Keepers Tour 2012 Update, Part 4: A Ronde Ride and Paris-Roubaix

Keepers Tour 2012 Update, Part 4: A Ronde Ride and Paris-Roubaix

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With Keepers Tour: Cobbled Classics 2012 stitched up and in the history books, the challenge of documenting the trip became immediately obvious; how do you take the myriad impressions, experiences, and perspectives and put them down in a meaningful way – let alone in a way that can somehow be digested. Surely, to document even just the Keepers’ view on these goings-on would result in an article much longer than anyone would be prepared to read and would be a far cry from comprehensive. 

We have decided that the best approach is to split the report into four Articles, one authored by each Keeper, and each covering a different section of the trip. We also look forward to the contribution of additional photos and stories through the posts from those who joined us and those who witnessed the goings-on from afar. This is the final of four parts, covering the last awesome weekend of the Tour. There are more articles of thanks and reverence coming soon.

Keepers Tour: Cobbled Classics 2012 Updates: Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV

Everyone was sure the first weekend of riding the Paris-Roubaix course and watching the Ronde really couldn’t be topped but weekend #2 was going to do just that. A Saturday of riding the business end of the Ronde and meeting Freddy Maertens followed with an epic day of Paris-Roubaix Easter Sunday. At the gite, it was sounding more like a tuberculosis ward than ever with much coughing from lungs that had been worked hard and put away with Malteni. At mid-week we were scolded with a weekend weather report of SNOW but Saturday dawned not too cold and dry. There was reason for hope.

Friday afternoon Alex and William brought us to visit AG2R-La Mondiale at their hotel. We watched one of the mechanics gluing on tires while another methodically washed all the bikes just back from the Roubaix recon. The first mechanic didn’t waste time letting glue in the rim dry before he mounted anything and the second mechanic used a power-washer on every bike. OK, that’s how the pros do it. We were introduced to the long time director of AG2R La Mondiale, Vincent Lavenu. Alex and William became friends with him when Decathlon (Alex and William’s employer) sponsored Ag2R and supplied their bikes. Two english speaking riders, the Belgian Kristof Goddaert and Frenchman Steve Houanard were hauled out of the hotel and they patiently answered our questions. When asked who would win, they never mentioned the team leader of AG2R, these guys are realists, Paris-Roubaix is on their schedule and they were there to do their best. It was a privilege to meet Vincent, talk to some riders and see the mechanics doing what they do day in and day out.

Saturday morning the multi-vehicle caravan rolled across the Belgian gray landscape toward our start in Oudenaarde, and once again I really had no idea where we were. The wind turbines told of wind across the landscape and the windshield wipers came on; we were in for the full Belgian experience today. The route was to be the last 140km of the real Ronde course, ending with the iconic Muur van Gerardsbergen and the Bosberg. Everyone but me seemed quite psyched for a day of cobbled climbs. We rode from Oudenaarde under very low clouds and wet roads. A long preamble of narrow roads and paths warmed everyone up. In Belgium I found it hard to know what was a road and what was a bike path. Paths that seemed too narrow for a car had cars on them and the paths seemed to have cow manure on them-  did that just go in my mouth?

The first few climbs were tame and paved and soon enough I was so far off the back I relegated myself to the team car; my week-long battle with a disease I picked up from dirty French cobbles was not done with me yet. William led the healthy on an incredibly complicated route through the Belgian (and French?) landscape.

The climbs started coming fast and furious; the lads were on the Oude Kwaremont climb soon, riding up the cobbles where we had watched the Ronde six days ago. It’s not a steep one at 11% maximum and an average of 4% but it is a long one. Then the Paterberg and suddenly to the right, straight up, the Belgian escalator, the Koppenburg. To me this is The Climb in Belgium. If pros have to push and carry bikes up this, it must be tough. The Koppenburg has had a wee facelift in recent years and we had left the rain behind so it was full gas. Alex and I walked down from the top of the climb and it dropped away so one couldn’t see the steepest part but no fear, dear reader, the hearty Spring Classics riders danced up. There was a touch of wheels, some cursing, dismounting, remounting, but everyone rode up and some dared to say it wasn’t so tough. Really?

The Steenbeekdries, the Taaienberg, the bergs kept coming and the riders kept climbing them. Then it started to sleet. Frozen rain was pelting down as the route took us through yet another Belgian red brick town. The weather improved as we came into Gerardsbergen, an approach so familiar from years of watching this race on TV. Alex and I sneaked around the side and took photos as the riders came up to the oh-so-familiar chapel at the top. Mein Gott in Himmel, William, @Rigid. Fair enough, then @roadslave came sailing around the corner, too fat to climb? I think not! Roadslave is the revelation of the Muur, showing most everyone the back end of his Ti Serrota.

