big continental races back in 1991.
Drove over to Kortrijk to stay over in preparation for Ghent-Wevelgem.
That?s it for now. Catch up with all the news of my week at Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix next week.
Andy Jones is Cycling Weekly’s resident photographer, and has covered pretty much every major cycling event there is, from downhill mountain biking to the Tour de France. You can see hundreds of Andy’s photos in our online Gallery section.