CyclingTips Spring Classics Tour

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“If you want to see a sporting event, go to the Tour de France. If you want to see a bike race, go to the Tour of Flanders”. Crossing into the windswept fields and cobbled roads of Paris-Roubaix, it’s a punishing race that preys on the weak and unprepared. Win one and you’re a legend. Win both, you’re a god.

Being in Belgium for the Cobbled Classics and riding on the same roads is one of the top things to do on my bucket list. I recently began arranging a trip for myself and a few mates and the whole idea took on a shape of it’s own. Why not host a tour?

So this is what I’ve done. Together with BikeStyle Tours we’ve created the Spring Classics tour of my dreams. We’ll ride the Tour of Flanders Sportif, smash the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest and ride into the velodrome in Roubaix, and watch both races with guides who know all the back roads and tricks of the trade.

This is very much a “riding tour”. We’ll be on our bikes as much as possible and riding some of the most historic roads in cycling. GreenEDGE will be racing all of these Spring Classics and you’ll be watching Australian cycling history right before your own eyes.

Itinerary

Who: Any hardcore cycling fan who wants to make the pilgrimage to Belgium to experience the Spring Classics. Group size will be approximately 15 people along with myself, a couple guides, and hopefully Veeral Patel taking photos.

What: see daily itinerary below

When: 11 days, 10 nights. The trip runs from Friday, 30th March to Monday, 9th April.

Where: Fly into Brussels, stay at a 3 star hotel in Ghent – the center of the cycling universe.

Why: Because you only live once.

Day 1

Friday, 30th March: Arrival

Arrive in Brussels and go to our 3 star accommodation in the center of Ghent. There will be someone to meet you at the Airport and get you to our hotel.

The first job will be to unpack our bikes. Staff will be helping out if you have mechanical problems or need assistance. The rest of the day is ours. Depending on our arrival time there should be time for a ride to loosen the legs. I’ll be arriving first thing in the morning to make sure of it!

A Welcome Dinner is provided at the Hotel Restaurant and there will be plenty of time to ask questions and meet me, the guides and of course the people who you will be spending your holiday with and a Belgian beer or three.

Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 2 | Tour of Flanders Cyclosportif

Saturday, 31st March

The Tour of Flanders is without a doubt the biggest sporting event in Belgium. On this day we’ll have the chance to ride the same course and get a preview of the atmosphere.

About 15,000 riders do this spectacular event and we’ll have the opportunity to ride either the 140km or the 60km distances.

Our perfect location in Gent will help us this morning as the hotel prepares an early breakfast and we ride to the start. We will be on our way while others will be searching for parking spots!

The 140km is the choice event as it gives you a true feel of the race as it traditionally goes over all the final climbs including the Molenberg, Valkenberg, Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Kapelleberg, Foreest, Berg Ten Houte, Kruisberg, Knokteberg Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 3 | Tour of Flanders

Sunday, 1st April

All of Flanders comes out to celebrate as if it is their National Day. This is the beating heart of cycling. If you are a cyclist you have to see this race once in your life. The Tour of Flanders is a living monument to cycling thanks to its past winners and demanding parcours. Hard men shine through this race typically hit with snow, wind and/or rain. Men like Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Tom Boonen and Johan Museeuw.

In 2012 the Ronde will move to a new finish town, Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde with its historic centre, its wonderful Town hall and its unique museum, The Tour of Flanders Centre lies in the centre of this new route. For cycling lovers Oudenaarde exudes a passion for cycling.

The final section of the race contains the traditional ingredients of the Tour of Flanders: leg snapping hills and cobbled roads, all set in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes.
It will include a final section of 75 kilometers built around three loops on the Oude-Kwaremont and Patersberg in combination with the Koppenberg and Kruisberg. This provides a new concept concentrated around four crucial hills in the Flemish Ardennes, all within a stone’s throw of each other. The ultimate final, being ten climbs and two cobbled sections followed by a straight line to the finish in Oudenaarde, will see the only the strongest survive to battle out the finish.

