Larry wanted to add another of the five monuments of cycling to his list of "been there, seen that" but Heather was unable to get away from academic obligations with the school here. Larry didn't relish the thought of going alone so instead contacted the nice folks at Velo Classic Tours.
We've noticed a similar "passion before profit" attitude with Peter and Lisa and have exchanged emails with them over the years, so it seemed a natural choice to join their Flanders Weekend. Larry really just wanted to SEE the Ronde but Peter's offer of a bike and entry into the citizen event on Saturday resulted in a "perche no?" moment and the trip was on! Friday morning was a "warm up" (though with temps just above freezing and flakes of blowing snow, can you really say that?) over some of the old Flanders route, including the Kapelmuur as you see in the top photo. You know it's getting steep when the front end of the bike gets light and you have to fight to keep the front wheel in contact with the road - or in this case the COBBLES. Fighting the effects of a cold/bronchitis made things even more challenging, but it was truly an unforgettable experience.The next day was the actual citizen event, more torture, more cold, more cobbles, including the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs. Larry made it halfway up the infamous Paterberg (where Cancellara would put his stamp on the race the following day) before needing to stop and untangle his tongue from the front wheel spokes! Amazingly, nobody was walking between him and the barriers so he could simply stop, grab on and once his tongue was back in his mouth and his heart rate had dropped a bit, stamp on the pedals and finish the climb with NO walking!
83 kilometers was enough of this madness so back to the HQ restaurant Larry followed Lisa for well deserved beers as you can see below. Mille grazie to Lisa for dragging me around the course....just like Heather is with CycleItalia, she is a great part of the success of this operation.
I asked for the best beer in the house and DUVEL was the answer, though with the cold a huge cup of hot tea may have been a better idea - but "when in Belgium"!
Sunday was race day, no riding for us! THIS is what I'd come for - to see the hard men of cycling battle it out over these nasty roads in very tough conditions. After wandering around the start area we jumped into the van and headed out onto the course, stopping a couple of times to see the race pass, then retreating to the HQ restaurant and the private viewing area, though yours truly waded out into the throng to score some frites for the group during a lull in the TV action.
Trust me, you DON'T come here for the food or the weather - if I wanted that I'd have stayed in Sicily, but there's NO substitute for being there. Anyone can watch these things on TV and feel like an armchair expert, but once you've been there you really understand what it's all about.
As an illustration of the great relationship Peter and Lisa have with their restaurant and lodging partners (just like CycleItalia) I couldn't resist a shot of a "Peter Buck" made up by one of the restaurants who hosted us. Obviously, we're going to suggest you enjoy ITALY with US, but if another part of the world tickles your fancy and Velo Classic offers an itinerary there, you'd be crazy not to seriously consider joining them. We're hoping Peter and Lisa will join us in the near future so we can reciprocate their hospitality and friendship. Merci beacoup les amis!
The final photo is an example of "rebranding" I guess you would say. Nothing new here as this Ambrosio aluminum wheel has been stickered up with the wheel sponsor's logo. These rims used to be the standard at races like this, though they're rare these days. These cobbled classics might be the place where more rebranding takes place than anywhere else, as the unique demands of these cobbled classics see teams use what works, no matter what the sponsor actually makes and supplies, whether it be wheels, tires, frames or components - so don't get too caught up in the advertising/marketing hype.
PS-more details on the weekend and the race via Pez Cycling News here and here.