Bike Blog

New Flanders finish town

The bidding for a new finish of the Ronde van Vlaanderen was settled and Oudenaarde won.  The finish has been in Merebeek for the last twenty-plus years, but their contract was up which opened up the bidding.

It was a fierce battle, but the race promoter said the highest bidder did not win.  The best choice was selected based on many criteria.  The new finish belongs to the same town that holds the Tour of Flanders museum and hosts many other races throughout the year. None of these other races are of the same caliber as the Ronde, but this town still has a lot of experience.

With the new finish come changes to the route.  Reading the Belgian comments, I don’t think people are so upset about the town for the finish, but rather about the changes in getting there. For the first time in a very long time the Bosberg, and more importantly Muur-Kappel-Muur, are not in the race.  So many times those two hills have selected the winner.  In 2010, watching Fabian Cancelara power away from Tom Boonen on the Muur was electrifying! I have ridden those hills many times and to just look so smooth and calm yet be destroying the best competitor, wow.  I mean wow.

So that is now out.  The course will not even visit those climbs. Instead we will see laps or maybe concentric rings for the finish, with three times up both the Owde Kwaremont and Paterberg, and with other hills on two of the loops. As if the route were not confusing enough, the racers take in seven other climbs before finding the Owde Kwaremont and Paterberg.  Then they head out a little bit to find some more cobbled streets and two more climbs.  Then the route goes back to the pair again, then there’s another climb, and then back one last time to the pair.  Finally the course winds into Oudenaarde for the finish.

As I mentioned, my searches of Belgian commentary indicate that the people there are generally very unhappy.  The racers are withholding comment, but they’re all thinking of how they can use the new route to their advantage. The news media is split.

For me, I don’t really care.  Let’s have an exciting race! We’ll ride the race course the day before and see what we really think about riding all these climbs and the final pair three times. Ask me what I think then!

On April 8th, 2012, we will all know if the new course is a match for the old one!

Gent-Wevelgem: the new route

You may or may not know that the promoters for the WorldTour races in Flanders banded together and are working on bringing all the events to the level of the Tour of Flanders. As part of that Gent-Wevelgem has increased the length of the course 19 miles, they are running the second annual cyclosportive (or Grand Fondo if you prefer) following all or part of the race course, and adding a women’s race right before the men’s event.

For us this is not a huge change, we will happily take you on the race course the day before the professionals. We will happily show you the race a few times. And, if you don’t want to do the full route, will take you over a few shortcuts to just ride the fun stuff.

Discover Flanders

Discover why the Flanders Region in Belgium should be on your vaction list this year. If you enjoy cycling and beer, this is the place to be.

Flanders is home to many great roads to ride on.  Some are wide and busy, but so many more are narrow, quiet, and have low-traffic. They are considered ‘paths’ or ‘lanes’ to the locals because they are out of the way.

Beer, beer, beer… If you love trying new brews, this is the place for you. With over 300 kinds of beer, why not sample as many as you safely can?  The lambic or trappist beers will keep you coming back for more. Some are very hearty or bitter, others are sweet and fruity.  There are even beer experts and tastings held weekly to give you a lesson on what you are drinking.

This year, discover the great beauty of the Flanders Region.

Why Belgium?

A common question we hear is “Why Belgium”?  Our first response is “Why Not”!

There are many ways we could answer this, but let’s focus on some highlights.

Crazy for cycling: Belgian’s in general, are nutty-crazy for cycling. Everyone. Country-wide. Yes, it’s true. The passion is clearly obvious and is not only a beloved past-time, but is a current affair.  Cycling is a main mode of transportation for many. It is a hobby and a lifestyle. There are just as many cycling clubs as there are street lights. Who wouldn’t want to bike in an area that is so bike friendly?

Famous Cyclists: Eddy Merckx, the best cyclist in the world, is from Belgium. He helped foster the cycling spirit and continues to do so. His bike factory still located in his home town showcases a glimpse from is legendary career with the amazing action photography on the walls. The cycling industry all looks up to him, no matter where we are with our individual cycling abilities.

Chocolate: The world’s finest and richest chocolate is made in Belgium.  After a great ride, you will smile in the coffee shop when they serve you a tasty piece of chocolate and cookie with your latte. Chocolate tours are informative but the sampling part is by far the best. Arrange your own taste test at a variety of chocolatiers and determine which truffle is your personal favorite.

Beer, Beer, Beer: Even though Belgium is a tiny country in Europe, it has a significant beer production. In fact there are over 500 unique beers brewed in Belgium from 200 breweries. It’s strong. It’s sweet. It’s sour. There’s no limit on what is produced. The choice is enormous. There are hundreds of breweries in the country and they range from microbrewers that produce 1-2 beers, to the large-scale producers who have several labels tied to their name.  It’s common to drink a beer at lunch everywhere you go.  Brewery tours give you a glimpse at how beer is mixed, bottled, and labeled. Of course they all end with a tasting so come thirsty.

It’s NOT France or Italy:  Everyone seems to have been to France or Italy to ride their bikes. We have too. Belgium is different. It has a special feel to it. It has a local sense of pride. There are less tourists so you get a true sense of how people live. Because it is usually traveled after the big, well-known countries, cyclists already have an idea of what to expect with European cycling.

Belgium is at sea level and the terrain is mostly flat with rolling hills. There are cobbled hills in Flanders which makes the pro races so thrilling to watch. The routes in the pro cycling races contain extremely steep hills which are generally short, but the maximum gradient can head up near 20%. There are lengthy hills in the Ardennes, in the Wallonia Region, which seem to take all day to climb. The weather is mild and the countryside is lovely.