One hundred thousand cycling fans make the Tour of Flanders what it is today so the atmosphere on this final circuit will be amazing!

We will first go to the start in Brugge where we have a VIP pass into the riders enclosure where we can see the riders signing on and getting ready. Once the race has started we will be on our way to see them again in Roeselare before we go to the Oude Kwaremont and our VIP area to see the firstly the women’s race pass and then the final 3 circuits of the mens race, culminating in the finish at Oudenaarde.

Our VIP area is provided by the organisation of the race and will have all the ingredients for a fantastic Belgian atmosphere: The Ronde live in front of you on the Oude Kwaremont, beer, frites, lots of proud Belgians and a TV.

After seeing the finish we will return to Gent for a free evening in the town. Our hotel is situated in the centre of Gent so the restaurants are only a short walk away.

Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 4 | Tour of Flanders Museum

Monday, 2nd April

Today we’ll ride to Oudenaarde for a visit of the Tour of Flanders Centre and Museum followed by lunch in the beautiful town square. After lunch we will ride from Oudenaarde out to the Koppenberg to ride this famous climb and take some photos on relatively quiet roads. While we’re here we will do some other famous cobbled climbs from earlier editions and stopping for an obligatory bike shop visit before continuing back to Gent along the canal.

The interactive museum looks for the spirit and the heroes of the Tour. The museum has a multi-media approach with magnificent audiovisuals, projections and computer simulations. Every visitor gets the chance to experience the Tour himself. You can feel the excitement, the suffering and the happiness. The Tour plays an important role in the Flemish social life. You can cycle next to Schotte, Merckx or Museeuw and you can feel the cobbled stones and hills.

Breakfast and lunch included.

Day 5 | Ieper

Tuesday, 3rd April

Today we will head out and ride some of the interesting parts of the Gent Wevelgem course including the famous Kemmelberg which is about 12km from Ieper. We will drive to Ieper and do a ride that has been devised which covers significant points of interest from WW1.

On our way we will stop to see the Tyne Cot Cemetery. Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burial ground for the dead of World War I in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war.

It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war. The cemetery and its surrounding memorial are located outside of Passendale, near Zonnebeke in Belgium.
The name “Tyne Cot” is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers seeing a resemblance between the German concrete pill boxes, which still stand in the middle of the cemetery, and typical Tyneside workers’ cottages – Tyne Cots.

After visiting the cemetery we will continue to Ieper either by bike or car for some lunch and then onto the Kemmelberg and a tour of the area south of Ieper. When we return to Ieper we can have a shower at the Sports Centre and stay on for the evening returning after the Last Post at the Menin Gate.

Every evening (at 8 pm) since 1928, the Last Post has been sounded under the imposing memorial arches of the Menin Gate. The Last Post is the traditional salute to the fallen and is played in honour of the memory of the soldiers of the then British Empire, who fought and died in the ‘Immortal Ypres Salient’ between 1914 and 1918.

Breakfast Included

Day 6 | Scheldeprijs

Wednesday, 4th April

In the morning we will see the second of the great races in our week at the Flanders Classics, the semi classic Grote Scheldeprijs (a sprinters race which Cavendish has won three times). Being midweek between Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix it is expected that the top riders will come out to contest this (the oldest race in Belgium).

We will go to the start in beautiful Antwerp this morning with hopefully a little time to look around before we head off to see the race on one of the cobbled sections. This will be followed by a ride around the final circuit of the race and lunch before the race passes through the finish in Schoten for the first of 4 times. We will stay in Schoten until the finish and return to the hotel afterwards.

The Grote Scheldeprijs is a Belgian semi classic cycling race which starts in Antwerp and finishes in Schoten. The event is seen as a race for sprinters, held on flat roads over roughly 200 kilometres. The race is one circuit of 155 kilometres into the countryside of Antwerp province followed by three circuits of 15 kilometres based on Schoten. The route includes seven cobbled sections varying between 1300 and 3000 metres.

