Monday, 11 April 2011

Flanders 2011 Trip by Don

Adding to what Steve has written already about the trip. This was my first real continental excursion for a cycling event, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. On the morning of the ride, we all piled in the car full of excitement, the weather was looking good but still a bit chilly. As we approached Ninove the sun came out and the traffic started to build for the event. We started to see cars parked on the side of the dual carriage-way getting their bikes out and riding the rest of the way. Steve said to carry on as they organise parking all around the event. After some time sitting in town in the traffic and cyclists whizzing past us, time was ticking way for the start of the event. As we crawled along in the traffic Steve noticed a few cars nipping up side roads. Danny and crew were a few cars back behind us, so the next favourable side road we went up. To our amazement, there were a couple of places still... sorted! We got the bikes off the racks and met up with the rest of the thornton peloton, quick photo shoot, and we then joined the hordes of other cyclists, it was easy to find the start. Once at the start we found Registration and signed up. That was it, nothing left to do but ride 140Km over 12+ cobble sections. There was one major problem it was nearly 20c by now, as Steve has already mentioned I was not dressed for that and within a couple of kilometres I was starting to feel hot. I messed about at the back of to thornton group unzipping my jacket to see it that would help, but I still felt too warm. I rode back to Steve and a few of the others as I knew Steve was suitably over dressed also. I said to everyone, I had to stop and get rid of some clothing, Steve, Kev, Diesel and myself pulled over. That was the last we saw of most of the rest of the Thornton peloton so we continued as a group of 4, then we unfortunately lost Diesel because of a mechanical, then there were 3. Steve, Kev, and I have ridden together on many occasions, so we had no problem settling down and clocking up the miles enjoying the occasion as we rode. There was not much time for relaxing though, with nearly 20,000 cyclists all crammed into 140kms of roads, there wasn’t much room for error. And so we arrived at the first set of cobbles, "Oh My God" nothing prepares you for the vibration and the dodging of other riders lost drinks bottles( I even saw one drinks bottle with its cage still attached).Some of the longer sections really made your hands and feet sting. I was pleased to see my bottles cages were holding up as I was paranoid about dehydrating and was filling my drinks back up at most the feed stations. Steve and Kev were getting used to me appearing out of the crowds, hands and face full of drinks and food. I went through almost 8 full bottles; I was finding it hot to say the least! Our little three man train rolled on. Cobbles came and went, climbs came and went, but still we pushed on at a good pace. We had to abandon getting our card stamped for the medal, Think I managed two stamps. At one of the check points, we hung around for over 5 minutes but then figured out how long the queue was snaking around the stop and reckoned it was probably 20mins wait. The cobble climbs were interesting; I felt ok on the first few and powered up them comfortably. Steve came along side me on the top of one of them. I said to him "that didn’t feel too bad"; he just smiled and rode off. I got the feeling that they weren’t worthy cobble climbs; I knew what he meant later... The worst thing about the cobble climbs were the masses of riders going up them. I think I only had a clear ride up 2 or 3 of them. The hardest bit after getting stopped was getting going again, it’s almost impossible. It was amazing to see riders just coming to a complete standstill at the top of their crank stroke and then falling over, sprawling themselves right across the track. The kilometres and hours were starting to stack up now but still we were pushing along nicely. Steve went through a period of randomly dropping back but Kev and I just rolled along until we regrouped. He was cramping, not surprising how hot he must have been. We were into our fifth hour of riding, and I was starting to hang, back and shoulder ache more than anything. Legs still felt ok. I was far beyond my comfort zone of mileage and ride time. All I can say is a big thanks to Steve and Kev for keeping it together and keeping us going at a decent speed,( I know for sure if I had been left to my own devises, I would have slacked off to about 10mph and found a bar). Steve had recovered from his bad phase and was back on the front and pushing along strongly. We pulled up for what was our last stop( more drink). My back was getting uncomfortable now so I took a couple of painkillers that I had brought just in case. 10-15 mins later was a strange experience. They worked, almost too well. I felt a bit weird, euphoric. Think I’ll only have one tablet next time! The last few climbs came along, I had just to hang on now, Steve and Kev went up the climbs ahead of me and waited at the top to regroup. I was still overtaking the majority of other riders on the climbs, much to my surprise. With the last climbs out the way the final run in is lovely, downhill. Steve powered along at the front and Kev and I tucked in, jumping in and out of other riders wheels as we traveled at 25+mph. It’s amazing how at the finish line all the aches and pains go away, just leaving you with a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. I had an incredible time, Huge thanks to everyone who was there for such a great weekend and also to Diesel for all the driving he did. Don