Belgium in the spring; single digit temperatures, driving rain, whipping wind across Flemish flat land… What’s not to love?
Well, don’t forget to chuck in kilometre after kilometre of gnarly tracks, wall-like climbs and the mud. Then there’s the cobbles, we did mention them, didn’t we?
The Tour of Flanders, known as the Ronde van Vlaanderen in Flemish, simply De Ronde by local Belgians, is now known by the Forge flotilla as one of the toughest, most epic day’s riding ever.
Honestly, it was fun!
Amazing, iconic and yes, cold. And all 26 members of the Forge flotilla who journeyed from west London to the Belgian heartlands, completed the course, conquered the climbs and clinked our Belgian beers after one of the most awesome rides imaginable.
Every spring, Forge selects one of the biggest one-day Classic races in Europe. We ride the sportive the day before the professionals smash the same course. Read all about last year’s trip to tackle Gent-Wevelgem. It’s a chance to savour the atmosphere of this cycling-mad part of the world and a real insight into what it’s like to climb the legendary cobbled Oude Kwaremont or the 20% gradient of the Paterberg.
Heading over on the Eurotunnel on the Friday, we stayed in near-by Ronse, all meeting for an excellent pizza/pasta carb-load at the recommended Mezza Luna.
The next morning was an early start. We all knew a tough day lay ahead with driving rain and 4-degree temperatures. Most of us were soaked through by 7am on the 12km ride to the start line.
The majority of Forge tacked the 179km route with 2,300m of climbing. Half a dozen took on the 144km course with 1,900m of ascent, while only Josh K went full monty over the leg-burning 235km. Whatever route, it was going to be a big day out.
The climbs came think and fast. Not long but steep. Hardly any paved, mostly cobbled, sometimes with a smoother gully, other times nerve-shakingly rough. Even on the flat, there were sections of bone-jarring farmland cobbled tracks.
‘Don’t ride through cobbles, ride over the top of them’, was the mystical advice. ‘Keep a tight grip on the bars but stay loose on the bike’, was another. Whatever technique, the bike feels like it’s being rattled apart, hands and arms are numbed and any fillings are in danger of falling out if a jaw is clenched.
Honestly, it was fun.
And we all made it. We all stayed upright. Everyone beaming and shivering. All feeling a little bit like a tough Flandrian. All wanting a hot shower.
That evening we welcomed the warmth and comfort of Ronse’s Winston 3 bar and restaurant, where we swapped stories, rehydrated with Belgian beers and fed well. Awards for the day were handed out.
Special mentions for Olivia D, who despite a massively disrupted winter’s training, rode brilliantly over the course and even featured in the post-ride video (see below).
Father of the House Simon N still proved he has legs of granite and the heart of a Flandrian lion, as he set the fastest Forge time over the 144km course.
Melissa B was the parcours queen of the day, dismantling the 178km route as she glided over the cobbles and bucked the belief the rocky roads only suit brawny riders.
Luke McC was super strong throughout, helping riders, navigating and generally being his most excellent self. However, he was pipped to the Ride of the Day award by the ever improving Dave R. He not only gave us the save of the day (when he went sideways through a gully during a cobbled section but somehow stayed upright) but remained the square-jawed stalwart strongman throughout the 200km he clocked up.
Congratulations Dave, a true Flandrian in the making.
Then on Sunday, back to Oude Kwaremont on foot as we watched Pogacar, Pidcock, van Aert and Forge favourite Peter Sagan smash up the famous climb past thousands of braying beered-up Belgians.
But the pros had it easy. It wasn’t raining.
Why not join us in spring 2024, when Forge will be swapping the cobbles of Flanders for the longer climbs of the second Belgian Monument; the oldest and hilliest of them all, Liege Bastogne Liege also known as La Doyenne.