Breakfast and lunch included

Day 7

Thursday, 5th April: Kemmelberg

This morning we’ll head south to briefly catch up with another famous Belgian race, The Grand Prix Pino Cerami. Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Cerami (born 28 April 1922 in Misterbianco, Sicily, Italy) is a former Belgian racer. He joined the professional peloton in 1946 as an independent. He was naturalised as a Belgian on 16 March 1956.

Cerami won the 1960 Paris–Roubaix Classic with Tino Sabbadini of France second and Miguel Poblet of Spain in third place. Cerami also won La Flèche Wallonne Classic in 1960. Cerami was 3rd in the 1960 World Championship Road Race behind Rik Van Looy of Belgium and Frenchman André Darrigade. At the 1963 Tour de France, Cerami won the 9th stage at 41 years of age making him the oldest Tour de France stage winner ever.

Since 1964 the GP Pino Cerami professional cycling race has taken place every year in Belgium.

We will then leave Gent and ride towards Zottegem where we traverse the famous cobbled stretch called the Paddestraat before heading down to the first two climbs of the race near Hurdumont where we will see the riders pass before heading back up to tackle the much feared and famous Muur van Geraardsbergen or the Kapelmuur as it’s known to the Belgians and hopefully the Bosberg as well before turning back towards Gent. This will be a big day out on the bike of around 120km which doesn’t sound much but throw in a few cobbled roads and some gut busting climbs and I think you’ll sleep well tonight.

Breakfast included.

Day 8

Friday, 6th April: Ride the Arenberg Forest To Roubaix

All the action today will centre round the famed Arenberg forest, The Wallers Forest and the section near Orchies. Friday is the traditional day for the teams to do a last reconnaissance of the important parts of the course we’ll likely see many of the teams out on the pavé.

We’ll head down after breakfast and stop at Arenberg which is where the Arenberg Forest section starts and ride part of the last part of the Paris-Roubiax course from there. Although almost 100 km from Roubaix, the sector usually proves decisive and as Stablinski said “Paris–Roubaix is not won in Arenberg, but from there the group with the winners is selected.”

After some photos we will continue along the course completing another 4 sections before arriving in Orchies where we will stop for lunch. From here we’ll ride the remainder of the gut busting, bone jarring course including its 12 sections of pave all the way to the velodrome at Roubaix where you are free to do a lap of this famous track and then wash down the dust with a beer at the bar in the club house of the Velo Club Roubaix.

Afterwards we will arrange access to the famous showers and take a moment to think about who might have stood there. The Roubaix showers are a legendary symbol of suffering that the riders must endure before entering. Hopefully there won’t be anyone showering while we’re there…

“When I stand in the showers in Roubaix, I actually start the preparation for next year.” --Tom Boonen. Image Cor Vos

In the VC Roubaix Club House we can soak up the atmosphere of years gone by where you can buy your a piece of pave of perhaps some club clothing.

Read about fyxomatosis’ ride to Roubaix for a glimpse of what it’s like.

Breakfast Included

Day 9

Saturday, 7th April: Brugge

We can’t go all the way to Belgium without visiting Brugge! So this morning we will head off after breakfast by vehicle to Brugge where we will spend the morning and early afternoon. After a lunch we will head back to Gent by bike making a ride of 70kms.

Walking around Brugge is like taking a step back in time. From its 13th-century origins as a cloth-manufacturing town to today, Bruges has changed little. As in a fairy tale, swans glide down the winding canals and the stone houses look like they’re made of gingerbread. Brugge has made the transition from medieval to modern with remarkable grace. In the Middle Ages, Brugge was among the wealthiest cities of Europe. Unlike so many European cities that have had been ravaged by war, Bruges has remained unscathed with its monumental buildings intact. UNESCO has recognized the cultural importance of the historic centre by awarding it World Heritage status.

