Wednesday 11 April 2007

Flandrien hors d'oeuvre !!


I woke up bright and fresh, ready to take on the main challenge of the day. However, my heart sank when Him Indoors announced that he wouldn't be riding. He felt too ill and his cold had gotten into his chest. Wise decision, but it was still disappointing, especially given that we had decided to do this back in January, and he had actually done the training for this. So I was going to ride for the both of us, and make sure I claimed all the goodies/memorabilia there for him so as not to lose out too much.

Breakfast was a fairly busy affair. Most of the guests at the hotel were cyclists - and not just amateurs. The newly formed Tinkoff Credit Systems team (featuring Tyler Hamilton) was there. Their riders were up at the crack of dawn just to do their training ride. Speaking to the team manager the previous day, he commented on how crazy it was for so many of us to turn out for the cyclosportive. "How can 15,000 people get to ride through those narrow bergs ?? Incredible !"

I'd originally planned to leave the hotel at 6.30am -ish, but ended up having to wait until after sun-rise as I didn't have any lights for the 12km ride down to Ninove. Once at the PTI, the event HQ, I was met with a lively atmosphere, including music and commentary. There were various exhibition stands selling anything from sportswear to bikes to sports fuel. Everyone had come out on show, it seemed. Lots of riders were actually signing up that morning to do the race. Because the weather forecast was looking good (in contrast to last year) many people had made a last minute decision to do the cyclosportive.
This swelled the number of participants to around 18,000. But nevertheless the organisation still seemed to roll on smoothly.

After alot of faffing around on my part, I finally made a move to the start line just before 9am. I'd been running around trying to get my control card stamped before leaving the event, until I discovered that this wasn't necessary. There is no designated start time. Some start as early as 7am - others as late as 10am. Unlike other events that I do, this is not a timed event. The challenge is to get through all the bergs.

The group I was with sped through the streets of Ninove, passers-by looking on, admiring our courage (or lunacy) at taking on the challenge. Police escorts stopped the traffic as they waved us through junctions and roundabouts. I was the only woman in my group, and was an object of curiosity to the other riders. They were effectively road racing along at around 40kph and I was still mixing it with them ! There were jerseys from various European countries - France, Spain, England, Holland, and of course Belgium.

Very quickly we were out of Ninove and into the Flanders countryside - the road twisted and dipped a few times, then climbed only very gently. Essentially it was a fast flat ride. I made the most of the tow I was getting from the group, as I needed to save my energy for more important matters later.

In fact important matters began earlier than I'd realised ! After 30km, the road narrowed and became very twisty. We then did a sharp right hand turn and suddenly we were on the Molenberg. Not having been able to anticipate this, many people were caught out in the wrong gear, and needed to dismount. Also I realised that being in a group right up to the start of the berg brings the inconvenience of being caught in very close to other riders, which was a bit unnerving as some of them wobbled alot while climbing the cobbles. One guy who had to dismount suddenly fell into me - luckily I managed to stay on my bike. Although Molenberg was not the most difficult berg, I still found it a challenge simply because it was the first cobbled section, and a bit of a shock after having spent the last hour speeding along smooth roads. And if I thought this was hard, there was more to come later.......

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