Our Ronde van Vlaanderen: Part 2

Our group gathered for the start. The first part of the ride was a long, flat section along the river.

The group took off like a bat out of hell. Will most likely would have kept up with them, but I started falling back. He dropped back to help me by breaking the wind. Before too long, it was Will, me, another struggling rider (who we’ll call Jack) and Jan, world’s best ride guide.

Arriving at the first climb, Will and I were spent. He had just gone flat out, dragging me along with him, for several kilometers. And now we had to climb the Oude Kwaremont (11.5% grade). Imagine a roughly cobbled hill going straight up. I’ve included a few photos of the hill from 2013, when Will watched the pros race up it. On this day, under our own power, neither of us had the wherewithal to take photos.

Imagine it wet. Imagine yourself exhausted after some of the fastest biking you’ve ever done. Imagine yourself panicked by the fact that 70 riders are waiting for you at the top. Now – cycle up that hill!

I didn’t make it.

Of course, I never thought I would. I knew the Oude Kwaremont would the toughest climb of the ride and I was prepared to walk a good portion of it. But I thought I would arrive at the bottom with warmed up legs, ready to tackle the hill…. not worn out legs, ready to curl up in a ball and die.

I outpaced Will for a bit at the beginning. About a third of the way up, I couldn’t make the pedals turn anymore and I was about to come to a standstill and teeter over. For readers in the flatlands of the US, this is not uncommon in the rest of the world. I joined the other victims of this famously difficult climb and pushed my bike to a flatter section. I glanced back and saw Will walking a little ways behind. It sure didn’t look like this:

You can see what a crazy, crowded scene this is during the Classic road race in late March. It was deserted in January, which was fine by me. There were three old men and a dog cheering us in the actual town of Kwaremont, at the flat section where I got back on my bike.

I’m proud to write that I stayed on my bike through the second part of the climb. By the time I got to the top, I discovered that most of the group had gone on, but Jan the guide was waiting with about 10 riders. We waited a few more moments for Will and Jack, then headed out again.

This section wasn’t so terrible and we all kept together as a nice group. All was going well until Jan realized he had taken the wrong path. In order to do the proper ride, we needed to turn around. However, you could continue forward and this path would meet up with the group at the top of the Paterberg (another terrible climb). Our new friend Jack and Will decided that they didn’t need to climb the Paterberg (a 20% grade) – they would continue on the path and wait for us at the top. But Jack and Jan encouraged me to give it a shot.

When we turned around, we realized that the 10:30 group had caught up with us, and was now ahead of our splinter group. At the time, it wasn’t a big deal — but it became a crucial factor in my decision-making later on.

To get to the Paterberg, we had a huge downhill followed by a sharp right turn. The whole downhill, turn and climb experience was fun – but the climb killed me. To be fair, it killed nearly everyone. Most of our group found themselves walking up the last half of the hill. (Video link from someone who made it: caution, very blairwitchy, with the cobbles and all.)

Will and Jack were at the top of the hill, ready to take my photo as I walked up. If you look carefully, you can see me waving in the photo above. In the photo to the right, I’m struggling to even push my bike. It’s hard to walk in cleats and on cobbles, up a hill, it is nearly impossible.

The group at the top of the hill was huge. The 10:30 group was taking a short break to deal with some flat tires and to have a rest after the climbs. Since we had been the last up the hill, we were at the back of the group. I might mention now that the professional riders in the 10:30 group were Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt, two very famous riders. Fabian won the whole darn race last year, so any rider with an ounce of skill would have been excited to be near him atop the very same hill where he pulled away from his rivals.

After the tires were changed and the group had rested, we were off again. And again, the group took off like a bat out of hell. Jan the Wonder Guide was riding near me (and I was near the back). Will was just ahead of me, but he was moving quickly when I realized that my bike was making a terrible noise. I slowed up as I attempted to diagnose the sound… was it my imagination? Was there an issue? Was I just a nervous ninny?

Tune in Friday to read the exciting conclusion!

3 Comments to “Our Ronde van Vlaanderen: Part 2”

  1. Deb Beeson said...
    22 January 2014

    So glad to receive your Christmas card. And congratulations on your bike riding. It doesn’t matter where you finish, but that you tried. It is wonderful that you two have been able to experience and enjoy Europe while you are living there. Love you guys and sure wish we could see you!

  2. keely said...
    23 January 2014

    I am impressed by your tenacity!! No one can every say that you are a quitter. Congratulations!!

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