The Flemish Spring Classics: Sample Some of Flanders’ Finest.
No, not the beer. Although come to think of it, there is that—especially the legendary sour/wild Flanders Red Ale brewed locally and served up from more than a dozen regional brewers—but right now we’re talking about the riding and viewing of the Spring Classics.
Because Flanders’ Finest (Vlaanderens Mooiste in Flemish or Dutch) is the nickname for the Monument better known as Ronde van Vlaanderen (or simply De Ronde) and the Tour of Flanders to the rest of us.
First of the season’s cobbled classics, the premiere Ronde was held in 1913. We’ll be viewing parts of the 102nd edition and then riding the final 100k ourselves the next day.
Our route takes us over your first taste of cobbles (fortunately, these are the more sedate zwaksteen variety, sort of a warm-up for the zwaarsteen or moeilijk kasseien we’ll be hammering over later in the week). You’ll also have a chance to test your legs on the same climbs you saw the peloton tackle the day before, including the infamous Oude Kwaremont, Koppenberg and Paterberg …the last packing a 20% section.
Ready for that Red Ale yet?
Three More Spring Classics: Conquer the Beer, the Arrow and the Old Lady.
Once again, it’s not the beer we’re after, but the race. In this case, the first of the Ardennes Classics, the Amstel Gold Race. (Although the beer’s pretty good too, a 7% Euro-style Strong Lager. But first you have to earn it. )
We’ll be riding the final 100k of the Amstel Gold parcours, including the 15 short, steep climbs between Benzenrade, and Valkenburg. Perfect terrain if you’re a puncheur, miserable terrain (but in a good way) if you’re anything else. The peloton will face the same challenges two weeks later, so you’ll have an insider’s view of what they’ll be up against.
Next up, La Flèche Wallonne (Arrow of Wallonne). Once again, we’ll ride the ultimate 100k; the race itself is usually held middle of the week after the Amstel Gold.
And then the climb-filled Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Usually held in late April, the route takes on the toughest leg-sapping ascents of the Ardennes, so it’s often contested by climbers and Grand Tour riders as much as Classics specialists. It’s also the oldest of the Monuments, first run in 1892, hence the nickname La Doyenne, “The Old Lady”. (Actually, “Doyenne” means “eldest” or “most senior,” but “Old Lady” is much more fun.)
The majority of the race’s climbs are packed into the final 100 kilometers. Which are exactly the ones we’ll be riding.
A Saturday in Hell.
Speaking of Hell, if you haven’t seen A Sunday In Hell yet, you need to do so.
Now would be good. We’ll wait.
Considered by many (including us) to be the greatest cycling film ever made, it’s one hour and forty-five minutes of slowly ratcheted up tension and some of the best race action ever put to video. Watch legends like Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Maertens and Moser duke it out in the choking dust of the Hauts-de-France for supremacy in the 1976 edition of L’enfer du Nord, the Hell of the North.
And yes, we’ll be riding (almost) every kilometer of it the day before. Just you, your TBT riding partners, and a couple hundred other more or less eager cyclists. We’ll all be part of the 2018 Official Paris-Roubaix Challenge gran fondo, featuring 170 km of tough riding and all 28(!) cobbled sections from the Roubaix parcours.
Next day, the pros show us how it’s done. You’ll have the best seats in the house at our VIP viewing locations strategically located at the start, middle, and the famous velodrome finish, sometimes just inches from the riders.
It’s all on offer at our Spring Classics tour.
See you in Hell.