I spent this past weekend in Brussels, Belgium for the Tour de Flanders.
Background info: The Tour de Flanders is the most important cycling races in Belgium, is one of the most important races for the professional cycling European calendar, and contributes to UCI world ranking points. It is held every spring, and the day before (Saturday) this extremely important race, the course is open to the public to ride. Lance Armstrong was actually racing this course yesterday (Sunday).
This trip was filled with beer, wine, frustrations, lots of precipitation, and good times with friends. After our 4 hour car ride to Brussels, Belgium, we stopped in the hotel lobby before heading up to our rooms to sample some Belgian beers. We started with a Bellevue.
It was a wonderful cherry flavored beer. It was really good!. Perfect carb loading for the next day’s 75 Km ride (we actually ended up going more than that!).
After one beer, we were pretty much ready to go to bed. We knew that we were going to have a long day ahead of us of riding and dealing with rain and temperatures in the low 40′s the next day.
This is a pic of a truck that was right next to us while we were just sitting in traffic. This just made me so hungry! I love European cheeses!
We parked, then we jumped on our bikes and headed to the start. We got a little turned around getting there, but we finally found our way to registration and the porta potties.
These were the urinals right out in pubic. I haven’t seen any of these in the states, but I wasn’t surprised to see them here in Brussels. Europeans are a lot more open with that sort of thing.
Some of us before we started. It was already raining and freezing cold outside.
Once we started, we immediately got separated from half of our group, and it was just Leah and I for the last 40 miles. I’m so happy that I had her! It was raining almost the entire ride. We were literally soaking wet and we were only 10 miles in. Then, it started hailing. That is when pretty much everyone crowded under doorways to avoid being pelted with the hail.
And, it was muddy out too. This is my “it’s freaking freezing” face. I was still in good spirits here.
Then, the sun came out briefly for me to get these pics:
Then, the rain started up again, and we started hitting cobblestone. Cobblestone may be beautiful to look at, but it is NOT FUN to run on (as I learned in Prague), and it is not fun to ride your bike on as I learned here. The downhills, even if they were slight, were so bumpy. I grasped on to the handlebars so tightly because I felt like my arms were going to jiggle right off. It was painful. I kept telling myself to hold on, but there were times where I was so scared that the muscles in my hands were going to give up, I was going to let go, and fly off my bike. I’m serious. It SUCKED! My palms are actually bruised today because of the damn cobblestone.
Then, the uphills started. These were not gentle rolling hills, mind you. They were steep ascents. People were getting off their bikes and walking, and I just kept telling myself that I wasn’t allowed to walk. I had my chain all the way to the left and just kept pedaling. A few out of shape people were falling off their bikes on the first huge hill, it was that bad. This was not a leisurely ride by any means. Most of the people doing this 75K (and the 150K) were on cycling teams. Cycling is huge in Europe. Almost as huge as soccer. They crowded around you while riding. I’m not used to people riding within 1 or 2 inches of me, so naturally I was freaking out in my head. I tried to remain calm. Tried.
At around mile 30, we stopped and had a snack. As you can see, the sun came out very briefly again.
Honestly, I was ready for it to end at this point. This would have been the perfect ending. I was tired, but still in good mental shape. Unfortunately, we still had 17 miles (plus more unanticipated later) left.
The rain started again. Then, we turned onto more cobblestone. Next, it led up a huge hill made of all extremely bumpy, old, muddy, slippery, wet cobblestone. Crowds were densely lining the very narrow road going up to a church. People were falling all over the place simply because it was too steep, and there was not enough traction to keep the back tires on the road. Tires were spinning all over the place. It was a 19% grade. IT SUCKED.
All of the sudden, the guy in front of me falls over, I swerved into the crowd, unclipped and jumped off my bike just in the nick of time to avoid running over him and falling over myself. More experienced cyclists were falling as well. I said, “F#$k this!” and just started walking. I was sliding in my clips-ins to get up this hill. The crowd was waiting for more people to fall, and helped cyclists up accordingly. I’m guessing that it is a pretty famous hill, people fall on it every year = more action, and that is why there were so many people there. When we finally got to the top, here is what we found…
An old church.
Then, we started off again.
Then, the rain started again. Finally, we arrived at the finish: soaking wet, freezing, and physically and mentally exhausted. Water was nowhere to be found so we quickly bought beers and sausages to console our tired minds and bodies. Belgian beer is so good!
After figuring out that the other half of our group had left already, we set off to find the car.
It took us an hour to find the car cycling around in the rain, but at least i got this awesome shot. It was beautiful outside still.
We finally made it back to the hotel room where I discovered that my socks and shoes were soaking wet along with everything else. I mean, literally drenched. It has never felt so good to take a hot shower after being cold and wet for a good majority of the day. We set off to find a nice Belgian/ French restaurant that the concierge had suggested. Just some pics of the 10 minute walk to the restaurant.
All in all, it was a great trip. We probably road about 55 or 60 miles total with getting lost and everything. This is pretty good considering my longest ride had been 12 or 13 miles this winter, I hadn’t been on anything resembling a bike in practically a month before the race, and I hadn’t been on my road bike since last year. I was not sore the next day (well, except for the lady bits and my neck), but like I said before, I wasn’t going that fast either. I just kept thinking that I’m going to have to run a half marathon after a bike ride like that in September for my Half Ironman. I don’t know how I would do it right now. I was in no mood for running 13.1 miles after this bike ride for sure, and was happy when I had only beer to worry about instead of running afterwards.
Do any of you cycle too? Any extremely hard rides?