April 12, 2013

U23 Tour of Flanders

Saturday was the fabled Tour of Flanders, or, to the Belgians, Ronde van Vlaanderen. It is a Nations Cup which means all the best U23 riders from around the world are selected to race for their country. This particular race is one big circuit of 130km followed by two 27km laps. It is famous for its cobbled climbs and slow rough sections of road. Before the start I thought it would be far more difficult than the dutch races I had been in, I was totally wrong. This Nations Cup wasn't significantly harder than a kermis course. I could move around the pack without issue, go in breakaways, hold a space when the going got tough and I wasn't constantly "tail gunning" at the back of the peloton like I had been in my races in Holland. For all those reasons I look forward to my next opportunity to race a Nations Cup.

het canadese mannen 

Around 140 of us lined up to take the start in the famous city of Ouudenarde, and we set off at 12.30pm. The plan was "stay upfront, survive, and help Antoine if he needs it". I had no issues with the plan but then after some attacks started going right after the neutral ended I was riding with Antoine and some of his American friends and he says "Maybe you should go follow moves, just incase a good one goes so Canada doesn't have to chase". Of course now I had to make my way to the front and then get active in the attacks. Once at the front I followed five or so riders up to another group of seven guys. By the time our groups came together I noticed two more riders were just up the road and no one in or 12 man group wanted to work. The peleton wasn't far behind us and after a few moments we were swept up, with two riders going on to survive out front for 100km. From there on there was absolutely no action until about the 90th km. In these dormant 80km I did my best to save my energy. I would start climbs on the front and slowly drift backwards. On one steep 500m climb we rode really slow but the road was only wide enough for two riders and I was in the 2nd row. When the road opened up at the top I took the lead and got tucked and flew down the steep descent on the other side. Later my buddy Adam came and asked me if I thought that the few kilometres after the climb where balls out, but I told him I didn't think so. The difference was while Adam was in the back few going 20km/h up the climb I was descending 500m ahead of him at 70km/h. He needed to ride hard for a few km's to make that up.

Always in the first few early

Then after some more energy saving craftyness, grabbing bottles, talking to our jolly sports director Pascal at the car, and stopping to pee (3 times!) the orange train of Dutch riders began to move towards the front. Some riders looked oblivious to the threat posed by a whole team in collaboration at the front but Ryan Aitchinson, Antoine Duschense and I were not. We moved up to the left side and held our own as the pace quickened in a lead out to the 13%, 300m, and stupidly rough cobbled climb of the molenberg. The three of us went up in the top 30 or so and saved a lot of energy by holding our speed into the turn. Once over the berg it was obvious some people lost tonnes of energy just from poor positioning. The pace was pretty fast for the last 20km of the big loop. Then we hit a rough 5km sector and the Belgian team went hard on the front to try and break up the pack. I made it over without serious difficulty and I was shocked, and pleased, to see once we were on smooth roads that a good 70 - 80 riders had been shot out the back. Now 50km of constant up and down cobbles lay before me. Just before we entered the first section my fellow Ontarian Ryan made it back to our lead group with a small group that bridged up, making it three Canucks in the head of the race. Sadly from his effort to get up he was popped over the next cobbled section. It was pure survival the last lap, fighting for a spot in the gutter to get the smoothest ride up the bergs.

Fighting on the cobbles with Ryan

When we cross the line with one lap to go I asked Antoine what he needed and he decided we needed to take turns covering moves. After getting in some moves I was starting to feel the previous 160 km in my legs. Then, once again, the Belgians started to drive the pace before the 4th to last cobbled section of the race. Antoine came by me and asked to be moved to the front, suffering out of the line of riders and in the wind I managed to drop Antoine off in the top 15 or so and just as I did we swung left into the long cobbles where Ryan was dropped the previous lap. I knew I would be lucky to make it over after my big effort but riding last wheel I held strong for the rolling 3km section. I managed to make it over the next long section but I was a little distanced at the end of it and only caught back on at the beginning of the infamous Taaienberg, nicknamed the Boonenberg because Tom Boonen attacks there every year in the Professional Tour of Flanders.


By the top I was utterly cracked. Ka-putte. Flat. For those solo last 8km to the finish I lost 1 min per km. Another way to look at it for the cycling junkie is that I could only manage an average of 150 watts and 120 HR. My body just said "alright f- this noise, I am going to call it a day." Antoine went on to finish in the lead group of 30 but he couldn't do much with some of the future superstar sprinters in the group with him.

Now that is has been a few days since the race I can say I am really happy with my race and performance. I know next year I will be in the lead group. I received some commendations for my ride and team work from the coaches as well as Antoine who said I was helpful to him. I am now really looking forward to next year as well as my next U23 races, as I know I will be a threat.

Now a few weeks of Kermis's and then it is off to the Tour of Azerbaijan!  


No comments:

Post a Comment