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La Fuga staff pick out their top ten rides for the year ahead. What are you looking forward to this summer?
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‘.
by Phil Deeker, founder of Cent Cols Challenge centcolschallenge.com
The Flandrians proudly label it “the toughest one-day road race in the world”.
For the sportive there are no time-chips – “just getting round is good enough”.
262km. 15 climbs. The day before I had worked out the total climbing and had vaguely reassured myself that only 600m or so over that distance could not be that hard.
The weather was not forecast to help the 20,000 of us at all. It didn’t. The Pro’s were luckier the next day.
I had a co-rider, Paul, from La Fuga and together we decided on strict energy-conservation over the first, flat part of the race, combined with a shrewd tactic of hiding in a bunch to keep out of the wind. He had ridden the short version before, but had never done the whole thing. In fact he had never ridden that far, ever. At least the distance didn’t worry me. The pro’s deal with the pressures of team expectations; us mortals deal with the pressures of (often crazy) personal ambitions. I had come to do battle with The Cobbles. I had put off for years doing this ride because of les pavés, but now I felt ready in some undefined way: something to do with a list of names and tick boxes on it, really.
Having ‘signed on’ on the same stage as the Pro’s would use the next day, in the impressive Market Square in Brugges, we head off nonchalantly in search of our first group. No mass-start here. It’s a long way, and no-one seems in a rush to get to those hills. We’re soon up with a big group. Too big, in fact, since our speed seems to constantly bunny-hop from 30-40kph. Motorway-concertina effect: an almost predictably regular swing from semi-panic-chasing of some invisible breakaway attempt to free-wheeling / brakes-on / watch-that-wheel-in-front congestion. But to go to the front and try and get across to a distant group ahead seemed both naïve and impolite.
In Belgium, unless you are a Pro, when there is a cycle path The Law says you use it. Most of the time all 20,000 of us did. This provided the main challenge of the first 120km of the event. Speeds varied from 25 to 40 kph on these and it was only rarely that you were the one who chose that speed. Bollards, S-bends, sharp curbs, potholes, gravel and mud all made for a spicy cocktail of hazards. Add to that lot a blinding, car-wash dose of road spray once the rain really got going on us, and you were lucky to stay upright. Which we didn’t.
After about 100km of this, and having seen and avoided a series of tumbles, it was our turn. To crash on a cycle path doesn’t sound too cool, but when some idiot cut right across my co-riders’ wheel, he was straight down right in front of me and there was nothing I could do. Too close, I had no time to react either and having used him as a launch pad, took off up-and-down-and-onto the road. Shouts went up and surprisingly a mass-mess was somehow avoided. The group left us both to lick our wounds – which could have been a lot worse, and inspect our bikes – which after some twisting, pulling and knocking of bits, had traction once more and seemed miraculously as if they were ready to still carry us to and up those hills. Minor rips on clothing; just a bit of blood and bruising. It could so easily have been Game Over. Was this really such a good idea to inflict so much rough treatment on both bike and body?
We breezed past two feedstops, where there was a promise of food and drink, if you were ready to get in line with a few hundred others. On a mission like Doing Flanders, no way am I going to queue! We had been warned of this, and had pockets duly stuffed. On the second stop we did use one of the very efficient ‘pissoirs’ though, obediently respecting one of the event rules to “..not pee outdoors”.
After 150km or so a ridge of hills came into view and I felt ready to go into battle. Then an unexpected flat 2km section of cobbles hit us and proceeded to hammer a good chunk of that confidence right out of me. Bigger riders seemed to have found the secret to floating across these cobbles and sped on past; all 63kgs of me were being bounced all over the shop, even when I tried to force the pace a bit. All that did was cause one of my bottles to fly out of its’ cage, in disgust probably. The cobbles were still wet and slippery even though the sky had cleared a bit by now, but worse was to come.
The first climb followed shortly after and was far less brutal than the flat section I had just survived. In fact it was almost disappointingly easy (who’s being hard to please here?!) with its’ smooth tarmac and soft gradient. But all the others made up for that one very quickly. Gradients between 15 and 20% seemed part of most of the climbs, in varying lengths. But it wasn’t the gradient that provided the challenge. That was just one factor to deal with on the list of ‘problems’ on most climbs: steep camber; icy-like slippery mud; ruts between the cobbles that suck your wheel in; rebel single cobbles that suddenly jut out at your wheel intent on stopping you on the spot; and that’s without dozens of other cyclists weaving their ways (across and) up the narrow climbs making it impossible to even see ‘the line’ (if there ever was one) let alone try and follow it.
