Ronde van Vlannderen / Tour of Flanders 2013

[error]One of the craziest things I have ever done…[/error]

How many times have you heard… Its like riding a bike? Well a bike I can ride but this course which starts in Oudenaarde, is one of the toughest challenges of my life. 75km, although its actually 83km of uphills, downhills, cobblestones, roads (with cars) and lots of professional riders, of which we weren’t.

So having never done anything like this before and my office colleagues in the same boat, or on the same bike. Let me whisk you away to last October. Unfortunately we lost a colleague of ours, Ryan Nykolyszyn. He was only 24 and a very clever lad. Myron his Dad, employed him within our business as an Office Administrator, so as you can imagine it hit our office hard.

Myron as part of his grieving process decided to get involved with a charity called Papyrus, which helps young people who feel suicidal. The charity provides hope lines and counseling for those who are effected and teaches adults the signs to look out for.

Jump to December, Chris Rider from Bike Peddlars of Retford helped the office out one day, this involved Myron and Chris spending some time together in the car. Chris mentioned that he was taking part in the Tour of Flanders, this is a race that he has been trying to get me to take part in for a number of years, and I’ve always managed to get out of it.

This time I was not so lucky…

[success]Training…[/success]

Yes… training… The plans were simple, do 10 miles a night and 25 miles at the weekend on a couple of different bikes. My Scott MTB and my Carrera Road Bike. Rider suggested the latter for the race, depsite the cobbles. This was due to the Carbon Fibre frame and the slicks.

Unfortunately the snow came and the most I ever got to do was 20 miles up the Grantham canal. My training had slipped and I found turbo training very boring. Paul had his Claud Butler bike, and Mr Rider fitted his bike with some Michelin Slick Tyres at his shop.

Myron on the other hand owned a 10 year old Mongoose Pro! A bloody heavy bike and despite him saying that he had been training on it, it just wasn’t true lol.

As you can imagine… Our group was very mixed there was Andrea and Simon in there late 30’s, Myron and Paul in their very late 50’s and me in my early 30’s lol. All with different skill levels and bikes for that matter… How would we get on

[info]The Race…[/info]

We were up fairly early in the morning and had a hotel breakfast, Granola and Yoghurt and some cheese and ham rolls! That’s how I roll on the Continent!

Due to an administration error, well me actually. I’d booked the hotel in Brugge. This was because I had read somewhere that the race started here, if we had been doing the 250km race then I would have been correct.

We had a 45 minute drive to Oudenaarde but with the amount of signs up, we were easily directed into our car park. I went over the lads and my bikes, adding drinks holders and pumps and ensuring that we had got enough inner tubes and Torq Gels. I decided at the last minute to go with my Road bike, was I crazy?

We had to ride down to the pre-registration area to get our numbers and electronic tags, once we had these we all posed for a Facebook and Twitter photo before attaching the numbers to the front of our bikes. We headed to where it had said start and followed the pink arrows.

We didn’t cross a start line but we were over a mile into the race before we actually realised we were already going. Myron looked as though he was suffering at first, after a couple of stops we adjusted his seat and tried to teach him how to use the gears and to pedal more efficiently.

Its very difficult when you jump onto a bike for the first time, but as I’ve learnt over this last year its about using your gears so your ride is effortless (cadence), once you master this and the pedaling you use the gears and you naturally become faster.

The first few miles flew and I couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about, when doing a few lonesome stretches I was riding nicely at about 24mph. Stopping occasionally to re-group and carry on. Marshal’s were on hand to help us cross busy roads and before we all knew it we were hitting the inclines.

The first incline head up off a busy main road, suddenly turning right up an even steeper section. I wasn’t ready for this and was still not sure of my gears, I almost had my first accident as I could not un-clip my shoes from the SPD Cleats. I stopped and waited for Paul and Myron before setting off again.

The roads started to level out and the inclines were much easier, we eventually approached the summit and headed towards the downhill section. OH MY GOD… This was amazing, I actually used the lower section of my handle bars, arse up in the air and my head down. The cold wind rushed through my helmet and having a glance at my Garmin Edge 810 I was doing 38mph (42mph top speed after looking back at the results).

Unfortunately, the downhill bits were fantastic, but the up hill bits got worse with some hills having a 22% accent. This was hard work and my road bike was not geared right to even attempt some of these. At one point I came to a stop and couldn’t unclip my shoes, landing on my back with my legs and bike in the air, and still attached!

The race proved long and the day very tiring. I found it difficult playing a team member as I knew I could go on, but we went as a team and finished as a team, something I am proud of.

We also raised over £2k for Papyrus our chosen charity, so this is a great achievement for the Cocoon team.

[alert]Top Tips…[/alert]

Train! Yes Train! And I don’t mean a few miles up the Peak District, you need some proper hills to climb on your bike!

Slicks were a good move for the bikes, but the cobblestone roads are hell! And I suppose would be much worse in the wet!

Don’t take it too seriously! Enjoy it and it was such good fun!

Enjoy the surroundings, Bruge was a beautiful city and the Sunday when the Elite race is on creates an amazing atmosphere.