It’s referred to as the Hell of the North not for the misery the race causes on its riders, but for the landscape the route carries the riders through. Terrible, unimaginable things have happend there. Napoleon’s troops marched those lands, falling by the thousands at the bayonet and cannonball. More recently, the First World War took place there, a war fought with something resembling modern weaponry but using something too closely matching classical battle-line tactics.
The kind of agony that escaped the bodies of the soldiers who died on those fields is the kind that seeps into the ground and hangs in the air for centuries; you feel it in the air even from a distance when you first disembark the plane at the airport.
For those of us who love the Northern classics, there is a special week when the greatest one-day races of the year are held, de Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. Both races are equally magical, for what Flanders lacks in the roughness of its cobblestones, it makes up for in the steepness of its muurs. Similarly, what Roubaix lacks in decisive climbs, it makes up for with the savage granite paving stones known as the pavÃ©. Which is the tougher race? We intend to find out; join us for this magical week in Belgium and Northern France to ride the roads and watch the races first-hand.
I don’t think any of us dream of riding the cobbles of Northern Europe in the expectation that it will be enjoyable in a classical sense anymore so than any of us harbor the notion that resting your chin on a running jackhammer would provide rest for an invigorating nap. Quite the oposite, in fact; this is the type of experience that starts to become enjoyable only the moment you’ve climbed off your bike, and becomes more so with every day that passes after. But the memory will stay with you for ever, and the lessons you learn about yourself during such a physical challenge will strengthen your life and harden your character for all your remaining years.
I should think that those of us planning, hoping, or wishing to go on the Keepers’ Tour share a healthy degree of apprehension about climbing the steeps of the Kapelmuur or dashing down the TroueÃ© l’Arenburg. Questions are creeping into our minds about frames, wheels, and handlebars, wondering how best to modify our bikes to endure the the roughest roads the Pros race on, even if there might be some difference in the speed with which we do so. But after having accomplished the feat, we’ll in some small way identify more viscerally with what the Pros experience when we watch them race the same roads on Race Day.
We have several package options available: the flagship fully accommodated, all-inclusive 9 day/9 night tour (2250â‚¬), full weekend tours with or without accommodation (500â‚¬ and 250â‚¬ respectively), as well as daily tours with or without accommodation (200â‚¬ and 100â‚¬ respectively). A full break down of pricing and booking options is available on the Keepers’ Tour: Cobbled Classics 2012 Event Page. Once booked and confirmed, we will coordinate directly to collect a down payment of 15%, with the balance due upon arrival in Lille, France. Everything is included in the packages: food, drinks, support car with spare wheels, Gent velodrome ride (if applicable), Cyfac bicycles for those not bringing their own (limited sizes and quantities available), energy food, and insurance. All-inclusive packages include accommodation; packages without accommodation are also available for those living in the area or wishing to look after their own lodgings. All packages, with or without accommodation, include dinner and drinks after each day’s ride.
Attendees of the full 9 day Keepers’ Tour will be greeted with a Velominati Musette stuffed with a commemorative V-Pint and V-Shirt. Given the abundance of Belgian beer, the V-Pint will be well used. We will also have a Velominati Flag to wave at the races. A Cogal welcoming all riders will also be arranged, details pending finalization of the itinerary. Also note that only attendees of the full Keepers’ Tour will be eligible to ride with Museeuw and to join the Merckx Factory Tour. Weekend and Daily Tour attendees will be eligible to buy the commemorative V-Pint directly.
We’ve made a few adjustments to our itinerary; confirmed are the ride with Lion of Flanders, Johan Museeuw (who is such a badass his last name even rhymes with the Flemish word for Lion, Johan Museeuw, de leeuw van Vlaanderen) and tour of the Eddy Merckx Factory. Updated (but still preliminary) itinerary, guided by PavÃ© Cycling Classics:
- Friday March 30th: arrival in Lille. Drive to Gent for dinner & introductions at the cottage.
- Saturday March 31th: Ride Paris-Roubaix course (at least 180km from St Quentin to Roubaix, full ride available to those who dare) – Visit of the Roubaix VÃ©lodromes (both old and new).
- Sunday April 1st: Rest or short ride around the cottage in the Flanders area (morning) – Watch the Tour of Flanders in Oude Kwaremont and/or Paterberg.
- Monday April 2nd: Visit to Eddy Merckx factory to pay our respects to The Prophet, followed by a Brussells downtown visit (more detail to come).
- Tuesday April 3rd: Short ride around the cottage or rest and visit the bicycle museum in Beveren (Roeselare). Afternoon ride with Johan Museeuw.
- Wednesday April 4th: 2 hours practice with a coach on the Eddy Merckx Velodrome in Gent (track bikes provided). Follow the Grand Prix de l’Escaut Pro Race (http://www.scheldeprijs.be/nl)
- Thursday April 5th: Ride with the Pros on their Paris Roubaix recon around Arenberg. Visit to the Brunehaut brewery in Belgium (where our Malteni beer is produced). Tour of downtown Lille.
- Friday April 6th: Ride Tour of Flanders course (150 and 200km routes available, full ride available to those who dare). Visit the Tour of Flanders museum in Oudenaarde.
- Saturday April 7th: Cyclo FlÃ¨che BrabanÃ§onne (http://www.flandersclassics.be/nl/cyclo/brabantse-pijl) or ride in Flanders area.
- Sunday April 8th: Follow the Paris-Roubaix race (taking in cobbled sectors around Valenciennes + Arenberg + L’Arbre). Depart.