I gradually find some kind of technique and get to the top of all but one of the climbs un-mudded and still on two wheels, more due to good luck than good cycling. On the Koppenberg, though, I was beaten. A layer of very greasy mud had built up on this legendary steep, embanked climb and as soon as I turned the front wheel slightly to go for a ‘line’ through the walking cyclists, I was down in the mud. Even walking up it was hard enough.
The Molenberg was a close one too, with ruts easily wider than our wheels between almost every cobble, it seemed, and since at 18-20% I was not going that fast, cycling up here needed acrobatic skills at times.
By the time we had reached Gerardsbergen for the penultimate, and usually race-deciding climb up the Muur, (which it was the next day), the other climbs had become a blurred memory of battlefields of mud, gradient and guts. But I was still riding and felt victorious already. Being urban, rather than very rural and agricultural, I was hoping for kinder, more civilised, cobbles on the way up to the infamous Kappel at the top. I was right. The climb was the first one I really enjoyed. I even saw its’ beauty. It twists gracefully as opposed to most of the brutal straight-and-up climbs previous to this. Not that many Pro’s would see it like that.
There is no better way to watch a Pro road race than being by the road-side having just ridden that same course the day before. As I squatted on the bank of the Muur climb on race day and watched Boonen and Cancellara fight their way into history, I was in sheer awe of their strength and skills, aware of every kilometre they had just raced over.
As we mortals banged on the pedals for the final 12km of flat after the Bosberg, knowing that we had won our own battle, Paul and I both felt capable of touching a small part of that ocean of emotion that must fill a riders’ mind when he is sprinting home for victory. We saw just that the next day on Cancellara’s face. As I watched him on the big screen in Gerardsbergen, my throat swollen and tight with emotion and a big smile across my face, I knew exactly why I had put myself through all that on Saturday and would do it all again next year.
While we are all holed up on our turbo trainers wishing it won’t snow this weekend, attentions are turning to the Spring Classics. You might even be watching past editions on DVD to provide inspiration, motivation and the relevant “hard-man” status that endless hours on a turbo require.
For 2011, La Fuga is offering tours to both the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix. These two Northern classics are linch-pin one-day races which can make or break a career. Now its possible to ride both events the day before the pro’s take to the same pave.
Beginning with Flanders, you’ll arrive in Gent on April 1, more’s the fools that don’t. It will be a memorable weekend of bicycling riding, beer drinking, frites en mayo eating across the fields of Flanders. Saturday April 2 will see an early start from our 4* base in central Gent, as we take you to the start of your sportive. You can ride the full length from Bruges or a great circular ride from Ninove. Whichever you chose, the famous bergs await. Will it be the length of the Oude Kwaremont or the steepness of the Paterberg that catches you off guard? Whichever, there will be plenty of epic stories to recount over dinner back in Gent.
Sunday 3rd April its the Pro’s time. We’ll catch the race in a couple of places, before heading to see the famous Muur. In 2010, the race literally unfolded below us as Cancellara pressed the motor and left Boonen gasping for air. With the race over, and the partisan Flemish crowds dispersing its time to head home to recount stories to friends and family.
Next up its Paris Roubaix – the Queen of the Classics, or a Sunday in Hell.
Maybe bergs aren’t your thing, or maybe its the thought of a new challenge. For the first time, in 2011 you’ll be able to ride the parcours of Paris Roubaix a day ahead of the pro peleton. 165km of sportive await, beginning in St Quentin. Your 3* base in the centre of Peronne will immerse you in more than just cycling history. Its the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting in the two World Wars.
Arriving in Peronne on Friday, April 8, by transfer from SW London or Lille International, you’re bike will be prepped to battle on the cobbles. A short transfer to St Quentin on Saturday morning for the 7h30 start and you can begin to compare yourself to Merckx or Boonen. Crossing legendary sectors of pave, such as Cysoing, Mons-enPevele, you’ll reach the velodrome at Roubaix to complete a lap, before a visit to the showers.
Sunday is the turn of the Pro’s to do battle. We’ll take you to the centre of the action, and you can keep pace via the race on TV. Its one of 5 monuments of cycling and one not to be missed.
Your weekend will finish with a transfer back to London or Lille, and you’ll dream of riding pave, pave, pave.