The 2013 Spring Classics season is almost upon us. If the current weather conditions in northern Europe are anything to go by, the March races in Belgium may include the snow, sleet, rain and howling winds that, together with the legendary pavé, give Gent – Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) and Paris – Roubaix their harsh reputations.
So I was thankful that there was no snow or sleet in the lead up to the 2012 RvV cyclosportive. I tried to be better organised than I was for the 2011 edition (click here for that story.) I looked on-line for group tours to the RvV. I found one put together by the Gruppo Sportivo Gazzetta. They were coming from the UK to ride the RvV. They had block booked accommodation at the family-run Horenbecca Hotel in Horebeke. Which was within riding distance to the start in Oudenaarde. Most importantly there was room for up to six Not Possibles if we quickly confirmed our participation.
There were lots of Coffee Club conversations about riding the RvV, but no quick decisions. By the time Richard and I finally decided we would do it, Gazzetta had already confirmed their numbers with the hotel. Theresa, my Gazzetta contact, gave me the telephone number of the hotel. I still had laughter ringing in my ears from my late attempt to book RvV accommodation the year before. As expected, Luc Wachtelaer, the owner of the Horenbecca, told me that all his rooms were booked. What I didn’t expect was to be offered space in the almost finished spa that he was adding to the hotel. “As long as you don’t mind not having any windows” Luc said.
We met the eight Gazzetta members who made the trip across the Channel for dinner at the Horenbecca on Thursday evening. Luc is an excellent chef. We knew from the first bite of our evening meal that we would dine at the hotel as often as we could.
Luc, his wife and his mother kept the food and drink coming late into the night. Which meant that it was a slow start for some on Friday morning. After a top-notch breakfast we headed out for what Theresa had described as a warm-up ride. Richard and I interpreted “warm-up ride” to mean a jaunt of perhaps 30km at a fairly gentle pace. The reality was a little different. We covered about 90km, including two climbs up the Kapelmuur. “Just for fun,” as that famed climb was not part of the 2012 RvV route.
I was grateful that those two climbs were split by an excellent pasta lunch and a couple of coffees in Geraardsbergen.
We rode over a few cobbled stretches, including one bumpy descent before lunch where I lost the bolt that joins my non-drive side seat stay and chain stay. I must say that I was very impressed with the strength of the aptly named Columbus Muscle carbon rear triangle.
Despite one seat stay and chain stay no longer being connected the rear triangle didn’t snap and collapse. The only clue that something was amiss was the smell of hot rubber from my rear tire rubbing against the non-drive side chain stay. There was a bit of a wobble but that was masked by the bouncing around on the cobbles.
That could have marked the demise of my weekend. So I was doubly grateful for the help Neil provided. He hoisted my frame, sans wheels and water bottles, onto his shoulder and rode to the nearest bike shop to look for a replacement bolt. Forty five minutes later he was back with my repaired frame. What a star!
Richard and I woke up on Saturday a bit worse for wear from the previous day’s exertions. Nothing that a good breakfast couldn’t fix though. We had opted for the 87km route. Our new Gazzetta friends were all doing the 138km route. So the only part of the ride that we shared was the 10km to the start in Oudenaarde.
It doesn’t look it from this photo but 15,345 riders from 32 countries rode the 2012 RvV. Granted not everyone started in Oudenaarde. 3,000 hardy souls rode the full 244km course that started in Bruges.
Richard is an avowed BMC fan. The morning started out well for him!
It was a fairly cold morning, though thankfully without rain, sleet or snow. So Richard and I were bundled up as we left Oudenaarde.
It wasn’t long before we were warming up.
A ride profile like this is guaranteed to generate some heat, but it never warmed up enough for us to take our jackets off.
The 87km route had more than enough climbing in it. Despite the pretty views . . .
. . . some of the climbs were tough, . . .
so we made sure we followed the correct arrows!
There were lots of these on the course.
Some research revealed that they were for Dries Devenyns (3 S = Drie S). Dries is from the village of Kluisbergen, which is all of 13kms from the race finish in Oudenaarde.
We also saw this gentleman pushing his draisine along. He may be Czech, but he is a true Flandrien. He put the rest of us, including the penny-farthing rider, to shame.
Richard and I rolled into the finish seven hours after we started.
Despite having eaten at every rest stop we were starving. We passed on the offerings at the finish . . .
. . . and rode into Oudenaarde, past the marching band . . .
. . . to where else in Belgium but . . .
for a heaping portion of double-fried frites. We were thusly fortified to make it up the final climb to the hotel. A ride to Horebeke in one of these would have been appreciated though.
The next morning we all kept an ear out for the thump-thump of helicopters. The RvV race route would twice bring the riders near the Horenbecca Hotel. The approaching helicopters signaled the imminent arrival of the breakaway group, the chasing peloton and everything that accompanied it.
This was a great finish to a memorable weekend. Hopefully I can repeat the experience one of these years.