In Cycling there are five big one day races nicknamed the “Monuments” – these are the pillars of the cycling calendar outside of the three grand tours. To land a monument on your palmares (a cyclists personal list of achievements) is a big deal. Two of the monuments are in Italy bookending the season with Milan – San Remo in March and Giro di Lombardia in October, Two in Belgium Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Liege – Bastogne – Liege both in April and one in France, Paris – Roubaix also in April. I decided it was about time I experienced a monument first hand so we went about planning this trip to Flanders, inspired by our first jaunt over here a few weeks back.
Tour Of Flanders is massive in Belgium, almost 1 million people turn out to watch the race from the route which starts in Antwerp and twists and turns around various loops to finish in Oudenaarde. The route is 260km in total taking in 18 cobbled climbs and 5 sections of flat cobbles. Brutal, to say the least. The riders climb the iconic Oude De Kwaremont three times in total so we decided that this would be a good place to go, take in the atmosphere and see the race a few times without having to travel around. The race organisers have a temporary fan village at the top of the climb, with frites stalls, beer tents, big screens and a DJ pumping out classic Euro beats… including my favourite his Tomeke! , Tomeke! , Tomeke! remix that included the commentary from when Belgian legend Tom Boonen won the world championships in 2005 in Madrid – a definite crowd favourite!
The weather was surprisingly good for April in Belgium and clear skies, light winds and warm sunshine made for a very pleasant day, by the closing stages of the race the riders were actually unzipping jerseys with the temperature approaching the high teens, this all added to the enjoyment of the day.
The race turned out to be an epic, with Belgian National Champion Philippe Gilbert making the most outrageous solo break and managing to hold on for the finish all whilst behind drama was unfolding with current World Champion Peter Sagan crashing whilst chasing him and in the process taking down Olympic Gold Medallist and Belgian favourite Greg Van Avermaet, much to the demise of the locals… we were only a matter of 50 metres from where the incident occurred but with the crowds and the bend in the climb were obvilious until we had ran over to the big screen to catch the finish and had to ask someone where Sagan and GVA were… The picture below is 30 seconds prior to the crash as Sagan was just attacking on the climb.
In short, a long day leaving home at 04:30 and getting back around 23:15 with at least 10 hours of driving, a couple of channel tunnel crossings but worth every second!
Now to plan the next Cycling trip….!