Thursday 19 April 2007

My Ronde van Vlaanderen by Him Indoors

Just got back from a weekend in Flanders.
Tried to do the sportive but a cold blew up the day before so I had to pull out.
Surprisingly it was still a good trip.
For what it's worth here are my musings on the race.

What is it about the Tour of Flanders?
Even though the name makes it sound like a stage race, it's only a one day race.
People say it has cobbles but there’re nowhere near as many or as rough as Paris-Roubaix. People say it has the "bergs", 18 of them but in reality most of the climbs in the Surrey Hills are longer and higher.
Sure, it has the famous Muur but even that's a walk in the park compared to the likes of Tanhurst Lane at the back of Leith Hill.

What the Tour of Flanders has though is Belgians, Belgians everywhere, mad about the race, mad about their riders and this alone makes the race stand out from everything else at this time of year.

The day before the main race almost 20,000 of them took the course, most doing the 140km version which covered most of those "bergs".

There was a definite non-competitive spirit as the weather was good and the course is not seriously tough.
Some groups blasted up each hill, then waited and regrouped before spinning over to the next one.
Others trundled along at a steady pace happy to mentally tick that box at the top of each climb.
More than a few were on normal situpandbeg street bikes with a basket on the front and I even spotted two families carrying young children in child seats.

More of a festival than a sportive then.

Race day itself came with all the usual trappings, at least in Belgium. Crowds lining the streets, mobs lining the climbs, but what really brought home what the race meant was the Belgian television coverage after the race.

So picture this, a Belgian gets beaten by a half a wheel in a sprint for the line. Two minutes later the coverage shows a close-up of the same rider sitting on the ground up against a crash barrier trying to bury his head in his hands while half a dozen microphones and cameras were stuck in his face. Cut to the studio where his teammate had barely taken his helmet off but he had already been nabbed for a sit-down interview. Hunched over the desk and speaking through a bad case of helmet hair he was already giving his opinions on the race.

I didn’t understand a word he said but his pain was obvious especially when he was asked to review a replay of the sprint. Wincing continuously, he started shouting “turn, turn” and hitting his head off the desk as his teammate’s cadence slowed 20 yards from the line and the winner came past.

You couldn’t make it up, pure drama.

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