Tour of Flanders 2012 Report

The Ronde van Vlaanderen continues to dominate our thoughts in the way that no other sporting event in the year’s calendar. It continues to draw you back year after year. This year I did it with 3 seasoned campaigners in Craig , David and the ever present Seamus, never far from a Tiernan’s rear wheel.

This year Joe from the Limerick CC was along for the big trip. 245 km from Brugge to the new finish in Oudenaarde. We had gathered the night before for a lasagna and couple of fresheners al the while strictly observing the no alcohol within 8 hours of an important cycle rule. Forecast and plans for the day were discussed, sprint points and KOH primes were nominated.

I had chosen to go to sleep in 3/4 length bib tights , 2 base layers a winter jersey and a winter jacket to save time in the morning and afford an extra 15 minutes lie in. Breakfast was the usual Caligulan engorgement (without the subsequent purging), of cereals, yogurts , ham and cheese sandwiches and a couple of strong coffees for that extra caffeine boost.

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The format was similar to previous years with a flat first 120 Km followed by a further 120 km of up and down 16 short sharp cobbly hills. We were not afforded the luxury of a start from the main square this year , having been demoted to Club Brugge’s Jan Breydel Stadium, some 5 km out of town. Weather was grey and overcast (as opposed to grey and sunny) and we were optimistic about achieving a good time. It was about 8 degrees with a hint of drizzle not very far away. We had a very favorable wind from the north. We were all together and moving along at near 30kph and hardly working. at 70km in Roeselare along the canal , Joe came off his bike in an unfortunate loss of concentration. His wrist swelled and he was in considerable discomfort. There was 165 K to go, 30 of which was cobbled. A long day was to follow.

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The first cobbled sectors were to start soon enough as we were entering the business end of things in the Vlaamse Ardennen . We covered the first 4 hours at 29 Kph and did not have to worry about getting out the lights as in previous years . The feed station at Oudenaarde was yet again in the Safety Jogger Warehouse a fine company that I would like to nominate as a cycling partner to STCC . Seamus and myself waited to see if Joe would be continuing, David and Seamus headed on up the road for a date with the Koppenburg . Joe was getting some strapping to his wrist and Seamus was going to wait for his fellow club man . I couldn’t see how he could finish.

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I headed off on my own along with 18,000 others for company and minimal chat. It was every man for themselves . Yet again the Koppenberg was walked after numerous weaker cyclists than I were unable to handle the 22% gradient. You are annoyed and secretly delighted at the same time climbing off, as events are removed from your control. Steenbeekdries and the nasty Mariaborrestraat follow swiftly (well,slowly). We do a couple of other hills similar to the pros the following day before being sent off on some old favourites.

This years pro route had 3 loops of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. Sending a cyclosportive around this loop is impractical and the 4 hills that were added in were more than challenging and had been used many times before in the Ronde. The final 12 climbs come in the last 60km and we had the dastardly Paterberg to finish. The run in to the finish in Oudenaarde was directly into a 45 degree headwind. we were lined out in the right hand gutter getting no relief from the rider in front for the final 10 km run in to the finish ( similar climatic conditions prevailed the following day and Pippo was getting no shelter sitting behind Tom Boonen as they came down the right hand barriers, hence him being unable to come around for the win).

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We regrouped at the finish and headed back to Bruges and were surprised to hear that Joe had finished the trip with a subsequently proven broken, wrist. If only we could bottle this kind of badass behaviour and all take a little sip from the elixir in times of spiritual weakness, we would all be better people.
There was no shortage of pubs to rehydrate that night and retell the days stories.

The following day we were able to watch the start and then head out to the finish to watch the race approach the finish on the big screens in Oudenaarde. Beer chips and sausages were consumed at regular intervals and we were able to see Ballan,then Boonen then Pippo flash by the 250m marker live over a 3 second burst of intense excitement. The crowd went nuts for Tommekes big victory. As a spectating experience , it is nothing on the Muur but it is still a reasonable day out and I would recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in cycling.

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Images – Sportograf

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