Our Ronde van Vlaanderen: Part 3

When your bike starts making an unfamiliar noise, you start to worry. Was I hearing things? Was I just being nervous? Or did I have a flat tire?

In fact, I did have a flat tire. I called out to Jan, “I’ve got a flat,” and pulled off to the side of the road. Jan asked me if I had what I needed to change it. I replied that I did… although I might need a bit of support, as I have only changed a couple tires. Nerves jangling and adrenaline racing, I flipped over the bike, took off the tire and got out my levers. It was at this point Jan asked, “Do you have a pump?”

Eh… no. Will has the pump on his bike and he hadn’t realized I’d flatted. Jan thought we might stop another rider, so I kept changing the tire. Sure enough, a nice man name Nico rolled up and had a whole bag of tricks. He offered to wait and let me use his pump. Nico was not in a hurry, because he explained that the pace of the groups was too fast for him, so he was taking his time and enjoying the ride. He was a local, so he knew the route well and wasn’t worried about the lack of a guide or signs (more on this later).

With a little help from Jan and Nico, the tire was re-inflated and we were ready to go. At this point, the broom wagon arrived. For those unfamiliar with racing, the broom wagon is the vehicle there to “sweep” up the lagging riders at the back of a race. They stopped to see about us. Jan talked with them for a while and then announced to be that there was no way we could catch up with the group. However, if I was willing to skip the Koppenberg (yet another famous climb), we could take a shortcut and meet up with group at the feed zone. I was all for a short-cut at that point!

Jan lead me down some excellent roads to the feed zone. He was a gracious guide and quite friendly. We had a good ride until I reached the hill before the feed zone that was a 10% grade. I couldn’t do it. I could not make it up that hill. My legs were just gone. As I was half way up, doing my best to just walk, the 10:30 group passed me. By the time I got to the top, they were enjoying coffee and snacks.

At this point, I was exhausted. I’m quite sure my brain was not fully functioning. I will attempt to document my insane thinking for posterity. The next bit will be a little tough to comprehend – my apologies to all.

When I rolled into the feed zone, I immediately started looking for Will and his distinctive orange jacket. But he isn’t there! Where is he! Why hadn’t he waited on me?!

I nervously wandered around, had some water and ate a banana and a waffle (we were in Belgium, after all). The 10:30 group called to gather up and ride… but I just got here. Should I head out with them? That seems wrong. Why didn’t Will wait on me? I’m so surprised he didn’t wait on me. What do I do? I have to do something. I can’t just stay here the rest of the day.

More and more stragglers were coming into the feed zone, in small groups of two and three. A group of two women and two men were talking and seemed nice. At this point, I decided I needed to make some friends to get through the rest of the ride, because I had no map, no cue sheet and no idea where I was or how to get back to town (and to our hotel). I approached one of the woman and asked, “May I ride with you?” and her response, “Sure, but we’re slow,” warmed my heart. It was a couple from Italy and a couple from the Netherlands. I knew I’d be in good hands.

I waited with them to get started, still nervous about Will. What had happened?! Why hadn’t he waited on me? As we were getting ready to depart for the last 1/3rd of the ride, one of my new friends exclaimed “Wait a minute – it’s only 15 km back to town. And it is all downhill! Let’s just go home.” This thought was exciting. All downhill. Only 15 km instead of 30. All downhill.

But… what about Will? This whole day had been my bright idea. Could I just abandon the ride without him? I knew that Will wouldn’t have any issue with abandoning….. but I genuinely believed that if he managed to complete all 68 km while I had bailed, he would kill me. And no judge would convict him, particularly with clouds gathering and the temperature dropping fast.

At this point, some of the sugar from the food began to feed my brain. Will had been at the back of the 10:30 group with me before the flat. He was already feeling tired… he probably wasn’t able to keep up with them. That means he probably hasn’t arrived yet! I considered waiting, but what if I was wrong? What if he had been there and already gone?

I decided to leave word with an American who was working the feed zone. I requested that, if she saw a giant guy in an orange jacket, she ask if he was an American and if he was, she tell him his wife abandoned. The woman was wonderful – she took our names and my phone number* and promised to keep an eye out for an orange jacket.