Belgium is a hidden gem! That’s why! And this is why we ride in Belgium.

Flanders Cyclo - The Morning Of

I trained. I studied the route. I kept my eye on the Belgian weather forecast. I had enough a stash of energy bars. Extra arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves, and jacket. I was prepared.

Well, I thought I was prepared.  I soon found out I didn’t know what was coming next. During registration and packet pickup I learned there were 20,000 other riders just like me signed up to ride the cyclo.

In the early hours on a chilly Saturday morning in April, I was about to ride the epic bucket-list ride of my life. But not alone.  There were hundreds of dark, shadowy figures surrounding me.

Each of us sporting our number plate in the front of our bikes. I’m ready to start, in the cool, dreary, dark Belgian sky. It still was not light out yet.

I checked my tires one last time. I think I’m ready to attempt the cobbles, the climbs, the crisp, spring weather. It must be time for Flanders!

I sat on the saddle and turned the first pedals over.  Here I go…

Training Tips

The best way to train is by riding. Ride a couple of times a week if possible, take indoor spinning classes, ride your trainer, and just put time in the saddle.

For complete training guidance we strongly recommend a coach.

Distance

We will be riding 200-400 miles in cool weather over the course of your two-week trip, so you should prepare for this by doing at least a few rides outside in the cold at home.  You should also be prepared for a big 5-6 hour ride on one day.  Here is an example of the training we might do:

“…I will get ready for Belgium by riding the trainer indoors (or a spin class) twice a week and a long 4-5 hour ride on the weekend.  As we are traveling in April for the Spring Classics, I would be well into this program at the end of February.  Prior to March, I would be attending at least one spin class or indoor trainer session and 2-3 hours outside during each week…” John, trip guide

Effort

If you don’t have the time for the long rides on the weekends, you can certainly replace the time with effort.  Spin classes can provide quite a bit of effort, but we have to admit that indoor training is a time for easier spinning. Studies have shown 30 minutes of intervals (1 on 2 off) is the same as 2 hours steady riding.

Recovery

The best part of training is the recovery phase! Make sure to stretch after every winter ride.  A good night’s sleep after a hard workout is very important in realizing gains from the effort.  Perhaps the week before traveling you can skip one or two workouts to make sure you are fresh once you get to your destination.

Travel Hacks

We all take trips and experience new things. Sometimes the new experiences are not good and sometimes they are great. In both cases there are lessons to be learned and we have culled thru social media for the best travel hacks to improve your experiences.

  • Safety
    • Upload a photo or scan of your passport and important travel documents to online storage. We use Dropbox for this, now if we lose any of this there is a copy. All US embassies have internet connections so you can reach these documents.
    • It’s important to remember to call your credit or debit card company before you leave to ensure that you have your card authorized for your foreign destination. This prevents them from suspecting suspicious activity.
  • Entertainment
    • If you run out of chargers, check your hotel room television. It might just have a USB plugin that your phone or other rechargeable device can use.
    • If, like me, you suffer from motion sickness, you can use a long flight to enjoy audiobooks. They are available for download from libraries for free.
  • Health and Beauty
    • Don’t pack both shaving foam and hair conditioner. Conditioner makes a great shaving lubricant, so you can ditch the shaving foam. Baby oil does a great job, too.
    • Use a contact lens case to store just enough foundation and face cream for your trip
    • Avoid jet lag buy getting some light exercise the day before travel to help you sleep on the airplane. Also all our tours include a short ride on the first day, this will help set your sleep pattern correctly in the new timezone.
  • Packing Tips
    • Hotels generally have a ton of extra toothbrushes, paste, shaving cream, razors, and even phone chargers. Ask if you can have them before you go out and buy them yourself.
    • Use A Dryer Sheet At The Bottom Of Your Suitcase To Keep Things Fresh
    • Use a shower cap to cover the soles of your shoes so you can pack them with your clothes without dirtying your clothes.
    • Newspapers can be used to absorb the moisture and oder from inside of shoes. We use this after rainy spring rides but this works anytime!
    • Use GLAD press n’ seal to prevent your necklaces from tangling when traveling.

We’ll add to this post as we find new and better tips to help us travel easier.

What to do if you lose your passport while traveling in Belgium

  1. Find and contact the nearest US embassy or consulate
    • For our tours it will be-
      U.S. Embassy Brussels
      27 Boulevard du Régent
      B-1000 Brussels
      Belgium
    • Telephone+(32) (2) 811-4000
    • Emergency After-Hours Telephone+(32) (0) (2) 811-4000
  2. If your passport has been stolen, file a police report
  3. Take a new passport photo to provide for your emergency documentation
  4. Fill out an application for a new passport and a statement regarding your lost or stolen passport, these are two separate forms
  5. Go to the nearest US embassy to obtain your new passport
    You’ll need a to bring a few documents with you in order to receive your replacement passport:

    • Your new passport photo
    • Some type of identification such as a driver’s license
    • Some type of travel itinerary (airplane or train ticket)
    • Evidence of US citizenship (a birth certificate or photocopy of your missing passport)
    • Your application for a passport and statement regarding your lost or stolen passport if you’ve filled those forms out
  6. Be prepared to pay the fee, currently $140
  7. Wait, at least 24 hours for an emergency passport that must be turned in when you return to the US, and they are not generally issued on the weekends or holidays

We specialize in custom bike trips. Find out how we can customize your next vacation.
Email us at [email protected]