Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Bikes & Beer it must be Belgium!

It's Gent Wevelgem weekend, so Fraser and myself are on our way over to Belgium. We're to meet Phil, friend and fellow HCT Belgians member  for some serious riding and beer sampling. A weekend of excess that will test out metal. To be honest I fear death by Duvel Triple Hop. Just the week before I'd had a day off work with terrible stomach pains, so what better a way to treat it than cobble stones and 10% beers.
The plan had been to get some riding in on the Friday, but by the time we arrived at Phils on the outskirts of Gent it was getting late. So riding plans were  binned, and instead we went off in search of some 2015 Triple Hop. It took a while to find some, and Fraser moved in swiftly to grab the last few packs.  I only managed to get a copy of the local cycling mag which I needed as I intend to come back over the summer for the racing, and this little gem had all the dates listed in the back. Looking forward to a race or two in Flanders using my LVRC/ICF licence.
So that was our first day done. We spent the evening downing huge pizza's in the local Italian restaurant.
Day two, no excuses. Phil has us up early as we're doing the Gent - Wevelgem sportive (I hate the S word) so keen are we to get an early start I eat my breakfast sitting on the pan....multi tasking at it's very best!
We're off and out, and into typical Flandrien grim weather. We haven't booked, but 10 euros makes us very welcome.  We blag the entry form, the language isn't easy. And we're given our electronic card for the seat post, armband, bottle, well cool route sticker for the top tube and all the Etixx we can carry. The off we set.
A few K's in and I remark on the lack of banter between us. It's a bit bloody grim out here, though the Etixx vans impersonation of the Orica Green Edge bus/finish line fiasco cheers me up.
We lift the pace, warm up and start to really enjoy where we are. We flick along the narrowest farm tracks, picking off stragglers and sometimes hooking up with a fast moving club. Though ultimately we want to just ride two up. Phil I should say is doing the full distance, and is probably already heading into France. It's so so flat I feel a right twerp twiddling the compact chainset, it's so out of place here, but we do have the 23% Kemmelberg to climb, so I'll probably be thankful for it when the moment comes. The moment comes, I grin, I shift into 34, I grimace, then I swear. It's not going into 34. I have a John Clease moment, I mean what's the bloody point, it sits there all day doing nothing and when I do need it it doesn't bloody work. Some furious back pedalling gets it to drop and I start to climb. The Kemmelberg looks stunning, we've turned sharp right and the climb is shrouded in mist, it's actually a great climb and I'm sad when it's over. We descend around it's back, go past it's base and head for home.
It's still grey, but at least now it's dry. The mood lifts to 'saucy' we're in a moment most cyclists just would never get. We're in the drops big ringing it across Flandrien fields. The pace is up and we're towing the locals.
We then hit the cobbles of Kortrijk, stunning. We have another 'moment' It's Saturday, it's busy it's the middle of the town and just Fraser and me. The moment you ask? out step the police, whistles blow, hands go up, cars are stopped and we get waved through  able to race through using all the road, sorry but this is fucking great.
In the dying kilometres we form a large group and I savour the simplicity of Belgian group riding. There are no calls, none what so ever. Riders coming past give you a quick whistle and let you know what side by brushing against you. I suppose to the new cyclist that might just seem rude and dangerous, or them bullying the English, but no just getting on with it. And to make sure I give no quarter. After forty years of racing no whippersnapper is going to get an easy ride from me. In fact Fraser and me give them the slip and ride alone to cross the finish line, the one to be used tomorrow for the race.

Fraser acting as my super domestique

The event organisation still impresses. there's a free bike wash, security bike parking, free food, a great goody bag. And where the registration once stood now stands a bar the width of the sports hall. And there's no George and Mildred selling milky tea. Instead some clever sod had employed four pretty girls to serve beer. They play the tables trays aloft in both hands full of the local Kwaremont beer. Fraser later points out that we spent longer drinking than we did riding....shocking.
We get back to Phils and have all but no time to get showered  dressed and out into Gent. First stop is a cycling bar, wall to wall memorabilia and screens showing cycling. Back on the Duvel now.
Then it's off to the Robot café for the famous double cheese burger, and more Duvel. The Robot café  is also the sponsor of Phils club. Then another bar, I'm jaded so go for coffee. Then Phil announces GIN! and we're off to some sort of gin palace for some 10 euro gins, I'm now in fear of my life. But OMG these gins are great, Gin Sea, Monkey Gin and others yum. Then I just remember being home. What a day.

Sunday morning, my phones dead. I can't hear Phil or anyone, please don't make me ride a bike. No dogs barking, I'll just hide under my Duvet. I finally get up and it's very clear we ain't riding today. I  look outside and there's one hell of a storm. Race day and there are going to be a few climbing off today. We mooch about and decide to drive over to the Flanders museum. I really enjoy it, right up my street. then sample the local meatballs and frites before heading home.
So not as much riding as planned, but you know when you're with good friends you can just do that, I mean just not ride and enjoy the rest of the delights life has to offer. Nothing to prove here. 

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