Tour of Flanders - 2015

Mon 13 Apr 2015

It had been five long years since the North Road cobblers had tackled the Flemish pave. Nick Harris, made the running organisationally, and although the Easter holidays added some extra complications three car loads of willing Flandrian pilgrims set out. Joining Nick was ex North Roader Joe Berritt. Del and Hugo Evans where traveling with John McDowall and Richard Somerset whilst Bryan Holland took along Matt Crees and Tim Brown.


A hectic tunnel crossing meant a slightly late arrival in Ghent for some but with race numbers and pre-race info already collected a night at the club restaurant, The Bridge, allowed some beer based carb loading.


The forecast for the day itself promised a little light drizzle for an hour or so in the morning before ‘clearing up’for the remainder of the day. Here is where two important life lessons should be learnt. Lesson one, never believe a Belgian weather forecast. Lesson two, NEVER BELIEVE A BELGIAN WEATHER FORECAST. It started as promised, wet and cold with dark grey skies, but nothing vaguely approaching a ‘clearing up’occurred until much later in the day.   Maybe it was a weather based lost in translation moment and that the very slight easing in rain during most of the ride counted as ‘clearing up’The sun did break though towards the end of the day, but even the belated appearance of the fiery galactic super nova burning at 15 million degrees, failed to raise the temperature much.


The ride was the normal chaotic affair. It was very crowded with riders of varying ability levels formed a seemingly never ending snake of cycling humanity through the magical heartland of Classics cycling. The climbs where the normal testy affairs with not only the steepness to cope with but a decent bit of luck to get through the masses, not helped by condition turning each individual cobble into miniature muddy ice rinks.


Some thoughts on the ride directly from some of the old cart horses mouths,


Bryan Holland - “After a week off the bike (work getting in the way) I was keen to get going and without a good look at the terrain map persuaded myself that it was just a “Flintriders”(Flintcross and Hard Riders hybrid then repeat. Note - only Bryan actually does this ride) this turned out to be the usual over optimism demonstrated last year at Fleche Wallonne.  The Koppenberg, looked like it might have been tough, had it not been a wall of walking cyclists 6 wide and about 20 deep, the Patterberg ditto. Fortunately the rest of the ride more than made up for this, great cobble sections and plenty of ups and even a few downs…”


Nick Harris - “The ride got off to a less than relaxed start, when, despite what I thought had been careful pre ride packing, I couldn't find my over-socks! Thankfully, one of the pop up clothing stalls was happy to relieve me of 29 Euros and I was soon sorted. Despite the delay caused by this incompetence the chaps waited patiently in the rain and we set off as a cohesive group albeit with club kit covered up by rain jackets.  Soon after, we hit the first cobbles and climbs which predictably enough meant that our group splintered. Pressing on alone I decided to take it as easy as I could on the climbs and to put pedal to the metal everywhere else, bypassing the feed stops to gain some time. Why, you may ask, did I not just relax and take it easy full stop? Hard to say really.  I guess I've been a pro wannabe dreamer for too long and taking part in this ride allowed me to indulge my fantasies one more time even if my average speed was little more than half that achieved by the pros the next day. And they rode twice as far!”


John McDowall - “As a self-proclaimed Classics Specialist I should have been in my element. My packing for the ride had not gone well having forgotten any gloves and my gels so an emergency purchase of retro BMX style gloves was in retrospect a very wise move. Going well early on I had a sudden overwhelming need to visit the ‘facilities’about half way round. Another disadvantage I have now found of riding over bumpy cobbles is when the rider is desperate to find a toilet.   After what seemed a clenching eternity a very busy stop came into view and I added to my store of Belgian cultural experiences by my first use of a Flemish portloo in a rain lashed industrial park. It took an age to get going again and regain peak operating temperature with conditions so miserable. I failed on the Koppenberg and Kwaremont, despite feeling confident, but there was just so many people in the way and under wheel condition where so treacherous. I got up the Patterberg mainly due to sitting on behind a loud shouting local who cleared his way through the walking throng like some sort of Biblical character parting stuff…well it was Easter weekend after all”


Matt “Rather Flanderian conditions greeted the nine North Roaders at the start of the RVV, and the usual talk of "lets ride together" lasted slightly longer than Spa (it was 10k till the first hill). The group splintered at this point and Matt was aiming to keep it steady all the way around for a "pleasant" endurance ride. At first set of cobbles Matt was wishing he had brought along his 'cross bike or at least changed the saddle over from the plank of wood on their currently but powered through the bone shaking section. A "this looks familiar" at the bottom of the Mollenberg had Matt ready to shift down, confirmed by a cry from Nick behind "lowest gear now Joe" and Matt seemed to glide up with no problems after a couple of months calorie counting to get into a new lean Matt. The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful, with the only problem occurring on the Koppenberg which was a wall of walking cyclists, a bit of a shame as Matt felt he could have ridden easily and nearly stopping on the Kwaremont but a bit of shouting and a shove from a local had Matt climbing up it no problem. Matt rode strongly after the final climb going from group to group thinking there was a group of North Roaders up the road. Afterwards it turned out that only Bryan was at the finish as Matt finished.


Ex North Roader Joe rode strongly enjoying what was there first proper ‘Classic’ Hugo, a reliable source of Haribos all weekend, also came over all Kevin Keegan saying that ‘he loved it.’Tim got round comfortably with very little training.   Richard had contact lens trouble (they bounced out) and found the cobbles less to his liking than in his pomp.   Del got knocked off by a MTB, that slightly ruffled his normally finely turned out feathers, but he was unharmed physically if not sartorially and was reunited with everyone back in the middle of a muddy Belgian field where the cars had been deposited (parked would be an inappropriate verb)


Another meal in The Bridge that night and the next day spent watching the pros (in glorious shirt sleeve weather) A chance meeting with another ex-member of the North Road crazy gang in a Belgian bar (Tristan Empatage) Then the traditional dash back for the tunnel with the traditional missing of our actual booked train meant a symmetrical hour delay getting back to match the hour delay coming out. Thanks to the drivers (Bryan, Nick and Del) and a doffing of ones forelock to the organiser Nick.