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Belgium: more than great beer!
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 3rd May 2016


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Jet Set Super Vet takes on the Tour of Flanders

Our resident 'Jet Set Super Vet' (JSSV), Stuart Lumb, has been taking on a new challenge. While familiar with the hills of his native 'God's country', Yorkshire, the cobbles and hills of the Flanders region of Belgium were going to be a something news for a man who has had his fair share of 'lanterne rouge' finishes in triathlon. In his latest piece, Stuart reports from the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo sportive.


Belgium has more than just great beer!

One summer evening, at the tender age of five, JSSV was furiously pedalling his tricycle, head down (nothing has changed!), when his front - and only - brake failed and he ended up running into  a very well built and substantial Yorkshire stone wall. An X-ray examination in Halifax Royal Infirmary showed no lasting damage to his grey matter (some might disagree), and a few days later he was back on his trike.

Many years later a lightweight racing bike is now the preferred mount which, touch wood, has survived unscathed.

Over my 13 year career as a triathlete it's become apparent that the bike is my best element and the run my worst, such that the places I gain on two wheels are given up when on "Shanks's pony"! I have graduated towards sportives of late and took part in the Surrey 100 last August, on behalf of the premature baby charity, BLISS and I was delighted to achieve an average speed of 14.8 mph finishing comfortably inside the cut-off time, although the event had been shortened to 92 miles, sadly due to a fatality.

Out of curiosity, I checked out my (one and only!) Ironman bike split, from 2006, when I had averaged only marginally better - 14.9 mph! Considering I was nine years older I thought I'd done quite well, although last summer I hadn't swam 2.4miles before climbing on my bike plus I didn't have to run a marathon afterwards! Moving on, March 28th dawned with me and my training buddy Shaun safely aboard a Sports Tours International coach at 7.30am, bikes snugly packed in the trailer, after which we  headed down the M1 en route for the Channel and Belgium.

Our weekly bike rides throughout the winter were going to be put to the test as we were about to tackle the infamous Flanders Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo, cobbles and all! It made a very pleasant change just filling a bag and not worrying about the weight as we were obviously not flying to Belgium. We had a number of pick ups which extended the journey time such that we didn't arrive at our hotel in Ghent until about 8pm, whereupon we had to settle and unpack,  put our bikes together and grab a bite to eat which meant a late night and just five hours "kip" before the big event. Hardly ideal.  

A logistics problem early next morning delayed our departure to the start at Oudenaarde – this was where the 71km and 100km events started, with Shaun and myself opting for the shortest option – well, it was the same medal and t-shirt regardless of distance plus reading about the dreaded pavé many months ago made us favour the short route. The day was bright,  cool, 12°c and thank the Lord dry as we and 15,998 others commenced the ride.  There was no formal start as such, just a case of crossing the start line to activate the timing chip. I had invested in a set of Vittoria Pave tyres - which were very tight to get on incidentally - on the basis that every little helps. Fortunately neither Shaun or I suffered any mechanicals which is always a blessing.

Paterberg

We actually had to negotiate five cobbled sections, some of which were flat and others which  were quite the opposite.  The sides of the cobbled sections are less demanding, in fact some are even smooth gutters  and not being proud I headed there a.s.a.p. Our weekly  training route in East Yorks involves a 3km climb averaging 14%,  but is on tarmac of course. It stood me in good stead but even so several of the climbs beat me – along with quite a few others. I was riding my ancient Motobecane (a once famous French make, “Moto” being slang for motorcycle and “becane” slang for bike),  and as it's got a granny ring, dare I say, but being mainly alloy that steed hits the scales at 9kg. My best bike weighs 7.5kg but I left that at home. Regarding the climbs, I felt much better after watching several of the  pros “hike a bike” up the steepest ascents in the Sunday race,  plus that was on dry surfaces!

Paterberg

I'd read that double bar tape and tight bottle cages were advised to combat the severe vibrations from the cobbles but I had neither although I was wearing a thick pair of gloves. The last cobbled climb, the Paterberg, maxes out at 20% and I was pushing up it along with many others. A guy I was alongside had electronic shifters – Di2 is the jargon I believe – and the phrase "all the gear and no idea" sprung to mind. After that climb it was just steady riding back to the finish. There were of course several feed stations en route where we sampled the famous Belgian waffles, plus I took some gels along as well.   I got round in 4hrs 20mins and after finishing  collected a nice medal – 25th edition no less – along with a rather cool nicely designed black t-shirt with gold lettering.

Paterberg

The men and women's Pro races were on the Sunday, also based in Oudenaarde . We were again bussed out from Ghent and blessed with glorious sunny weather and were delighted to see both rainbow jerseys – our very own lass from Otley, Lizzie Armitstead and the one and only Peter Sagan - win their respective races. Sunday evening saw us packing our bikes prior to our departure first thing Monday morning, with us getting back to our pick up point around 8pm that evening. Being in a coach means it's possible to relax although 12 hours on a coach is surprisingly tiring... for me anyway.  

Our Ibis hotel in Ghent was fine, nice and warm and, most important for JSSV,  with first class breakfasts included and we made several friends over our four day trip, including a lady from the USA.  Talking to other riders , the 129km event seemed the most popular. Might do that in 2017....who knows!!

Thanks again are due to my generous sponsors Du Pont / Danisco and Cranswick plc.


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