First up on my spring classics “races” was We Ride Flanders, the amateur version of the Tour of Flanders (aka, Ronde van Vlaanderen). We were able to signup as part of Sports Tours International package. I debated between the 229km and 174km routes. The thought of riding 142 miles, while also dealing with the cobbles and climbing just didn’t seem that appealing. I could do the 174km version and still get most of the stuff the pros do. Plus, 108 miles seemed plenty long. Compared to SoCal, 6000+ feet of climbing over 100 miles wasn’t that bad.
As time grew closer to the actual event, I did more research on the climbs and cobbled sectors. One of the challenges was how dramatic they were made to sound based on the pro races. I just imagined how hellacious the Koppenberg would be if we had to ride it in the rain. Ironically, one of the things that boosted my confidence was being able to ride the last 50km virtually on Rouvy. Hmmm…it doesn’t seem THAT bad. Yeah, well it’s another things when actually start riding it.
The event website said that over 13,000 cyclists usually participate (and only about 200 Americans), so I wondered how packed the course would be. There would be 4 different route options and a rolling start, but it must still get crowded at points. I was pleasantly surprised to find the course congestion really wasn’t that bad, except at a few points (more on that later).
We were able to get our tour bus to within about 1 km of the start, so we didn’t have to get rolling until we really wanted to. The rolling start also meant there wasn’t a huge rush or crush to get to the start line. Everything was timed via chip. As we got rolling along the course, I expected things to be marked as well as many events here in the states. Hey, this event was a mega production, I bet they would have digital signs or something. Nope…not even color coded arrows for the routes. Unfortunately, the poor signage screwed up my plans. I did have the route saved on my Garmin, but I didn’t have it loaded up since I thought the course would be easy enough to follow with so many people. Well, I could have used it since I followed people on the 139km route, not the 174km one. It turns out (pun intended) that I missed the right turn for the 174km route. By the time I realized it, I was too far along on the 139 km route to double back. Ironically, I eventually loaded the route up on the Garmin when I got suspicious, but it showed me “on course”. Well, I was “on course” for where the two routes merged back together. So, I thought I was on the right route. Oh, well, at least the 139km route included everything I wanted to do anyway.
The first climbs like the Wolvenberg and Molenberg felt like child’s play to me compared to what I ride practically every day in Orange County. While there were a lot of other riders on the course, I was able to navigate around most of them on the climbs. What kind of freaked me out early on were the cobbled sectors. I had never ridden “real” cobblestones before, so it took some getting used to. The initial couple were relatively short, but the Paddestrat was about 2 miles long. After 40km, I felt as if I had gotten a feel for things. However, I knew the harder stuff was yet to come…
The first real “infamous” climb was the Koppenberg at around 80km. It averages around 10%, then kicks up to 22%. I actually wasn’t too worried about riding up it, since it was dry and I had a 36t in back. The challenge was how crowded it got. There were people walking all over the path vs sticking to the right and letting people pass on the left. I finally got to a point and just stopped and walked the rest of the way. Ironically, the pros often end up having to do this as well, so I didn’t feel too bad.
After the Koppenberg, I decided to ease back some and just enjoy the route. The next major climb was the Taaienberg, which wasn’t that bad. It was also nice to get some downhill at times. At this point, I had pretty much gotten used to the cobbles. You bounce around a lot, but they are still very rideable.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the rest stops were the sugar coated waffles. I didn’t have my usual Clif Bloks and gels don’t fuel me for very long. The waffles really hit the spot. Hey, it’s Belgium! After awhile, I was really happy not to be doing the 174km route. I was really starting to get tired out from the climbs and they would have sucked with even more miles in my legs. Probably the most famous climb in the Tour of Flanders is the Oude Kwaremont. It’s not a very hard climb and offers a beautiful view of the area.
After the Kwaremont, there is a downhill, then a sharp right turn, and you are immediately thrust upon the Paterburg, which averages 13% and maxes out at 20%. Many riders aren’t expecting it, but I had a hunch it was right there after the turn. I got about halfway up and said “screw this”, and walked the rest of the way. I guess it was “one hill too far.”
I was super happy to finish the official route, but I wanted the full 174km so I added on some “junk miles” along the canal paths. Overall, an incredible experience. Now, when I watch the Tour of Flanders, I’ll know exactly what they go through.
Here’s my route on Strava and Relive including the miles I added on at the end along canal paths. I also made a short highlight video using my GoPro Hero7 and Garmin VIRB Ultra 30: