(Watch Simon's video above as it is much better than my write up below).
Five intrepid Waldies headed off on Friday 1st April 2022 (at an unnecessary 5am) towards the cobbles of Flanders to complete the Tour of Flanders sportive. Steve's work schedule and Dave's inability to find his passport had reduced our numbers by one, and swapped one pilot for another. Ben, Rob, Andy, Simon and Richard finally made the team sheet.
Pictures of snow covered Kopperbergs (and heavy morning snow whilst driving on the M20) were compounded by the shock of Ben’s booking decision of double rooms rather than twins, in the very pleasant Hotel Damier, Kortrijk. The ultimately helpful (but mostly stroppy) receptionist eventually managed to avoid too much intimacy, but Ben clearly got too good a room deal given their wish to charge extra for everything else that either moved, was stored or was generally in the vicinity.
First beers and pasta ensued on arrival to pick up our race packs in Oudenaarde (about seven hours before the registration closed!). It was bleak and cold, but fortunately no snow in sight. Much panic over the following day’s layering ensued leading to Richard deciding that Rab C style string vests were the purchase of the day, before returning to the hotel for a second round of carb loading at Brasserie St Menard.
Reasonably early to bed, we rose for a short drive and an 8:15 roll away from the outskirts of Oudenaarde for the ‘medium’ route, being 179km / 2,300m of “Cobblesh!” filled climbs, descents and traverses, missing the reportedly dull (and logistically much more difficult) preamble of the ‘long’ from Antwerp. Ben was a veteran of the route and Simon and Richard had hit a few of the climbs on the 2016 second Waldy Tour to Brussels, but we were full of excitement for the first few kilometres before we hit the first cobbled climb of Molenberg at 22km. The weather had actually turned out great. It was cold (below zero) but bone dry and the sun was shining. Bike choices had varied from Andy and Rob’s full-on (virtually cheating) carbons through Ben’s titanium gravel, to Richard’s aluminium CX. We all made it round without a puncture but we weren’t without cobbles induced gear and mech problems as the ride developed.
Late substitute (and he felt at the time short on training) Simon chose to take the shorter 140km route after about 40km (we should have persuaded him to stick with us) so the team was down to four as we turned off towards the newly iconic chapel a-topped climb of Muur de Geraardsbergen at 73km. As that climb started Richard managed to (for once) avoid ripping off his derailleur and Rob’s skills in limit screw adjustment got him back on the road to join the crowd waiting at the top to cheer the fallers. But we all made it up for a pause for photos and a quick check by the rest stop mechanic.
We worked our way back to Oudenarde for the 115km rest stop, by which time Simon was two hours ahead of us.
The countryside had been rolling and lovely, plenty of groups to join but the roads were relatively quiet, with fantastic traffic management from the Belgian Politie. Shortly after the Oudenarde stop was the truly iconic Koppenberg at 118km. Our all getting up was never in doubt, with continued dry sunny conditions and some shouting at those trying to knock us off. The climbs and the cobbles (and a bizarre but welcome Red Bull DJ stop) came thick and fast as we worked our way toward the highlight (and our location for watching the pros the next day) of the Oude de Kwaremont at 161km. Kwaremont was long and hard and exciting to see the amount of Tour infrastructure as we fought up the climb to the top, before moving on to all beat the equally iconic Paterberg at 166km. Ben then found some new legs and dragged us and some unhelpful hangers on back along the 10km flat (but headwind) to the race finish line back in Oudenaarde. By then we were all done in, barely able to acknowledge the warm welcome from a rested and fed Simon.
Rest stops were a little samey, there are only so many pre packaged waffles a man can eat, and the free gels were possibly the worst thing anyone had ever tasted. The climbs were fantastic, the ride was hard and the cobbles were tough. It was a great ride on what turned out to be great conditions with a lovely group of riders.
Once photos were taken it was back to the square for chips and beers, then a short ride back to the cars to drive back to the hotel, quickly out for a steak dinner at the Balthasar cafe-bistro in Kortrijk, before beers and darts in various bars before we turned in, tired to bed.
A lazy start meant we missed the first trip of the pros up the Kwaremont, but Ben’s local knowledge meant an easy park in a farmer’s field and a short walk to a great spot to see the pros struggle their own way up two more times, including seeing a key part of the race when Pogacar and van de Poel battled it out. Much fun was had watching the pros, some of us drinking beers and all taking in the great atmosphere. After it was all over it was back to the cars for the drive back to the tunnel and then back home to Teddington.
Special thanks to Ben for making it all happen and bringing his very special enthusiasm for both the Sportive and pro race, for our drivers Andy and Rob and to all those that came for making it such a lovely Waldy weekend. I hope you will get some idea of the weekend from Simon’s fantastic short film.