La Fuga staff pick out their top ten rides for the year ahead. What are you looking forward to this summer?
Guest blogger: By Michael Edwards
Paris Roubaix….two words that have echoed in the very deep of my cycling soul since the first time I saw the images of De Vlaeminck and Merckx fighting their way over the cobbles. Finally, early last year, after seasons of looking on aghast at the racing in this ‘Queen of the Classics’ I decided it was time.
Having done the Marmotte with La Fuga I knew that the Hell of the North needed the sort of guardian angel service that Ian and the team offer. This trip promised to be hard enough as it was.
Suffering…for the love of it
The Cobbles Week is a pilgrimage to the holyland of professional cycling, encompassing two of the most important one day races on the calendar.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out issue #60 of the Australian magazine RIDE Cycling Review. Journalist Mark Johnson has written a piece on the adventures of stalwart Aussies Lew Targett and Steve Hicks, plus California-Frenchman Jean-Francois Thietard from this year’s La Fuga Classics Trip.
Below is a snippet from the article, and view the full story here Classics-The Experience.
This year Targett and Hicks rode the 133km version of ‘de Ronde’ cyclo event, a ride that took them over climbs like the Koppenberg, Paterberg, and Oude Kwaremont. While much shorter than l’Alpe d’Huez, in the halls of cycling mythology these hills tower alongside the Alpine giants.
After the Flanders sportive, Targett said climbing the Paterberg a day before Cancellera made his race-winning move in the same exact spot gave him new appreciation for both what it takes to race the Ronde, and for the Flemish public’s genetic disposition to support bike racing.
Because of the connection the flag-waving, beer-drinking, frite-munching locals have with the riders who are depositing their legs and souls on the cobbles, Targett said that he thinks the Flemish event is better than l’Etape du Tour. Even though it was cold, grey, and windy, “It was a sensationally good day.”
With the racing season now underway (yes we know it’s still early February), everyone is looking forward to the Spring Classics, the first big races of the season. Will Fabian Cancellara be the marked man again? Will Thor Hushovd finally take a Spring Classic win? Can Tom Boonen reproduce his past form and become a Belgian hero once more or will Philippe Gilbert step up to become overlord of the cycling monuments?
A good friend of La Fugas, Dan Lloyd, rode for three seasons with the Cervélo Test team, which then became Garmin-Cervélo. He competed in some of the biggest classics in the cycling world, riding with Thor Hushovd, Carlos Sastre and Heinrich Haussler. La Fuga are running an exciting tour to see one of the biggest cobbled Spring Classics, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. You can ride the cobbles on the sportive event, be part of the fever-pitch atmosphere on the road side on race day and sample the delights of the array of Belgian beers and frites with mayonnaise.
Here he talks to us about the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and more specifically the 2009 edition. A rider who had matured his racing career in the Flanders region of Belgium made it into the dangerous break of the day with riders such as Sylvain Chavanel, Leife Hoste and Manuel Quinziato, all known for their classics pedigree. You can see here the difficulty as Dan and the rest of the days move hit the incredibly steep Koppenburg. Lloyd relives his experience with La Fuga and tells us why the Flanders bergs are so important to him and why he thinks you shouldn’t miss out on our Tour of Flanders weekend.
LF: The Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2009, you made the vital break putting pressure on the other teams to chase. Tell us about this race that is very special to the people of the Flanders region of Belgium.
DL: Flanders was THE race that I always wanted to do, ever since I started cycling, there was always something special about it and I always admired and looked up to the hard men that did well there. I had goose bumps all over from the moment I rode into the big square in Brugge to sign on, the atmosphere was electric, I had to pinch myself as it didn’t seem quite real that I was in amongst it.
“They are just so passionate about their cycling, and that is really their world championships…”
LF: How did the move come about? Who started the move and where?
DL: It wasn’t really an ‘early’ move – I made the attack after the Paterberg which was at 180km, I was right up there mixing it with the big names and I was told to attack if I could. Leif Hoste, Sylvain Chavanel, Quinziato and a couple of others came with me, and we were away, racing towards the Kemmelberg.
LF: What did it feel like to be in a break like that and what were the tactics being employed by the teams/riders?
DL: I cannot begin to describe the feeling, just starting the race was a dream come true, so to be off the front with riders of that quality was incredible, and there was so much support from English fans on the side. Of course, that break wasn’t part of the final shake down, but for my team (Cervelo), Quick Step and Lotto, it meant that they didn’t have to force the chase from behind, which means that you can save a few riders until later.
LF: What is the atmosphere like with the Flanders fans?
DL: They are just so passionate about their cycling, and that is really their world championships. It’s not just the day itself, it’s the whole build up, the week before the race is a huge build up and the big riders are on the TV and front pages of the newspapers talking themselves up and others down! It just seems that everybody from Flanders is knowledgeable about the race, and most of them come out to support from the roadside. These days, there are so many more international spectators; I don’t think the event has ever been as big as it is now.
“The Kemmelberg is the one that everyone fears…”
LF: What do you remember most from that day?
DL: Being in the break is obviously always going to be the standout memory – I ran out of legs towards the end when Chavanel attacked before the Muur, but I was still able to help my team mates a little and in the end Haussler came 2nd, which, considering how dominating Devolder was that day, was about the best we could have done.
LF: Which is the toughest climb on the route?
DL: The Kemmelberg is the one that everyone fears, it’s a dead stop into it at the bottom and notoriously steep, often even the pro’s have to get off and walk. The Muur is the final big one and often where the action happens, it’s not that hard if you go into it fresh, but after 230km it really hurts.
“..get an experience for the cobbled climbs so that you can appreciate how hard it is.”