This afternoon we will pack our bikes, sadly we won’t be using them again on this trip. We’ll be smashed and ready for a rest anyway.

Breakfast included.

Day 10

Sunday, 8th April: Paris Roubaix

This morning we will head off to Paris Roubaix, the Hell of the North or l’enfer du nord as the French say.

There is no other race in the world like the Paris-Roubaix. Stuart O’Grady has won this icon and dreams of riders like George Hincapie and Johan Museeuw have ended in tears along the roadside, but the risks make the victory in velodrome that much sweeter. After 260km and around 50km of pavé, the race ends with one and a half laps on Roubaix’s outdoor track. The same one we’ll have ridden on a couple days before.

Win in Roubaix, the third of cycling’s Five Monuments, and you are considered a god. Riders like Roger De Vlaeminck, Fausto Coppi, Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly and Tom Boonen have conquered Paris-Roubaix’s pavé for their legendary status.

We start early from our hotel and go to the first pave sector of the day at Inchy. Through the afternoon we will visit several sections of pavé along the route where we’ll see up close the difficult conditions that take their toll on the riders as the day wears on. After already ridden it, we’ll have full appreciation and admiration of what the racers are doing out there.

From here our chase begins and goes something like this:

We will drive to the cobble stone area at Inchy where will see the race pass over a long and difficult section of pavé (cobble stones), as well as enjoy our picnic lunch.

13h25 : First cobble stone area at Inchy, Length of pavé : 1800 m
14h00 : Saint Python (feed zone), Length of pavé : 1500 m
14h40 : Haveluy, Length of pavé : 2500 m
15h45 : Orchies, Length of pavé : 1700 m From Orchies will then head to the Roubaix velodrome to await the arrival of the 2012 winner.
17h30 : Velodrome 18h30 : Finish area to see riders After we have visited the finish area your day at Paris-Roubaix comes to an end.

Image courtesy of fyxomatosis.

In between the different stops we will follow the race on TV in our vehicles and we will provide a picnic lunch with drinks and snacks during the day. After the race we will return to our hotel in Gent in preparation for our departure tomorrow. On this night we’ll have a farewell dinner where it all began 10 days ago!

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Inclusions

Tour cost is per person twin share and includes:

– All Transport (excluding flights).
– Services of experienced Tour Guides, including a local Belgian.
– Return transfers from Zaventem Airport on the 30th March and 9th April.
– Accommodation in 3 star Self Contained Apartments in Gent centre (self contained with private facilities).
– Buffet breakfast daily.
– 3 course evening meals on 3 nights.
– Lunch on 3 days.
– VIP access to Tour of Flanders riders enclosure.
– VIP access to Oude Kwaremont VIP Marquis with full catering, TV and great viewing.
– Mechanical assistance with your bike.
– Sightseeing as listed.
– Maps and Itinerary
– Rapha Jersey

Costs

The cost of the entire trip is $5499 AUD. For this we’ll get to experience the trip of a lifetime as well as a few surprises along the way that I’ll keep in my back pocket.

I was having the conversation with a friend about the benefits with going on a paid tour versus doing it yourself. When I went to the TdF the first time I spent much of my time stressed, lost, stuck in traffic, and on the phone looking for hotels. I went with TopBike and Bikestyle last year and it was awesome. I got to spend 100% of my time enjoying myself and not organising the next day. It’s hard to understand what you’re paying for until you’ve experienced both. Watching a bike race in Europe can be a lot of work if you don’t know what you’re doing.

In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I will be making some money out of this. However, the money will be used to subsidise myself and a photographer to be there (hopefully Veeral Patel to repay him for all he’s given to this site).

Please email me at cyclingtips@gmail.com if you have any questions about the itinerary or if you’d like to come along. I’ll be closing bookings without warning as soon as spaces fill up.