What a day, still very tired from the whole week leading up to this one, definitely worth it though. With a win and third place, The tour of Flaanders was over, it's probably the toughest one day race for Women, and one of the toughest day for the bikes as well, hey but we rock.
Leaving the sun (believe it) of the Netherlands and heading south to Belgium, we were expecting a little bit warmer weather, but it was not to be. As soon as I hit the border the rain and cold started, and there was a lot of rain. The team were very happy, as the worse the conditions, the better our girls fare. With the cobbled sections, rain, mud and wind, the Dutch girls on the team were very excited. When the conditions are good, too many of the international teams, not used to this race and the conditions, get too much of an advantage.
Arriving at the hotel was crazy, as the whole place was overrun with team trucks and cars, not just from the women’s teams, but also the men’s. Lucky I am used to parking in Auckland as I managed to squeeze our truck into the perfect spot, right next to the back door of the hotel. I had a few girls ready for a ride, so got them organised and had a quick look through the car park. Our truck and two cars looked insignificant in comparison to all of the men’s rigs. Huge trucks, overflowing with bikes and equipment, ohh the fruit inside, and the many mechanics fussing over the bikes. But the only problem with so many mechanics is how can they not be bored with so little work to do, beats me. At dinner I was looking around at a few of the greats, Zabel, Patachi, and more, but who knows how to spell them, but our table had the nicest looking riders in the room, so why look further.
Chilling at the start.
The weather was still shit when we went to bed, and it still was not changed in the morning, but that was good, apparently. We headed to the start, and it was looking very busy as we got close to the centre, lots of teams were here, and quite a few spectators. But I had work to do, bikes out, tyres pumped and chains prepared for the some of the worst roads you can find anywhere in Belgium. The rain was still falling, but in the distance we could see it clearing a little. I had unfortunately drawn the short straw for the day, but more like no straw really. We had two of the sponsors riding in the car for the day, no room for two mechanics and the Director, so out I go. This sucks for one of the best races of the season, the most spectators and the coolest cobbles. Bummer, but I do get to sit on two of the worst cobbled climbs of the day, in the cold wind, surrounded by drunk Belgium’s waiting for the men to ride through. The cars are not allowed to drive these two sections, so I was ready wheels in hand, just in case.
Up the Molenburg, a nicer bunch of stones. Yes the gaps are wide enough to fit a road wheel in them.
We left before the race started to take up our position on the second climb ‘The Molenburg’, and you wouldn’t believe it but there was a crash half way up the climb. A few of the girls got through, but by the time I got to the crash, most of the field were walking, with bike shoes on steep, uneven cobbles, it was bad. Loes got through riding, the rest of the gang were stuck in the mess, but they managed to get through one by one. Lucky no serious damage to our team, but one of the girls got 28 stitches in her shin, plus there was a collar bone broken somewhere.
Tanja (left) climing at the top of the Molenburg
Then we headed towards the second to last climb, the famous ‘The Murr’, which translates simply ‘The wall’, hey and guess what, it is one. Its really like riding up a old brick wall, these stones were old, and the climb passes a beautiful old church at the top. What a climb though, up to 20% in places, with a bar halfway full of happiness, it was going to be loud. I waited for about an hour, knowing nothing of what happened in the preceding two hours. There was a few riders on the course, just checking it out I suppose, every time another started up the hill the crowd went wild. Thinking it was the girls, I readied myself, just because, but Hubbard after Hubbard (simple Joe, baggy pants with underwear, old shitty dirty bike, hairy legs) came up around the corner, damn it. But soon the crowd went wild, and around the corner came our girl Mijam, looking good and strong (she won last year remember), I started the watch, 30 sec lead to second, then another min to third, sweet, with 20 km to go we were looking good. Loes was sitting about 5th by now, and looking just as strong. The rest of the girls passed with no problems. Now for the race to the finish, but the men were racing not far behind, so we had a bit of traffic to get through at the finish.
Nice church at the top of the Murr. Thats ma wheels, waiting for action.
So to cut a long story short, we got to the finish, late, walked for about an hour to find the bus. Hurray, we won, Mirjam cleans up again, but even better Loes takes out third, sweet, we rock again. Ten minutes later, I spy Tom Boonen taking out his second win for the race as well. What a sight from the back of the finish lane, all the press were swarming him. I couldn’t even get my camera out as my hands were full of wheels trying to fight through the crowd to get the hell out of there. Finally caught up with the very happy team later for a few mins to pick up a few of the bikes, but work beckons as we have four of the girls racing even further south from here tomorrow. Had to head home, unpack the truck, clean a few bikes, get some sleep, work on a few of the bikes racing, then drive for a few hours to the race. The trophy looks wicked though, try and get a shot of it this week for ya.
Another church about 100m from the finish, as close as most get to the finish.