LF: They’ve changed the route this year slightly, what do you think of this?
DL:The parcours looks harder to me, the final does laps up the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, both very hard cobbled climbs. I think it is really favouring Gilbert, and he will be as motivated as ever to win his home race. I hope the fact that the end is harder won’t make the racing more negative – it’s sure to be a race of attrition anyway, particularly if the weather is bad.
LF:Where do you think the race will be won and lost this year?
DL: Those final laps will decide things, whoever has the legs will come to the fore at that point.
LF: As someone that’s lived in Belgium, what things shouldn’t people miss on out during a visit to the Flanders region?
DL: The local bars and choice of Belgian beers shouldn’t be missed; it’s a real part of the culture over there. Of course there are the Frituurs as well (chip shops), and the Tour of Flanders museum in Oudenaarde, but the main experience is the race and the chance to ride over the same roads yourself, get an experience for the cobbled climbs so that you can appreciate how hard it is.
LF: Talk to us about this year with IG Markets – Sigma Sport riding on Specialized S-Works SL4 Framesets; will you have a full racing program and what are your goals for the season?
DL: My racing program won’t be quite as full on as it has been the last few years, but the quality of the racing in the UK is getting better every year. My main goals will be the National Championships and the Tour of Britain, both important races for myself and the team.
Thanks a lot to Dan for taking the time to answer our questions and we’re all looking forwards to seeing him make his mark on the British domestic racing scene as well as abroad.
If you’d like to ride the same roads as Dan Lloyd and the pro peloton during the Tour of Flanders, sign up for our Tour of Flanders weekend. The weekend will feature riding the sportive event on the Saturday before recuperating with some beer beers and frites. On Sunday we’ll head out to see how its really done when the pro’s battle it out to become the ‘Lion of Flanders‘.
Every year in early April, the pro peloton prepares its bikes for the toughest tests of the season, the cobbled classics. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix make the big spring classics across Northern France and Belgium incorporating some of the roughest sections of cobblestone roads that anyone would dare to organize a road race over. The Kemmelberg, the Koppenberg and Le Carrefour de l’Arbre, are all sections of road that strike fear into both riders and mechanics alike.
For generations, the frame and wheel builders of the cycling world have searched for the most effective and strongest way to tackle the stretches of Pavé used year after year. All kinds of unorthodox methods have been employed with varying degrees of success. 1994 perhaps saw the most extreme methods being implemented. Andrei Tchmil rode a Rock Shox Paris Roubaix SL to victory, using a short travel front suspension fork. The same year Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders and 3-time winner of both Roubaix and Flanders, used a dual suspension road bike built for him by Bianchi. He eventually threw his bike into a ditch although his frustration was mainly due to his pedals, which, like the rest of his bike, were completely clogged with French farmland. Many teams have used and still use, cyclo-cross bikes due to the larger clearance to let any unsavoury mud pass through the gaps.
But breakages happen. The most recent memory was of Classics Specialist George Hincapie in a heap on the floor suffering from a separated shoulder after the steerer tube of his fork failed during the 2006 edition of Paris-Roubaix. As his handlebars come away from the frame with no way of steering the bike he veers off the road, at some speed, and somersaults over the front.
But the component(s) that takes perhaps the biggest battering are the wheels. Many methods have been tried and tested, teams these days even use carbon rims and tubeless tyres as technology advances and materials are developed. Cancellara took Flanders and Roubaix on carbon rims, as did Johan Van Summeren last year during the Queen of the Classics into the velodrome at Roubaix.
But there is one combination that has been tried and tested over and over again and is the preferred choice of Cobbles newbies and veterans alike. That being the Ambrosio Nemesis Box tubular. Here at the La Fuga office we heard a very nice pair were being built up by George the mechanic in the Sigma Sport workshop. We felt compelled to go and check them out and we weren’t disappointed.
This pair were using Ambrosio’s most recent incarnation of the Nemesis rim, which is the same as its been for many years. Why? Because it works. The rim is used by a large percentage of the pro peloton during the cobbled classics. Even when teams have deals with wheel manufacturers, they often re-sticker the Ambrosio’s in order to keep their sponsors happy. But you can always tell an Ambrosio rim by the classic brass valve balance that adds a touch of class to the wheel. The nemesis rim bears the words La Reine du Nord rightly giving it the title of the Queen of the Northern classics.
The hubs used on this particular build are DT Swiss 190 ceramic bearing, offering the best in new technology to spin the classic hoop. DT Swiss also provide the double butted spokes with two thick ends, providing strength at the ends and flexibility towards the middle, this ensures snapping stays to a minimum. George the mechanic built the wheel using 3 cross lacing to ensure the perfect mix of suppleness vs toughness.
Finally, the thing that really rounds these wheels off perfectly (pun unintentional) are the FMB Paris-Roubaix tubular tires. FMB (or François-Marie: Boyaux) have been hand stitching the finest quality tubular tires in Plurien, Brittany, for many years. They’re the first choice for the pro peloton when it comes to cobbles. Van Summeren, Cancellara, Boonen, Hushovd; the FMB tubular has been used by all the classics giants whenever Pavé comes into the equation.
A pair such as this comes to £1,324 and are the ultimate custom wheelset if you’re looking to attack the cobbles this year.
If you fancy giving it a go, La Fuga offer two tours to cater for this very need. Our Tour of Flanders tour offers the perfect combination of riding the course and watching the event the following day, experiencing the electric atmosphere at varying points along the course. Our Paris-Roubaix Challenge weekend runs in parallel and gives you the opportunity to attack the famous parcours of the Hell of the North classic, testing you and your equipment to the limit.