So it’s around about now, a week away, that you start to metaphorically bang your head against a wall asking yourself – why did I sign up to ride 200km over cobbles? Hindsight! So to help the pain fest be a little less painful, here are our tips to get you through the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportif. We promise there will be pleasure at some point during the day.
It’s all about the bike
You wouldn’t take a donkey to the Grand National, so make sure your bike is setup the best it can be to limit the pain those cobbles will inflict. Because there will be moments when you’ll swear at your bike, your legs, your hands, everything and anything will get the blame for your decision to put yourself through this. For me it was going to be the first time riding over 200km, so I knew making sure I felt comfy with my position on the bike was so important, but don’t go changing the whole setup a week out.
Your bike needs to be in full working order, this is a must; ensure screws and bolts are secure and tighten to manufacturers requirements. Especially parts such as your saddle, handlebars, quick release skewers etc. It’s not only you the pavé is going to unleash a beating upon.
Bar tape and more bar tape, a lot of people double tape just for that added cushioning and even use gel pads under it. Riding the relatively thick 2.5mm Lizard Skins Bar tape I chose to stick with the well-known and trusted comfort.
Bottle cages are another topic up for discussion. Some people swear by metal cages to avoid bidon jack-in-a-boxes along the cobble sections. This is not a necessity, I stuck with my Elite Custom Race bottle cages and didn’t have any issues, but probably worth testing your own. Make sure they’re securely attached to the bike is probably more important than the material itself. Having a bidon torpedo half way over the Paddestraat is not a desired outcome.
Now let’s talk tyres: it’s no time for 23mm racing slicks, go as thick as your frame and brakes allow. I rode 28mm Continental Grand Prix Four Seasons which saw me through the day puncture free. Although in our recent bike testing session, which involved multiple loops of the Kwaremont and Paterberg (yeah we are self-masochists) the Vittoria Corsa G+ 25mm came out on top for it’s cobble hugging ability. Also think about your tire pressure. At around 63kg I opted for 5bar (73psi) at the front and 5.5bar (80psi) at the back. Ideally go for a spin the day before the event and test it on some of the cobbled climbs.
Is exactly what you don’t want riding hard over cobbles, losing contact with your bars is never going to end well. So hands gripping, not too tightly though, on top of the bars give you a more secure grip. But this requires pre-thinking your gear selection a bit before hitting the flat sections. Put your weight on the back and let the bike dance over the cobbles. Another option is to ride on the drops meaning you have faster access to the brakes and gears which is quite handy on those segments where there is some downhill involved. Although when riding on top of the bars be aware as you will have a lot of people around you, keep a bit of distance from the rider in front, allowing more reaction time to sudden braking.
Grind the Croad
You’ve heard of Groad, well let’s talk about how to grind the Croad* (cobbled road). Basically, hit it fast! We’re not talking sprint fast, but high gearing and a solid effort over each section will help reduce the pneumatic drill effect. Sit further back and keep your pedalling strong and consistent. In the run up to the event it’s worthwhile doing some four to five minute efforts to replicate what you will have to do on the day.
On some sectors there are gutters where people make a mad dash for a welcome bit of relief. Be careful on some of these gutters, trying to hop from gutter to wet cobble is a skill set not to be underestimated. Keep a bit of distance from the rider in front so you can see a better line to pick, and don’t be afraid to shout at people that you’re to their left or right on climbs. Weaving around the ‘stoppers’ and ‘walkers’ is an artform, and if possible accept a helpful push which can maintain your momentum. I feel there should be a trophy given to people who make it up every climb without a toe touching the ground!
*not a technical term, but you heard it here first!
Savour the Savoury
After numerous hours of eating Belgian waffles at each feed station, an antipathy towards sweet fuel will start to develop. I never wanted to see another waffle again by the end, so, keep your eyes peeled for the pretzels. Because holy smoke do they taste good after 7 hours in the saddle. It’s the tastiest form of electrolyte you’ll ever munch on; think Peter Sagan’s gummy bear shovelling technique.
Don’t Forget to Dance
Last year one of the final feed stations had a trailer disco blaring out dance music. This is where you need to go full Belgium and lap up the beats. One of the best forms of re-energising yourself and getting the smile back is letting loose and trying to perfect your dance moves in cleats. It will set your mood nicely for that arrival beer in Oudenaarde.
Words: Hannah Troop Photos: Noah Haxel and Robin Schmitt