Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Cancellara broke our hearts at the Ronde van Vlaanderen

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Fabian Cancellara rode a clever race to take his first Ronde van Vlaanderen this afternoon, making sure he was always in the important part of the peloton, biding his time perfectly, and attacking with such force that only Tom Boonen could go with him.

Then, once clear, he made sure Boonen had to ride hard; having to work at even getting past Cancellara to take his turn at the front. When Fab went again on the Muur, Tom had no answer.

Scottish club Ayr Roads CC member Christopher Johnson was in Belgium visiting family over the weekend, and managed to enjoy an epic day out on the bergs at the Ronde…

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Tom congratulates Fabian on the podium. Image© ispaphoto.com.

– Words & images contributed by Christopher Johnson –

More used to reporting on the trials and tribulations of Ayrshire’s finest road club (Ayr Roads CC, for those of you who don’t read the Ayrshire Post) it comes as a welcome change to write about the pro-peloton. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen here I come!

However, my journey starts not in Flanders, but Wallonia, with the good lady’s family.

Friday’s flight gets us into downtown Tournai with enough time to go ride my favourite training circuit – a few km south west, crossing the border and smashing across the Paris-Roubaix’s famous Pavés de justice, de L’Arbre and back in across the sections Duclos-Lassalle and Quatre Chemins before dinner.

After L’Arbre, the latter two sections ride feel like riding on a smooth carpet of pine needle carpet! The race signs are up and out, and I can feel that twinge of excitement, Roubaix is coming!

With mandatory attendance at a family feast, my planned participation in Saturday’s Flanders Sportive is overruled.

Lucky escape! The rain is lashing the windows as I head out for a ride up L’Escaut (aka the Schelde) and back over the Mont Saint Aubert. I’m quickly soaked through and my fingers are numb with cold. But a little over an hour later I’m enjoying an apperetif in the comfort of indoors, wondering how I would have coped with another 5 hours. As a hailstorm turns the garden white it’s a good omen like la Riene, le Ronde is well suited for a good storm.

Thirteen year old younger brother Martin wants to join me for the big day; very useful for his skills in Flemish, but despite being a good little Belgian he knows nothing of cycling.

A little over an hour later I am satisfied that he is sufficiently immersed, being able to recognise and identify both Tommeke and Philippe Gilbert.

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Wee Martin is ready for the Ronde.

Race Day!

Sunday arrives! Out of bed at seven, into the car and blast up the A17 to Brugge. No need for maps, we just follow a Team Katusha car to the start.

The weather is wet, grey, windy — its everything you expect from a Belgian classic. The team compound is fully barricaded, open only to VIPs and those with money.

Of course, having money increases your appreciation of cycling… I find it a little disappointing, La Doyenne doesn’t need barriers, so why does the Ronde?

However, we draw the lucky lottery ticket as we watch the Quickstep bus pull in right in front of us (before we are crowded out by Tommeke fans).

Lefevre conducts a quick interview with tv station RTBF. No smile – I wonder if the noose is tightening around Devolder?

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Lefevre has been critical of his big riders recently.

The kit on display doesn’t disappoint. Wheel choice especially is important. Quick step wheels are badged Fast-Forward, but look suspiciously like Ambrosio sprints to me.

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It’s normal to see equipment rebadged for sponsorship reasons.

Belgian’s know how to put on a bike race. The band plays as the riders sign on, the fans enjoy a morning refreshment, and we all know its going to be an epic day — perhaps even rivalling Kenny Armstrong’s victory in the Ayr Roads Hill Climb!

Presentation interviews are quickly conducted with Gilbert, Eisel, Cavendish, Boom, and Johann Museeuw, before Cancellara give us a little demonstration lap.

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A good crowd watches the presentation of the teams.

But it’s Boonen that draws the biggest crowd.

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Cancellara does a lap of the town square.

There is a mass cry of relief, awe and anticipation when the Belgian wonder-kid arrives to do his thing. 0945, the bells ring, the band plays louder, the 2010 Ronde is underway!

We make our way through the crowds and head for the hills.

Again directions are easy, just follow everyone else. There is a strong police presence to deter dangerous spectators trying to race across Belgium to catch every sector, and the stress of running about can spoil a good day. So we plump for the Koppenburg – and are not disappointed.