Our man Mark was introduced to the cobbles of Flanders last week by Velo Classic Tours, riding the roads of Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs and De Ronde. To finish him off he tackled the Hell of the North and those murderous tracks to Roubaix, but he still had time for rider watching at the sign-on in Compiégne.
Top Ride: The culmination of my visit to Holy Week was the long anticipated, much feared, and never completed ride across the parcours of Paris-Roubaix. Finally I learned what it was like to battle the toughest roads in northern France and earn my own lap of honour at the Roubaix velodrome.
As part of his continued Spring Classics trip with Velo Classic Tours our man Mark McGhee has been out riding the Belgian cobbles that included the Gent-Wevelgem parcours and its famous bergs whilst being followed around by pro photographers on motorbikes, been up close to the pros at the Scheldepris race and hung out in VIP comfort in between. Life's tough as Paris Roubaix approaches!
The Tour of Flanders is a legendary event. The steep nasty bergs, the cobbles, the weather, the passion of the fans - it's classics racing at its best. Every year before the pros put on their big show, thousands of amateurs get their chance to strut their stuff on these mythical roads and in 2012 the Pez himself was lined up amongst them to experience it all himself. Here's his story from that magical day.
The first two big races in northern Europe were at the week-end and PEZ had our photographer, Jack Chevell, there to take in as much of the cobblestone action as he could. This is how his Belgian trip panned out in the land of beer and bikes.
Race report: After yesterday's lemming-like ride into self-destruction, Etixx-QuickStep's riders would no doubt have taken to the road with Patrick Lefevre's team-talk thunder-clapping around their ears like a Pete Townsend power-chord from a 1970s Who concert. Today, they got it right in the end with a fine sprint win for Mark Cavendish.
Race Report: Up against three Etixx-Quickstep riders, and three of the best classics riders in the world, it was last year’s winner Ian Stannard of Team Sky who showed them all how to ride the Omloop. Boonen, Vandenbergh and Terpstra could do nothing to hold back a rampaging Englishman who wanted this win more than any other in his career.
Roadside Report: Amongst the thousands of crazies roadside in the dust at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday was our own Lee Rodgers who was chasing the race with Velo Classic Tours. Seeing the Hell of the North live is a once in a lifetime experience and just like Lee's ride across these hellish roads a couple days prior, this day was nothing short of ‘epic’.
Everyone remembers their first time - the foreign road signs, different shop hours, chasing about countryside like idiots - all to catch a glimpse of cycling's most feared one-day Classic. David Pearce did all that and more at Paris-Roubaix, and lucky for us - he recorded the day on his camera.
Roadside Report: Joking with a former Paris-Roubaix winner, chatting with current stars of the sport and mixing in the VIP area with podium girls and other lucky fans - Lee Rodgers certainly had a great day out at Wednesday's Scheldeprijs. For the race end Lee was at the finishline under sunny skies sipping a cool drink and munching on free food. Could life as a bike fan get any better than this?
Even for long time roadside aficionados, finding your way through thousands of fans trying to see the tour of Flanders as many times as possible can be a challenge. My first time chasing de Ronde didn’t go exactly as planned, but that adventure made a great day, and some pretty cool photos too…
A show of hands amongst the PEZ-Crew says this is our favorite week of the cycling year: cobblestones, nasty bergs, cold winds and all kinds of kind of weather set the stage for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. PEZ is there, and Lee Rodgers filed this report after a day on the bike and night on the beers...
Very few climbs in modern bike racing can still bring a bike racer to his knees. With the evolution of intelligent gearings, the steepest climbs have been tamed, well, as much as they can be. The Koppenberg, however, defies all technological advances and takes us back to a time when plodding upward on foot was just as common as pedaling.
Before the riders of the World Tour tackle the cobbles and bergs of Flanders on Sunday, we're going up close with two of the parcours' legendary climbs as seen through the eyes of our men on the ground. First up is Gordan who returned to the famous Kemmelberg in 2013 to face some past demons.
It's the most important race of the year for many, the race that stops a nation and no matter whether you call it The Tour of Flanders or the Ronde van Vlaanderen it's a superb event. Win it and you become an instant star in Belgium. Win it more than twice, a legend. Let's take a look at this Sunday's big race and make some predictions of who will go in the record books this year.
Roadside Report: After the cold and rain of Saturday's 'Flanders Classics' Het Nieuwsblad, Sunday dawned clear and sunny for a perfect day of racing action roadside in Belgium at the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Race Analysis: After a solid weekend of Semi Classic racing in Belgium we turn to our resident expert Lee Rodgers to analyze the action and results of the opening races and to ask the eternal question, What's the difference between a good rider and a great rider?
Roadside Report: Out there in the rain and cold at the Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday was our battle hardened reporter Ed Hood who wouldn't have dreamed of being anywhere else. With the hard man ingredients of cold & cobbles with perhaps the odd Belgian beer to warm him up, it was the perfect start to the Classics campaign.
Race Report: The first weekend of northern cobbles have jarred the bones, shaken the senses and quickened the pulse. It's only a month until Flanders, and Roubaix! Today's 2014 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne revealed some very interesting shows of strength from certain teams; for others, a lot of work to be done and a few hard truths to hear.
Race Report: The cobbled races started today with the 2014 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and it was a classic battle in terrible weather that came down to the sprint between two hardmen of the peloton, Ian Stannard and Greg Van Avermaet.