Pilgrimage to Flanders - a cyclist’s chance to endure cobbled roads and extreme suffering.

Registration for 2014 Tour of Flanders Cyclo-sportive opens Friday 1 November 2013

by David Else   October 27, 2013  

Tour of Flanders Cyclo

This Friday (1 November), registrations open for one of Europe’s most popular sportives: the Tour of Flanders Cyclo. That’s the Ronde van Vlaanderen to afficiandos. The classic professional race of the same name takes place on Sunday 6 April, with the Cyclo for non-pros and all-comers on Saturday 5 April 2014.

Our man David Arthur rode the route earlier this year, and in 2014 it’s my turn.

After two successful stabs on the mountains in the Etape du Tour, and a little jaunt along the pave’ of Paris-Roubaix, it was the obvious next step to tackle the hills and cobbles of Flanders.

Regular readers may know I enjoy the occasional sportive here in the UK and abroad. But this event is more than just another sportive. Combined with watching the real Tour of Flanders race next day, it’s a homage to professional bike racing at the very shrine of the sport: the rugged roads and harsh landscapes of Belgium.

It’s a fair old distance too. The longest option in the Cyclo is 256km, the same distance – and exactly the same route - as the pros. It starts in Bruges, heads pretty much straight for Oudenaarde, and then follows a crazy zig-zag loop around the region to take in as many hills and cobbled sections as possible, to finish back in Oudenaarde.

The exact route has yet to be confirmed, but previous years Cyclos have includes a good selection of classic climbs, such as  the infamous Koppenberg , along with – or sometimes combined with – long stretches of cobblestones. It’s enough to rattle your teeth and loosen anything on your bike not screwed down tight.

And if the hills and cobbles aren’t enough, there may also be the weather to contend with. Belgium in April is not renowned for its balmy temperatures. Pictures of the race over the years show riders battling through mud, winds, ice and snow. The cyclo may be the same. Balmy? Barmy, more like.

If that sounds too much like purgatory (I hesitate to say ‘hell’ as that epithet belongs to another race) there are shorter cyclo options of 83km and 133km that start and finish in Oudenaarde.

But as a friend of mine says: “If you haven’t battled your way uphill, in the freezing cold, on a narrow lane, sliding on the cobbles, avoiding cyclists who have already fallen off, with numb hands, aching feet and still 100km to go, then you can’t really call yourself a bike rider.”

That sealed it for me. And another friend said: “Sign me up!”

So our entries are in, and we’ve got five months ahead which will inevitably include some very long and very hard training rides through the depths of the British winter. Even more exciting, we’ve got five months to discuss which tyres to use. It’s all part of the ritual when preparing for a pilgrimage to the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Info

If you’re keen to take part, there’s more information here: www.rondevanvlaanderen.com   Entries are limited to 16,000 but, with riders coming from all over the word to sample this epic day out on the bike, it fills up fast.

You can enter direct and make your own travel arrangements, or get everything sorted with a tour company. Most offer long weekend packages that include hotel, travel, taking part in the Cyclo on the Saturday and watching the race on the Sunday.

UK tour operators include SRS Events www.srs-events.cc and Sports Tours International www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk. Visit their website for an idea of options and prices.

 

13 user comments

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I'm not sure if this qualifies you are a bike rider or crazy loon. That's quite something! I can see the appeal of the cobbles even if they are somewhat of a novelty but at that distance and especially with that weather? Crazy! Throw in some sportive riders slip sliding and falling all around you and well, hmmm. Bravo is all I can say! Maybe I'll head over in the summer on my lonesome...

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

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posted by sm [329 posts]
27th October 2013 - 11:04

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I did this last year, a fantastic weekend.
The ride was fantastic, with only a couple of bottlenecks on the climbs, great camaraderie with all the international cyclists. And they do come from all over the world.
Top that off with the fanatical crowds on the pro race and a good lashing of sausage rolls and belgian beer, nothing better.
I will say, it was definitely cold, but we were lucky, it was dry!
I suspect it may be a little morechallenging in the wet/ice/sleet/snow/mud. But hey, you only live once!

posted by mmutley [5 posts]
27th October 2013 - 13:17

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mmutley wrote:
I did this last year, a fantastic weekend.
The ride was fantastic, with only a couple of bottlenecks on the climbs, great camaraderie with all the international cyclists. And they do come from all over the world.
Top that off with the fanatical crowds on the pro race and a good lashing of sausage rolls and belgian beer, nothing better.

Can second that did the full ride this year, something special about going up the famous classic cobbled climbs, crowds were out in support and cheering us riders as well, and the roads were controlled for traffic, made for a great experience.

posted by Jasonnz1 [23 posts]
27th October 2013 - 18:46

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I'm planning to do this too - it's been on my list for a few years but it's the first time I've managed to organise the schedule to make it! Very excited, and also suitably intimidated, so the winter training is going to have to be taken seriously...

posted by step-hent [638 posts]
27th October 2013 - 18:55

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I'm thinking of doing this. Silly question, if I stay in Ghent/Bruge , how easy is it to drive and park near the start? Any tips on where to stay and is this sensible to do by myself or would it be better as a group? Ta

posted by dunnoh [143 posts]
28th October 2013 - 10:03

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dunnoh wrote:
I'm thinking of doing this. Silly question, if I stay in Ghent/Bruge , how easy is it to drive and park near the start? Any tips on where to stay and is this sensible to do by myself or would it be better as a group? Ta

Not a silly question, I found it hard finding info for it last year. I did this for the first time last year and it was a great event. Very well organised. I looked into one of the tours you can get from the UK but found it much cheaper to drive myself, and everything worked out really well.

