On the morning of Friday 4th April, John Togher, Andy Goll and I assembled at Ron Crawley’s house, loaded our bikes and bags into Ron’s van and the four of us set off for Oudenaarde, Belgium to ride ‘Flanders’.
After arriving at the HQ to sign on, we found our digs in nearby Heurne. That evening we had a meal with our hosts and next morning rode to the start for the 139km version we were riding. It was grey, misty and chilly…
We set off to the first ‘Hellingen’ the Wolvenberg (ave. 7.9%) after 10km to get us going, reasonable tarmac surface followed by Ruiterstraat, 800m of cobbles, just as a taste of what was to come. By the time we got to Veltzeke, the first refuelling stop, we’d done three cobbled sections including 2.3 km of Paddestraat and the Molenberg 1/2km of cobbled hill.
We got to the second stop on the other side of River Schelde in Oudenaarde (70km) we’d done a few more climbs (Hellingen) and 1.6 km of cobbled Haaghoek. Next challenge, the infamous Koppenberg (max 22%) and cobbled. Fortunately, when we got there it was still possible to ride up or try to later in the day. There were so many riders that some had to wait twenty minutes to get on the climb and then it was only possible to walk.
After surviving that we went tup and down Maariaborrestraat/ Steenbeekdries, all cobbled (fortunately it was dry), more climbs and cobbles including the Hijacker (Kaperij in Dutch). Then, an exhilarating decent at 40 mph into Ronse for the next stop for food, drink and call of nature. Off again up the Kruisberg Hotond to the highest point in the Flemish Ardennes, then the next major challenge was the Oude Kwaremont, 2 ½ km of cobbles between 4% and 11%.
And then the final challenge, the Paterberg, loomed up with 10km to go (ave 12.9%/max 20%) and narrow, cobbled and chaotic. Some walking, some riding, some being pushed, some falling off, all that was left was down to the Schelde valley and a 5km burn up into a side head wind straight through the finish to the square in Oudenaarde. The square had been turned into a bike park, but we found a cafe and we all enjoyed a well deserved beer!
On Sunday we left Heurne and found a park on the Kruisberg-Hotond climb with beer, frites and watched the Women’s Race and the Elite Race go past and then the rest on the big TV screen. Then we headed back to the van to drive home after a great weekend.