Not wanting to sound like too much of a cliché, but I just LOVE Flanders. I love the architecture, the beer, the cycling infrastructure and of course the cobbled climbs. So when an opportunity arose for a Belgian adventure, a trip to see the E3-Harelbeke World Tour race, I just had to go. It was to be a smash and grab trip, leave London at 7am and be back by 9pm, I wanted to see the action four times and also tick off six climbs on my Hellingen App (see below for more info).
It was a day that would require military grade planning, some serious graft on the bike and possibly a bit of luck. I got my luck right away on the approach to Oudenaarde where I was to drop the car, as my journey intertwined with the race route and I just squeezed infront of the race convoy. Car dumped, I was now on two wheels, (the only sensible option for chasing a bike race round the bergs of Flanders) and headed for climb number one on my itinerary, The Kattenberg. There was already a decent crowd, so as I rode up I did my best, ‘I can ride quite fast without showing any signs of effort’, then once out of view collapsed over the bars gasping. Ten minutes later and the race arrived, first the convoy of random vehicles that seem to have no purpose, then motorbikes with flashing lights and then the riders. I will never, ever tire of the buzz you get from the interaction with a live bike race, the noise, the colour, the endeavour, the exotic world of the pro cycling as it flies by, just inches from you.
I now had 90 minutes to kill so set off to bag the Volkegemberg, the Boigneberg, the newly sanitised Eikenberg, Ladeuze, and Kortekeer, then I headed back to the race and to take up position on the Taaineberg. The riders always ride up the right hand gutter on this climb so that is where I would stand, at about two thirds up to see the strong men in full flight as they ripped the bunch apart. By the time the race arrived there was a feverish atmosphere, the road was packed with spectators, the beer was flowing and the euro pop deafening. Then came the race and now the current kings of the classics were flexing their legs, Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Gilbert, and the imperious Peter Sagan. They flashed beneath us, a blur of colour and pure untamed power and in this moment, the crowd, the riders and the hill form one giant ecosystem, all reliant on each other to form the perfect spectacle.
Now it was my turn to flex my legs, I had 20 minutes to make the 10 kilometre journey to the Oude Kwaremont, I packed my bag, negotiated the throng of drunken VIP’s, got my head down and smashed it through the lanes. Spurred on by the scenes I had witnessed, I bounced over the cobbles, forged over the concrete slabs, churning my big chainring over, determined not to miss more action. I made it, a little out of breath but with plenty of time to spare, ready to see the next chapter in the race, to see who would now be in contention as it neared its completion. The peloton was now very elongated as the bergs had taken their toll, Van Avermaet and Gilbert were still in the lead but the challenge of Sagan had faded, it wasn’t to be his day. Once the stragglers had passed through I had one last chance to see the action before it was time to head back home, I dropped down into Kluisbergen and just managed to mount the pavement seconds before the lead trio flew past me, highlighting the accessibility of bike racing a bit too closely!
In order for a trip like this to be a success, you should leave nothing to chance, plan to the Nth degree, and (gratuitous plug time) that’s where the new Hellingen App will help you. Locating all the famous climbs and with GPS directing you to their base it’s an indispensable tool. And on top of that it tracks your progress when synced with Starva to give you your Hellingen score as you conquer the Bergs (and Côtes of Wallonia) in your quest to ride them all.
OUT NOW on iOS goo.gl/Kz8cJU and Android goo.gl/uxrVuv