Cheap Eurotunnel crossing.
Drive to Ghent which takes about 1.5hrs iirc.
2 nights at the holiday inn next to a massive Ikea. Out in the 'burbs but excellent tramline into Ghent if you want to head into town (we did on the Saturday night for some food, good City).
Hotel to Oudenaarde was about 30 mins drive mainly a dual carrigaeway. Easy to get there to pre-register on the Friday afternoon.
On the day of the sportive it was easy to find a parking spot in Oudenaarde. There are loads of marshalls/police to direct you and people just park wherever they can around a huge industrial site. Think we left Ghent at around 6.30 am.
The route was well organised. We did the 85 mile loop. Only had congestion on the very first berg, had to walk, otherwise all were clear to ride (we started at 8 am).
Unless you really have to, I would avoid most of the feed stations as they are very busy.
Enjoy a beer in Oudenaarde at the end of the sportive.
We drove in again the Sunday to watch the pro race. Parked in the same industrial estate and got a free shuttle bus which ran inside the closed off roads and dropped us off by Oude Kwaarmont where there was a big screen tv and food etc.
Free shuttle bus back to the car, drove straight back to the Eurotunnel.
Great trip, well worth doing - just wrap up warm cos its freezing over there in late March!
I rode my usual carbon road bike but with 25mm contis instead of 23 mm Michelins I usually use. Bike was fine.

posted by intherain [1 posts]
28th October 2013 - 12:10

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sounds like a miserably good time

posted by jarredscycling [436 posts]
28th October 2013 - 18:00

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Thanks intherain. That's it. I've decided and me and my brother are going to train for it. Cant wait (hope I get a ticket!)

posted by dunnoh [143 posts]
28th October 2013 - 21:04

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for those not intent on or unable to go for the race weekend itself- these roads are very quiet at pretty much all other times of the year. I rode the whole route apart from the stretch from Bruges in late august, and the number of riders I came across could be counted on my one hand! If you've never ridden cobbles, let alone cobbled climbs, especially the ones where the cobbles just seem to have been thrown around randomly to form some sort of route, then you'll be in for a satisfying challenge.

The countryside is beautiful and if you manage to do it at a quieter time of year it adds to the experience imo.

Suggest you get a second layer of bar tape!

posted by Metjas [240 posts]
28th October 2013 - 23:29

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Metjas wrote:
Suggest you get a second layer of bar tape!

Big Grin

posted by southseabythesea [61 posts]
29th October 2013 - 9:49

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Anyone found an up to date site for registrations yet? All I can find is the sport.be sub-site for it, with info about 2013...

posted by step-hent [638 posts]
30th October 2013 - 18:42

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Thanks for the comments.

The official site is set up for 2014 registrations now.
www.rondevanvlaanderen.com

You guys who’ve ridden it before – care to share more info on the bikes and wheels you used? And especially what tyres you used. General consensus seems to be that the cobbles of Flanders aren’t TOO rough, so I probably won’t go for the bombproof (but heavy) options I used when I rode the Paris-Roubaix cyclo.

David Else

posted by David Else [273 posts]
5th November 2013 - 14:48

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Regarding organised tours vs independent trips, as well as covering cycling for road.cc, your humble correspondent also covers travel for various publications, where this is a frequently discussed topic, so here are some thoughts:

Specialist bike tour companies can save you hassle. Transport, accommodation, transfers, bike carriage, ride entry etc is all taken care of. You pay your money, sit back, and let someone else do the work.

DIY travel gives you more independence. A private trip for just you and maybe a couple of buddies means you can depart, stop, eat and sleep when and where you like. But, of course, you have to arrange hotels, ferries etc yourself.

DIY travel also means you can choose where to stay – be it hostel, B&B or boutique apartment - and keep away from the large busy hotels if you prefer the quiet life. On the other hand, the hotels used by bike tour companies are often full of other cyclists, which is great for cameraderie and part of the buzz, although it can make the foyer smell a little sweaty.

So there are pros and cons to both options. Over the past few years I’ve travelled to four big European sportives/cyclos. One was totally self-organised, on two I bought a complete package with a tour company, and the other was a mix (self-drive, own ferry bookings, hotels on route self-arranged, main hotel and event entry arranged with tour co). They all worked out well. So I’d suggest the choice between organised tours vs independent trips is not just about money. It’s as much about the spare time you have to arrange your own trip, and the style of travel you prefer.

David Else

posted by David Else [273 posts]
5th November 2013 - 15:02

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