Bases covered as best I could, I headed off with my new friends. The Italians took off a bit faster and quickly left me and the Dutch behind. I was explaining to them about my husband, and how I didn’t know where he was, and how I was worried he was going to kill me, when the miracle happened. Around the corner came two riders… one who was giant and in an orange jacket.

“Will!” I spontaneously yelled. “That’s him! That’s my husband! Will!” I was giddy with relief. Will had been riding with Jack, doing his best to get through. He too was worried about where I was and was stunned that I was ahead of them. He and Jack were grinding along, trying to get to the feed zone without getting lost.

Now that they could see the feed zone, even smell the coffee, it took some convincing to get them to turn around and go with us back to town. But our guides to town were departing and we needed to be with them.

The rest of the event was rather anti-climatic. We easily and quickly rode back to the museum where we started and visited with our new friends while having the complimentary soup. Will made a new friend in Jack and they exchanged contact information after the ride, with a vague plan of meeting again during the Classics season in Belgium.

The day did not go how I expected. A lot of that was due to my incorrect notions. In my limited experience, there are several ways that the Trek Fan Club could have made the event better. Or rather, could have made the event better for the hobby cyclist like me. In no particular order:

  • When signing up for the ride, they could have asked the riders to self-select on ability level. “I think I’m a pro!,” “I am competent rider,” “Beginner- please don’t drop me” would have allowed them to group ability levels. Given the number of riders that had given up on the group (or had their group give up on them), I think enough would have selected the beginner category to make this work.
  • Provide the parcours electronically prior to the race so riders could have them on their GPS. Will and Jack got lost an one point and had to double-back. They only reason they ever made it to the feed zone was another person who had GPS with some sort of map helped them.
  • Provide a cue sheet. For those that don’t ride, this is a sheet that says “2 km, left turn” or indicates the roads you need to be on. For professionals, they can be stickers that you apply to the main tube of your bike. I would imagine that many fans would have thought that would have been amazingly cool to have a cue sticker like the pros, and I don’t think it would have cost much to produce. But, if that was too difficult, a printed sheet of paper with the turns would have been fine.
  • Hang signs along the course. When Amanda and I did the Schleck ride, there were temporary arrows at every turn. Even if we didn’t have GPS, or couldn’t read a cue sheet, the arrows told us we were going the right way.

However, perhaps the organizers are not interested in catering to a hobby cyclist. For example, they worked hard to give us amazing access to famous pro cyclists. I have no issue with that approach, but I wish more details about the event logistics would have been available during sign-up.

On a more positive note, I cannot say enough good things about Jan, the wonder guide who helped me so much. Had he not been a caring and kind individual, I would have certainly not had nearly the good time that I did.

While the ride wasn’t exactly has we planned, it was a good day. We are planning to go back to Oudenaarde and try the ride again – but this time, at our own pace. I really believe we can complete it (and yes, we’ll be walking up some hills still!), as long as we can keep to our own pace. I am totally comfortable with the fact that I can’t keep up with the pros. Frankly, we’re nearly 40. I’m new at this sport. Will and I are too busy to train like athletes. I think we’re allowed extra time.

Now, I’m looking forward to the Schleck fan club ride this fall! That group has got their organization down to a T. Who would like to join me? The B&B is taking reservations!

* I had a phone, but Will had left his in the car. Yes, it’s terribly stupid. We will never do that again. Also, I will get my own pump before my next group ride.

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

  1. Dave said...
    24 January 2014

    While it didn’t go as planned, I think it’s so cool you tried that. I’d love to come to Belgium and try to take the Oudenaarde with you!

    A cue sheet and self selected groups are not too much to ask for. Any decent group ride has A, B, and C groups.

  2. Rachel said...
    27 January 2014

    It’s fun to read about your adventure. I think it’s awesome that you did the ride. Last year at this time, you didn’t even own a road bike.

  3. Laurie said...
    31 January 2014

    Rachel, you are a good influence! :)

    Anita & Will, way to accept a challenge! So cool. But Anita, watch how many ideas you post. You might have just signed up to party plan for Trek next year… :)

  4. Vikki said...
    10 February 2014

    This is my favorite quote, “And no judge would convict him, particularly with clouds gathering and the temperature dropping fast.” I know exactly how that feels! =)

    I’m glad you still had a wonderful time, despite all the unplanned bits! This might be the inspiration I needed to start cycling myself!

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