Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tour of Flanders, 155 miles of fun in Belgium

So about six months ago, Mark's friend Craig mentions going to Belgium and riding the amateur Tour of Flanders and then watching the pros the next day. Mark mentions it to me and BOOM we are signed up like that. Who wouldn't want to go and ride the entire 250k course, the same one the pros ride, with thousands of other passionate cyclists and then watch cycling where it's treated like the super bowl(more to come on this)? I told him it was the opportunity of a lifetime, which he thought may have been a bit of an overstatement but never the less we agreed this would be a very fun if not epic adventure.

We booked our tickets to Amsterdam and hung out with friends for a few days before heading to London to shop and hang with Mark's family before heading to Belgium for the ride. The weather is notoriously terrible in Belgium at this time of year and most of my memories of the TOF include mud covered George Hincapie and wet slippery cobbles. So I had prepared myself for an "epic" ride in the cold, windy, wet Flanders. Imagine my delight when it turned out to be sunny and in the 60's.

The ride has an optional roll out time from 7-8:30 ad we ended up rolling around 8. I knew this was going to be a long day in the saddle even though there would be groups so I would not waste a ton of energy but I was ready for the long haul. The first 60 miles were like the Saturday Spectrum ride here in Palo Alto, full of cyclist moves like sprinting out of turns and up hills after relaxing on the flats. Note: triathletes are not built for these "small" accelerations and I was feeling if this continued I may burn all of my matches before mile 75. Luckily an aid station appeared, I had a few DELICIOUS Belgian Waffles and we motored on. My favorite part of every aid station were the pee buckets for the men. Now if we could just have these at triathlons, the lines would move much more quickly and the ladies would be happy.

We continued to ride with groups, every time they would read my shorts and see the Pacific Bicycle logo and San Francisco. It would start in other languages and pretty soon I would hear "San Francisco" and then they would ask me if we had really come all this way to ride? Could it be possible? I think we won the award for furthest traveled for the Ronde. It was great to chat with the guys (I only saw maybe 5 other women ride the whole thing) listening to how many times they had ridden it and that this was some good weather we were having. Based on this, Mark and I think this will be a one time experience. Why go back when it was perfect the first time?

The famed hills don't really start until after mile 100 and then they come fast and furious, but the cobbles are along the entire route. They were novel for the first two sections, as I likened myself to Tom Boonen climbing up the Muur and then the pain and shaking and my power tap computer breaking off came and by the end of the 155 miles I was making animalistic noises as I went over the cobbles and getting angry. Good to find out how to channel the anger, but not so fun while happening. You go from flying on the flats to riding a flat section of cobbles with massive power going 5 miles an hour. My hands hurt for days after. Every time a turn came, you could tell what was up we go again!

The spectators were amazing even for us amateurs, I imagine they were out there staking out their spot for the next day...not really there to cheer me on, but I just kept telling myself I was winning! On the most famed climb, the Kapple Muur I had given myself permission to walk if needed- the road is narrow, I had already ridden 130 miles...but then I got there and I had to do it. Thank God for crowd support. I started to falter and VOILA a push on the butt from a kind spectator and then cheers for being a girl riding the Murr, I couldn't let them down now! Ahh, the sweet feeling of satisfaction. I felt like a pro as I grit my teeth to get up that wall, it was good.

The top the Murr and just about 20k to go. We are almost home and I am feeling good. Still lots of energy and can't believe how quickly the day has gone by and how much fun Mark and I have had together all day long...these types of rides can test a couple for sure and we passed with flying colors. The last 12k is down hill and we power on home to the finish where frites await. We may have had two portions. Frites with mayo? Always a post ride favorite.

The next day was just as good. We watched the race live in a pub where there were other cycling fans. The entire country treats this day like Super Bowl Sunday and does the drinking to prove it. I have never known the fun of sports bars until this trip. Having fun drinking shouting at the TV for your favorite athletes to attack is a GOOD time. We will definitely go back to watch more cycling in Europe, it feels like home.

This day was unbelievable, gave me confidence that my endurance is there despite many shortened rides due to rain. Ironman Texas is only 7 weeks away and things are looking good.

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