Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Ride...

I looked for Ken but they must've cleaned him up..

Two ugly guys, and two Beautiful IFs.
We drove to Ninove and took the shuttle to the start in Bruges, which necessitated an early start. Like a 3:45 wakeup. argh. Once in Bruges it was at least a 45 minute line to get the ride card punched and walk across the stage. We met another American (you can tell the Americans by their Pearl Izumi clothing) who had come over from his temp home in London to do the ride. He rolled with us for the first few Kms on his Titus, Nice Guy.
The first 100km or so of the ride was on major roads and in and out of towns and cities. This along with the large groups on the bike paths wasn't much fun. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed riding my bike in Belgium, but sharing the road/bikepath/sidewalk with cars, pedestrians and oh around, 15,000 bicyclists can be nerve wrecking. Sam and would catch up to a group (easily 100+) and sit in for a few minutes then get frustrated with the pace. We'd jump onto the road or bike path, whichever was clear and make a dash for the front. This worked well for us.
I remember the first hill, the Kluisberg as being somewhat steep, but what struck me most was the speed that everyone was going up it. Slow. Too slow. Come on, they aren't that terribly long, hit it hard and get it behind you. Just Like Jim Says. I've lost a bit over 20 pounds since December so Hills are easier these days, but I was also Highly motivated to ride each berg/hillingen/cote/etc. Besides I live at the top of a hill that, depending on how you go up it, gives you 16% to 18% pitch options. Light, motivated, trained; I was going to ride 'em. All of 'em.
The Oude Kwaremont was the first hill that hurt. At 2200 meters and cobbled with a mix/match set of stones, it was a slog to get over. It was quickly followed by the Paterberg, which is blissfully short but difficult. These two climbs were the combo to soften your legs up for the main competitor. No not the 45 degree rain we had experienced, or the ever present smell of cow manure. (Having worked on farms in my younger days, this doesn't bother me.) My main opponent was the Koppenberg. I'd dreamt about this hill, and still do. Probably will always dream of this hill. 3 years ago we rode it in the dry but on this day, the cobbles were wet. Not with rain but with water infused dirt, otherwise known as MUD. This hill is a bitch in the dry, add mud and the numerous cyclists who magically become pedestrians at its sight and it is nearly impossible to ride. Even the pros walk this monster. But not I. I spun, I pushed down on the cranks, I stood, I sat, I felt my rear wheel spin, I felt it reconnect, I rode through the throngs of people, pushing their bikes, standing on the side cheering, drinking, yelling, till I spun out. I can't walk is what I thought as my right foot came off the pedal. I don't know who he was, or even really remember what he looked like but an older gentleman was right there and started yelling "clipin, clipin" as he grabbed my saddle. He gave me a short push and in less than 5 seconds from when my rear wheel spun till my cranks were propelling me up the hill, he was gone. I yelled "thank you," not knowing if he heard me. He saved my ride. I conquered the Koppenberg, beat it and the mud and rain, I made it up that bitch of a hill without walking.
Sam and I had lost contact with each other on the Paddestraat cobble section, which is around the halfway point of the ride. I would stop and wait for him and I later found out he was doing the same. Just not at the same places. So for the final 130+ miles it was a solo ride for us, well Solo + 15,000 other riders.

Ah cobbles, how I love 'em. The challenge of them. You see them approach and the only tactic is to motor through them. Shift to a hard gear, Man Up and blast through them. One other tip for the cobbles in Belgium... Keep your mouth closed. These roads are mere farm paths through the fields that have a fresh layer of manure spread upon them. HTFU and RIDE
The Muur is the penultimate hill and snakes its way up and around a hill in the town of Geraardsbergen. With a 20% cobbled section its supposed to the deciding point of the day, but I found the lower sections in the town to be more difficult, probably due to the people that line the upper section of the climb and cheer for all the cyclists. Motivation. The final hill is the Bosberg and is a wide and cobbled road through a forest. At its zenith there are food vendors tempting with their aromas, but I pointed the Planet Cross down the hill and towards Ninove. I didn't want to delay the end of the ride. After 170+ miles, 11+ hours, 17 hills, and countless waffles shoved down my throat, I wanted this ride to end. It was the hardest ride I've completed, harder than the 190+ miles of the C&O Canal from Cumberland to Washington. I got to the end, cold, tired, wet, and in pain but exhilarated that I had finished the Ronde. Checked that one off the list. Once Sam came through we loaded up the car and sought out the nearest McDonalds off of the Ninove centrum. That was a delicious Big Mac.

That's kilometers or around 171 miles.

Dirty bike.

Isn't she beautiful.
My IF Planet Cross was perfect for this ride, especially with the new Reynolds carbon fork. It was comfortable for this all day ride. I love this bike. Thanks Independent Fabrication for creating the best bikes.
Would I do it again or recommend the Ronde, Hell Yeah. I just wouldn't do the full version again. The 140km version lets you hit the Hills and get the full sense of the Flemish Ardennes without having to deal with the countless miles of bike paths.
I'm Flemish.
(at least according to Tom...)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read on Pez that doing the full course kind of sucks, but it's still very cool that you did it.

8:33 PM  

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