Flanders Blue(s)

This past weekend, we went to Temse for the Belgian Open (Mahjong, MCR rules) – Paula was playing, I was planning on riding my own “Tour of Flanders”, because the Flemish Ardennes are just around the corner.

It had been a long time since I cycled there. The area has many Pro Tour races and most of them are famous for their vicious cobblestone roads and climbs.

In general, the roads are treacherous in the area and many of the pro riders have scars to prove that.

I visited the Center for the Tour of Flanders in Oudenaarde during last year’s trip to Temse and we planned a cycling trip for May then, but I decided to take a leisure week in the hospital instead…

Having just “recovered” from my aggravated back problems, after two weeks of nuthin’ with the best of (outdoor) cycling weather, I was looking forward to getting on my bike again.

I should probably have opted for some either flat or indoor rides, certainly not for cobblestone stretches, but I’m not famous for my rational decisions.

Saturday morning, I dropped Paula off at the mahjong venue and drove down to Oudenaarde.

It had been raining heavily Friday afternoon and the forecast for today was not much better.

Besides, it was cold with a temperature just above zero and a real feel just below that.

I did have the common sense to opt for the shorter blue loop, which is just under 80 km, but with more climbs than the longer yellow loop and with less cobblestones.

The red loop would have to wait for some other time anyway.

PaterbergThe first couple of kilometers were not very promising, riding next to the Schelde river, but on a poorly maintained (bicycle) track.

But right after leaving that, the Oude Kwaremont was the first obstacle, leaving me with dislocated kidneys.

The Paterberg had a gutter next to it to avoid the cobblestones – tricky because of the mud, but less strenuous.

After that, the Koppenberg awaited and this was so slippery that I fell over when my rear wheel slipped away from under me.

On a stretch of over 20%, even with good conditions I would have a hard time getting back on – as it was, I had to walk for about 100 meters. No fun either on SPD-SL fitted race shoes, but my ego being bruised was the worse part of it I guess…

Shortly after that, I missed a sign (just after crossing the N60) – when I went back Sunday, I saw that it was practically invisible because of the four Pro Tour and Gran Fondo signs…

I went back and forth a couple of times, but gave up. It was now raining heavily and shortly after, I got my second flat – by that time I had gotten close to Oudenaarde again and I decided to call it a day.

Having ridden just over 40 difficult kilometers and not in a very good mood, I watched de Omloop het Nieuwsblad in the cycling cafe – watching the pros suffer was a small consolation.

After our dinner – pizza and pasta, off course, in a nice Italian restaurant in Sint-Niklaas – I was feeling better and more or less determined to give it another try on Sunday.

The weather forecast was much better – still cold, but dry at least and even partly sunny.

Sadly, today’s Gran Fondo – having a rest stop in Oudenaarde – was attracting even more tourists than yesterday AND it was going to cross my path more often.

Mariaborrestraat - cobblestonesHeading out for the first kilometers of the red loop, I would jump back on the blue loop where I lost it yesterday. But because of the huge crowd and the signs being covered again, I got lost within 5 kilometers.

Luckily, today I DID bring my map (fool me once and all that), which did not make it much easier to get back on my track and I had to circle around to do so, but eventually I managed.

After that, it went quite well. Following the signs that is – the cobblestones of the Mariaborrestraat and the Taaienberg made me crumble and the wind was spoiling the fun, but I didn’t get lost at least.

Only one more time there seemed to be a sign missing, but I got directions from a road guard (for the pro race) and it went well again after that.

The temperature had increased somewhat, although the wind chill was still a spoiler.

By the time I got back to Oudenaarde, I let go of the idea to make another short loop of my own.

And while it was not really the blue loop I followed, I did cover just over 80 kilometers anyway.

Back in the cycling cafe again, I watched the pros during their final of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Not the best of rides for me this weekend, either of them, but I was happy to be cycling outdoors as it was.

I had to take it “easy” because of the forced break, but the cobblestones were no good for my back either – or many other parts of my body for that matter.

I already knew that, but the added “fun” of rain and mud, did make it that much harder and I know I will have a little setback again the coming days.

Garmin of the combined rides here.