Event Review

Ronde van Vlaanderen: Another Look at the Tour of Flanders Sportive

by Andy Dawson

Incredible. 16,000 riders took on the last 130km of the professional Tour of Flanders route - including the infamous cobbled climbs the RVV is notorious for. 1,700 Brits were amongst those taking part this year - does that make it one of the biggest British sportives too?! 

With that number of participants organisation had to be perfect, and it was.  Parking in Oudenaarde was easy, even at 7.30am, and registration was smooth.  Soon we were away in large groups threading through city streets littered with street furniture, sharp turns and good stretches of bike path. The split between the 70 and 130km route came almost immediately, so there was no chance to assess if you were having a good or bad day before deciding which to take. 

Well organised start

Opening section featured lots of street riding

The initial cobblestone sections were on relatively flat parts which helped us get used to what was to come. The cobbles were very even and well set - no sudden jolts and not too bumpy. The first time that you pass someone on a cobble section you automatically qualify as a true Flandrian cyclist, so I think. 

The real challenges started with the short climb up the Molenberg. This wasn't so even nor so well set. If a children's book illustrator wanted inspiration for an evil looking road leading up to the witch's cave they needn't look any further.  Somehow we all got up it. 

The first feed stop was amazing - more of a food village, with two whole aisles of food stalls offering Belgian waffles, honey sticks, fresh fruit, energy drinks and water. Also a busy mechanics section. One problem was that all the waffles were down one aisle and all the energy drink down the other so you could miss out if you didn't circulate the whole area. Taking my reporting duties seriously, I visited all the stalls, but luckily found the waffles didn't dent performance too severely. 

First feed 'station'/ village...

DJ in full swing

Red Bull stand

After the feed the route opened out much more. Longer straights on better roads helped larger groups form and we all felt more able to get up to good speeds knowing there wouldn't be so many tight corners. 

A few more significant cobbled hills - the Eikenberg and the Koppenberg came up next and the only real problem on these narrow roads is when people stop in front of you and bring your storming progress to a sudden halt. I was learning to hang back as we approached steep hills to give myself space for weaving around the walkers. A few sharp cries of "Achtung!" and "Pardon!" also helped part the way. 

More feeds - the second was huge and this time featured a DJ. By now the sun was out and the food provision was so nice I didn't want to get back on my bike. I'd also discovered on the last steep hill that the cobbles had knocked my rear changer about. I couldn't get into my biggest sprocket - never good to find this out halfway up a 20%. Some twiddling with the Philips head got it back in the game and I was off. 

Some opted for the tarmac

Shortly after the Molenberg

The infamous Oude Kwaremont..

By now I'd got the measure of this event. I was feeling good and starting to really go for it on the climbs. What fun to be racing up these iconic roads. The last part took us up Oude Kwaremont and then the Paterberg - the key flash points on the pro race route. There were plenty of spectators already gathered at some of the swanky hospitality spots stationed up the climbs. It was great to have people cheering and stepping out of the way as you steam up! 

Overall, the Tour of Flanders is very well suited to the British sportive rider - the hills are short and sharp - and you get to see the professionals have a go at the same challenges the very next day, all within easy driving distance of the UK.

Bikes and beer take over the centre of Oudenaarde

Fabian Cancellara takes the win on Sunday

Andy Dawson was one of two Cyclosport writers riding the Tour of Flanders sportive. Sean Lacey's full review can be found HERE.

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