Windmills and winding roads – when you see so many windmills you know they’re there for a reason! Winning G-W is a hard man’s achievement.
The merry VCT crew rolled out of our luxurious Hotel Jan Brito in Brugges and into our two battle buses, with banter flying courtesy of our unofficial comedian, Rich Bastone. A nice trip out by the canals took us to the start of our ride in Wevelgem, leaving from right by the race’s Start/Finish.
Everyone rode out of Wevelgem together, heading north-west towards Langemark. Luckily today, we only had one spot of bad weather. Sometimes cyclists and commentators talk about suffering being the core of the sport; today, we saw examples of real human suffering at every turn, with signs for cemeteries at almost every cross-roads.
Row after row of graves, mile after mile of suffering. A great ride that reminds you it’s great to be alive and thriving.
The riding motto with Vйlo Classic is definitely “choose your own pace”, so while some of us hung back a bit, the more ‘competitive’ members for the group tore off up the road armed with specially made map cards for the route.
But when you’ve got your head down and hammering, it’s easy to miss a direction, so we kept coming back together. Reports blamed the Three Blind Mice for carrying the map cards up front and allowing the Three Stooges to read the directions.
We cut south-west, crossing through the wide flat spaces that the world fought over at a cost of millions of lives, with the proximity of Paschendale and Ypres reminding us that we can do this because of what those men and women went through.
Regardless of the weather, the Belgian countryside is a dream for cycling.
We rode about 45kms before we jumped onto the Gent-Wevelgem course, then rode through to the finish. But first, we had to negotiate a mugging of climbs that jump out when you’re off guard.
As soon as we joined the course at Westouter, we began a gradual rise onto the Zwarte Berg, gently sloping at first before pitching up more steeply. Although it’s not long, in the wind it was a 39×19 or 21 for me, but for the pros, it’s more like a pimple.
The foot of the Kemmelberg … there’s only one way up and it’s going to hurt.
The Zwarte Berg climbs for about 1.5 kms, before you go sharp let, and you’re on the Rodeberg before you realise. A more gentle rise before a rapid descent takes you to the foot of the Monteberg.
There had been a regrouping at the bottom, and once the fast guys got going, it was pretty stunning to watch them motor away in a paceline, zigzagging up the beautiful slopes.
Looking around as we climbed, the views down across the green sweeping landscape looked fantastic with thousands of pollarded trees bounding the fields as the watery sun punctured the clouds.
And then it’s the key point of the route, and it hits you like your’re being hamstrung…
Looking up the Kemmelberg from the bottom of the descent. Slippy and challenging, and as likely to make the race as the ascent. Looking down from the top is the Monument to fallen French servicemen and women.
You fly down the Monteberg, and all of a sudden there’s a razor sharp 90 degree turn onto the cobbles of the Kemmelberg. It’s steep almost all the way, at 20% – there are a couple of false flats where you think your lungs are going to stay in your body, but it just goes on being a vicious test.
I tried to think about this article as a distraction – BIG mistake. I started to look around for a decent line up, but there isn’t one. There’s no let up with these cobbles, so you just have to stay in the saddle and hammer it as hard as you can manage to the top.
Our fearless leader The Pez himself flails helplessly on the Kemmelberg in 2004.
Looking around loses you any momentum, so then it’s just trying to stay upright. There’s a narrow dirt line just off the cobbles, but it was really soft today, and once you’re in it’s hard as Hell to get back off again.
Your humble correspondent managed to blow some kisses to the VCT crew as he wheezed over the summit, thanking all the deities that he didn’t totally humiliate himself.
The descent is as key to the race as the ascent, and today we made it down through a combination of riding, hammering, slipping and walking. It’s actually steeper on this side (23%), so thank the Lord I didn’t have to face that.
We blew along lovely sweeping farm roads to finish up, driving through lush green countryside on narrow singletracks, before picking up the N8 for a flat 10km drag race into Menen then into Wevelgem, via the corner where Pozzato and Backstedt crashed out in 2005.
Back at Wevelgem, everyone fuels up at Velo Classic’s roadside buffet.
As the crew fuelled up following the ride, I trundled over to a nearby sports bar for some pictures of the Quickstep cartoons on the walls. A hirpling septuagenarian Fleming emerged – “Boonen – good; Friere – good also!”
Via the international communication method of gesturing stupidly I told him we’d made it over the Kemmelberg. “Kemmelberg?! Yes, good luck!” I allowed myself to imagine this old man winning races over there in his younger days, so his handshake was a great way to end a great ride.
Boonen and Friere posters on the outside of a sports bar by the finish line in Wevelgem.
PEZ is travelling with Velo Classic Tours during this first Classics week.
For more information, log on to
www.VeloClassic.com or call 212.779.9599 2006 color brochure and itineraries are available.
Read These Related Stories
• Chasing Flanders
• Riding The Flanders Cyclosportif
• 2006 Flanders Race Report
All above sent on Monday night, plus these today:
18 – Peter Easton (Velo Classic Tours) and Heidi Coussens at the foot of the Kemmelberg.