The Tour of Flanders: An Epic Cycling Event

The amateur race "We Ride Flanders" in the iconic region of Flanders in Belgium invites cyclists of all levels to tackle the legendary cobblestone roads and hills of the famous Tour of Flanders. In 2024, I also wanted to take on this unique challenge to test my limits and delve deep into the heart of Belgian cycling.

What exactly is the Tour of Flanders?

The Tour of Flanders in Belgium, known as the "Ronde van Vlaanderen," is not just a race; it's an institution in the world of road cycling. As one of the five Monuments of cycling, it stands alongside legendary races like Paris-Roubaix or Milan-San Remo. These Monuments are famous not only for their long history and tradition but also for the unique challenges they pose to riders – they are considered the toughest one-day races in cycling.

Who can participate?

The Tour of Flanders attracts not only professionals but also cycling enthusiasts who want to ride the same roads and face the same conditions as their idols in the professional peloton. A day before the official race, "We Ride Flanders" takes place, an amateur race where parts of the same route can be ridden under competitive conditions. Participants can choose from various distances (78 km - 270 km), making the event attractive to both experienced cyclists and ambitious hobbyists.

We Ride Flanders: 125 km Through Wetness, Cobblestones, and Personal Limits

At 7 a.m., with temperatures barely reaching 5 degrees Celsius and rain persisting, the starting gun rang out for me. I had signed up for the 159 km route, which started directly as the first group. Equipped with everything my wardrobe had to offer in terms of rain protection, I quickly realized that I would experience a new dimension of the word "wet" on this day. Just 10 kilometers into the race, I had to overcome my first mental hurdle: my Ass-Saver, which was supposed to protect at least my rear from splashing water, bid farewell on the first long stretch of cobblestones. Suddenly, I became even wetter, although I hadn't thought that was possible before. At that moment, I was ready to bail out and head straight home. Luckily, my partner Anton was there and sacrificed his Ass-Saver so that I could somehow regain my composure. I was honestly surprised at how quickly persistent rain and slippery cobblestones can push you to your mental limit. But somehow, I managed to motivate myself again and continue the ride.

After three hours in the rain and nearly 60 km, my shoe covers finally gave up, and my socks were soaked. Unfortunately, the temperature remained around 5 degrees, and the constant jolting over the cobblestone sections did its part to frazzle my nerves. At km 100, we had to make a decision. Considering that we had already ridden the last part of the route the day before, we decided to shorten the route. So, after 125 kilometers and six hours in the rain, we crossed the finish line. Still, it was a great feeling to somehow make it to the finish line and have this ordeal behind us.

Afterwards, it was straight to a much-needed shower. I also highly recommend Belgian fries and beer to revive oneself physically.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look: Live at the Professional Race

The professional race the next day started under bright sunshine. An incredible atmosphere in the starting town of Oudenaarde. What totally surprised me was how close you can get to the riders and the team vehicles. I would have expected a restricted area with access control.

Instead, you can just stop by anywhere, watch the riders warm up, and inspect the bikes. Here, we were allowed to be very close to the FDJ-Suez team and experience a bit of a pro atmosphere. After the start, we rode in the FDJ vehicle to specific points along the route to witness the battle and the victory live. There are some key points like the Oude Kwaremont, where many spectators gather, but also deserted sections. For the sake of fairness, it started raining for the professional women after just 1 hour of racing, and thanks to the previous day, I knew exactly how the ride must have felt for everyone.

Watching a bike race live along the route also involves a lot of waiting. Then, the entire race rushes past you in what feels like 1-2 minutes, and you have to drive to the next point. So, we spent a lot of time waiting for the peloton and followed the race parallel on our smartphones. We were back at the finish line for the finish. In pouring rain, the women showed once again in an exciting finale what they are made of. Overall, an incredible experience to see a pro race live.

My Tips for the Amateur Race:

For future participants in the amateur race, I have the following tips: Definitely ride the most difficult climbs the day before the tour. It also helped me extremely to know what it's like to ride on cobblestones for a long time and, even more challenging, to ride uphill on cobblestones. Always expect the worst weather ever. In 2022, it even snowed during the Tour of Flanders. Otherwise, I highly recommend everyone to try it out for themselves.

Lapierre XELIUS

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