This is how special it is to cycle the Ronde of Vlaanderen

Herman van Tilburg

Saturday morning, our alarm clock in Antwerp is set for five thirty. Finally, time to leave my ‘rough’ hotel bed. Despite the early time, I was awake before my alarm clock. Sleeping in a strange bed and the prospect of a challenging cyclo usually means a restless night for me… But I can’t complain as ‘Flanders’ Best’ is waiting for me.

Three cycling friends and I join the line for the breakfast buffet on time in the small lobby annex breakfast room. Together with cyclists from Italy, Denmark, Norway and France we eat our breakfast in a record-breaking time and we discuss whether we’re wearing enough layers of clothing. Will it stay dry or will we be surprised by a local shower?

In the light of dawn we drive through a city slowly waking up towards Antwerp’s ‘Grote Markt’. This is where it will happen today and, of course, tomorrow when the big shots will start for their ‘high mass’. At seven thirty we ride out of the city and unfortunately the heavens open. What starts of as drizzle soon turns in to a heavy shower that stays with us for quite a while. Fortunately, it’s still a fair distance to the cobble stones and we have 100 kilometres of asphalt to go. With the wind blowing against our side, the cold and the rain in our faces we feel for a moment like real ‘Flandriens’.

The more we approach the cobbles stones and hills, the more the skies clear up. The sun starts to shine and warm us up. We are ready to put away our rain jackets and long sleeves. A great feeling, especially as I like to show off my BEAT gear. I even got a few cheers along the way, such as: ‘go, go, go BEAT Cycling’ and ‘Come on Beat Cycling’. A big thank you to all supporters! 

What we’re good at is eating and drinking regularly. It’s hard to miss it, because the supply stations are spread out along the route and equipped with a lot of sweats. At the 112th kilometre we started what everyone was so excited about. The Flemish cobbles stones and hills with legendary names as De Leberg, De Berendries, De Muur, De Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg at kilometre 223. 16 obstacles mostly consisting of stretches of cobble stones, often on climbs. I have been looking forward for years to climb the monumental ‘De Muur van Geraardsbergen’, the Tour’s symbol. Every rider should pass that chapel at least once, as it’s an almost spiritual experience. Once more it was confirmed how much Flanders loves this race. Masses of people cheered us on while we battled the climb.

Cycling on the Flemish cobble stones is a very special experience. It’s tough and certainly not pleasant. I try to follow advice like ‘pedal in high gears’ and ‘hands comfortably on the bars’, although the latter seems nearly impossible.

When we climbed the Oude Kwaremont, where Gilbert would make his decisive escape on Sunday, and the ‘dessert’ De Paterberg with a 20% climb, we realised how fast the professional cyclists fly over these hills. After this last heavy cobble stone climb, it’s a final push towards the finish in Oudenaarde. The four of us pass the finish line together. Tired, satisfied, having enjoyed the race and wearing a heavy medal we head home wards. 

I feel richer having cycled 237 kilometres across Flemish cobble stones through beautiful landscapes. It’s a privilege for every cyclist to experience. Still in doubt? Don’t! Subscribe for next year’s edition and know that there are different distances to chose. Next to reaching my own cycling goal, it is great to talk to strangers from different countries about our cycling adventures. Cycling doesn’t just give us an athletic challenge, but also a great club atmosphere.

Also want to be cheered on during your cyclo races? Get the BEAT Cycling Club jersey now as a pioneer.