Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ronde van Vlaanderen, the corse up close PART 1

starting your journey in Ghent, the Tour of Flanders commences with an hour ride down the river Schelde (knowns as the 'canal' by farm residents) to Oudenaarde. The guys always complained that riding the canal would do your head in, but on a nice day the scenary is pretty nice.

Training along the Schelde some guys caught Robbie McEwen motorpacing in preparation for the Tour, and one day I saw Tyler Farrar of Cofidis out training there. The Schelde or canal, is also home to the canal ride. It's like the North Road ride in Melbourne except it leaves at 9:00am every morning (9:30 on the weekends) and consists of everyone from 12 year olds on gear limitations, to pro riders, to old blokes. I did the ride on three occasions and there were always Chocolate Jacques, Landbrouwcredit, Quickstep and other local pro-team riders on the ride being towed along by supefit sixty year olds. Wouter Wylandt from Quickstep lives in Ghent, and even he was spotted out on the ride on a few occassions. Like the Hell ride in Melbourne there are a lot of tall tales and true about the ride. They usually revolve around people ending up in the canal which makes for an entertaining yarn. This is the Church besides the Schelde as you ride through Oudenaarde.

As you ride through the centre of town there is a draw bridge accross the river, one of many in Belgium that decides to go North just as you are running late for a race.

Below is the main chapel in the Grote Market in Oudenaarde, the Ronde Van Vlaanaderen tourist centre is just to the left of the chapel. Shows you just where cycling sits in terms of local importance! The Ronde centre is really worth a look, they have lots of old pictures, bikes, team cars, and all sorts of memorabilia from the race. My favorite story is about one of De Vlaemick's victories in the early 70's. Freddy Maertens got an illegal bike change at the top of the Koppenberg from his brother, he then towed De Vlaemick to victory over the final 60kms all by himself. De Vlaemick refused to work. Maerten's was immediately disqualified upon crossing the finish line due to the illegal bike change. The debate about who was the deserving winner didn't rage on for too long, because Maertens later tested positive to amphetamines anyway.

This is the Stad Huis in the Grote Market, typical of most Belgian towns.

And this is a piece of modern art titled 'man with very snotty nose, and no penis'. I love modern art.

After riding through Oudenaarde you continue along the Schelde too Kluisbergen. the first main climb is the Kluisberg (1.1km, avg 6%, max 11%). It's quite an easy asphalt climb with a hotel at the summit, and great views of the surrounding Schelde valley. I have to say it came as a bit of a shock after having not ridden a hill in four weeks. In the picture below, the steepest section of the climb continues off to the right of the picture, and this is where the hotel is situated, out of view.

The next climb, which straddles the same berg as the Klusiberg is the Knokteberg (1.1km, 8% avg, 13% max). This is another asphalt climb that is not too difficult, and similar in character to the first climb.

After this climb you fly down a section of highway, and then do a right angle turn, and its back over the same berg for the third time up the Oude Kwaremont (2.2km, 4.2% avg, 11% max, 1.5km cobbles). This is the first cobbled climb on the Flanders course. this wouldn't be a difficult climb but for the fact that it has 1.5km of uneven, jagged cobbles. Ouch. 1.5kms of uphill cobbles. It usually comes a bit too early in the race to be decisive, and it isn't the steepest of the climbs, but it sure does hurt. There is a little teahouse just before the Kwaremont that has caricatures of riders out the front of it. The owner told me that she wants to turn the place into a hotel and let riders from around the world stay there. Seems to be a good idea. Here's a picutre of Nico Mattan, a local hero from Waregem.

This is the start of the cobbled section of the Kwaremont.

This is the view looking back down the climb from the top. You will notice that the climb isn't that steep, but the gaps between the cobbles- OUCH!

At this stage it was time for a drink.

During Spring the corse looks a bit like hell, with all the deciduous trees barren, and ghost like. At the height of summer it's another story all together.

With the local wildlife, you're never sure who's the tourist. In Belgian, it appears they don't only dope cyclists either.

After the Kwaremont you enter the French speaking part of Belgian, and the town of Ronse. There are two climbs on the outskirts of Ronse, the Kruiseberg (1.875km, 4.8% avg, 9% max, 400ms cobbled):

and the Hotond (900m, 3.5% avg, 8% max, asphalt.)

Between the Kruisberg and the Hotond there is another short climb which has this roadside chapel beside it.

After the Hotond you head back towards Oudenaarde. The next climb is the Paterberg (400m, 12.5% avg, 20% max, 400m cobbled). This climb starts off steep, and then gets really really steep just before the summit. To make matters worse the cobbles are more like boulders than stones, however they are pretty evenly spaced compared to other cobbled sections. There is a picnic spot at the top of the climb, and when I did it the place was packed. There were more Belgian Blue's at the bottom of this climb also:

you can just see the steepest section kick up in the background.

At the Paterberg, my legs were just starting to hurt. But I'll leave the rest for Part 2, stay tuned.


Blogger Mathew said...

Nice recce. Well done with the photojournalism tim. Look forward to the next installment.

8:33 PM  

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