After a hectic week thought I'd make a foray into the Bunch to let you all know how I got on. Some excellent reports previously, good to see that, although there was a lot of grumbling, everyone seems to have taken a bit of time to reflect and really enjoyed the whole thing. I loved it!
A really bad start to my Flanders experience. I was due to fly from Bristol to Brussles (the one recently in the news); however, found out on Wed night that the flight was cancelled. After handing in my resignation on our Facebook chat, the response I got meant i couldn't back out now. Within 20 mins I had been offered multiple modes of transport; however, the house I'm living in through the week in Bournemouth doesn't have internet as yet (does have a beach though) so I couldn't book anything. After a day of work on Thursday drove back home to Bristol, arriving about 9pm, unpacked everything, and booked a ferry at 10pm approx, leaving from dover the next morning at 8am! All that was left to do was re-pack all my stuff and wash my hands thoroughly - bike still hasn't been washed since before London! Got to bed at 11:30pm and set the alarm for 3:30 to avoid rush hour on the M25.
Woke up tired but had enough adrenaline/fear to keep me going. Made it to Dover in 2hrs 45 - taking half an hour off google's estimate, the roads were quiet to say the least!Tried to get some shut eye, but hadn't had any breakfast so got a couple of pain au chocolates on the ferry and watch the stunning white cliffs disappear out of sight before dozing off. SatNav played a blinder and got to the hotel without making a wrong turn, in plemty of time as well - I think i arrived around 1:30pm, in stark contrast to the mad rush of Liege. Bike built after lunch time stroll into Kushtyville (or whatever it was called) then drove into pick up all the start packs - again Mr organised, no problems at all. Arriving back to greet Iain and brother in law not soon after! After getting a few drinks in and optimistically booking a dinner table for 8:30 alex, richie and paul arrived. Mad rush to build bikes and get dinner - only 15 mins late in the end. After an hour and a half wait to get food I had resigned myself to the fact that I, again, was getting no sleep. Waiting for food left plenty of time for beer - always a silver lining!
Slept like a brick but the 4:15am alarm was an earth shatterer! After failing to stomach some cold left over pizza, went down stairs to find that the hotel owner had locked the door to where our bikes were stored - this caused much panic amongst the senior members - I saw it as a perfect excuse to do the medium route and go back to bed. Trust a couple of Scots and an Irish man to pull off some breaking and entering with consummate ease. Got some kip on the bus to Bruges!
Boring start - we were restricted to cycle paths - nothing of interest apart from Alex attempting to create some excitement. Just played it cool when alex, paul and Jon went up the road. Long way to go yet.
At the second food stop, 87km into the event I had already completed my second longest ride of the year. Worrying, but I was feeling good. It was between food stops 2 and 3 that Richie began to loose the faith, but some gentle steering from Iain and myself got him through! Feeling great after feed stop three I decided to have a go. After Richie went up the road with Chung et al, I thought it rude not to try and stick with the big boys and tested my legs against alex and paul with surprising success. I was indeed "BACK IN THE GAME"! had to walk up the koppenberg but I thought that just added to the experience! great to have a break and take it all in. Even managed to "chase" back onto Alex and Paul!
Final 30km was a bridge too far. Bonked half way up a non-de-script, unclassified hill. stopped to chin two Mars bars I had saved for such an occasion then rounded a corner to have all my prayers answered! The boys waiting for me at a red bull station surrounded by beatiful women. RESULT! I even offered to stay and let the boys ride on without me. They, however, saw through my plan. Back on the bike!
With just the Paterburg remaining I was joined by a crazy Belgian fan - he'd obviously seen my Strava profile. After some encouragement in gobbledygook and a nervous laugh from myself he got the picture and gave me some cliches any football manager would be proud of before pointing out to me, as if I was blind: "The steepest part is just here" before leaving me. Out the saddle and peddling squares I could just make out the blue and yellow hue of the some delighted looking and enthusiastically shouting wheelers. "DO NOT UNCLIP. DO NOT UNCLIP". made it!
An easy saunter into town and a choreographed roll over the line was all that was between us and the real reason for going to Belgium. Even opted for some themed beer, Kwaremont - at a measly 6.6% it wasn't a patch on the real thing!
Safe journey home, added to my already impressive tan on the ferry home - it was 22 degrees!
Had a great time. Wouldn't change the madness of the whole thing - travel arrangements, cobbles, stupidly steep hills - they all made it great. Hope to see a few more of you out in Roubaix next year. The Hell of the North is calling! And cheers to everyone there - great team spirit shown all round!
Until next year.