There was much chatter in the months leading up to this about Museeuw’s big ring antics on the Muur so after the group made it to the top, the chance to re-ride the end in the 53 was irresistible. But these were staged photos, maybe to impress Frank’s grandchildren thirty years from now:  “You little puke, come over here and let Pappy show you again how I did the Muur in the Big Ring.”

The afternoon was wearing on, so the route was truncated. No one would be the Boss of the Bosberg today;  it was time to let William reset his internal GPS for Oudenaarde and head for the barn. On the route back, Roadslave’s rear tire couldn’t stand the punishment he had been dishing out so we stopped for a wheel fix. Whilst this was going on, G’rilla was nodding off on the sidewalk, never a good sign. We re-infused him with Coke and caffeinated gels but a few kilometers later he climbed into the team car too, a broken rider. The lack of recovery at the git every night, the red wine, Malteni, the need to discuss the day’s fun until all hours and the eventual snoring, it was too much. You can’t keep a Strackian pace all week- few can.

Our route back intersected the under-23 Ronde race so we stopped to watch them ride through. Amazing, in a word.  The under-23 race looked like a full-on professional race in the USA. The riders were extremely strong and fast, another reminder of why we were civilians playing at being pros. And who is that guy with the the East German buzz-cut? It’s Zabel! With spare wheels!

The Belgians have at least two amazing bicycle museums. The Ronde Museum in Oudenaarde has free showers for cyclists, a gift shop full of jerseys and books and a damn bar. What the hell? Is there any further proof necessary that Belgium is the heart of cycling? I rest my case. Like Eddy, we were not to meet Freddy, but it mattered not as the day had already been a heavy dose of Belgian cycling. As we explored the basement level of the museum I half-expected Freddy to appear on the other side of a scrim in a confessional booth, so we could murmur our sins and maybe be absolved. “Forgive me Freddy, I climbed off my bike after two climbs today because I am weak American pussy.” The Pave Boys had already pulled off untold miracles, they conjured up Museeuw, why not this?

Sunday, Paris-Roubaix, a promise of rain: if everyone was not shagged out from Saturday’s ride, the excitement might have ruined a fanatic’s sleep. @Bill made the tactical error of inviting his wife to join us for P-R, which meant we were supposed to behave, which we didn’t. Within two seconds of her appearance in the git Frank made her regret her decision and if she had any doubts, William quickly reconfirmed them. Apologies were made but luckily she is married into the US military so she hears worse. Ha, it was so beautiful, a memory of the week.

It didn’t take much herding to get us in the caravan, in coolers three Maltenis per person and enough baguette sandwiches to get us through the day. The Pave boys know their stuff and they proved it this day. We hit P-R three different places; each site required a complicated combination of highways, secondary roads, shortcuts and cursing. You have to leave this to the pros, trust me.

We arrived at the first sector of pave at Troisvilles with minutes to spare because the field had a tailwind and was running ahead of its fastest schedule. Frank and the Banner were to be inseparable, this was Frank’s day. The break came through and a few minutes later the main field, gutter to gutter at warp speed and they disappeared in a cloud of dust. As we walked back to the vehicles a few Velominati waved to a beautiful women by a parked car, and she smiled and waved back, what the hell? That never happens. It was Johan Van Summeren’s fiancé and of course we remembered her name.

Alex and William led us into the Arenberg Forest and we found our little spot just past the trestle bridge, a front row view on the most feared stretch of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. Before any racers appear there is a stream of police motor, photo motos, team cars, ambulances, press cars all ripping by at high speed, most cheered by the crowd for no particular reason. Eventually, as the helicopters get closer, the excitement meter gets pegged. More police motos, then, the red race director’s car in amongst other vehicles. The crowd roars as the break, then the field,  pass by at high speed. It’s a cacophony of weird sounds as the bikes bounce over the cobbles. Two Quick Step riders are right at the front of the field, Boonen second wheel, and Frank gets an unbelievable photo of Boonen’s loose bottle spinning next to him as he passes, and they are gone. Riders continue to come by in groups and solo, they are riding just to finish, there is no catching the main field now.

We pack up again and head for our third rendezvous at Carrefour de l’Arbre, a wide open, windswept area with the singular Cafe de l’Arbre sitting alone at a crossroads. As we caravan there we hear Boonen has ridden off the front with twelve chasers, disconcerting news for all of Belgium.

Carrefour de l’Arbre is an amazing scene. It’s well policed to avoid the lack of drunken crowd control of other years. The organizers have installed a massive screen with the live feed. Frank and The Banner, snapping in the headwind, leads the Velominati to a long straight before the Cafe. Boonen has opened a minute lead and his power on the cobbles has left his chasers in disarray. This is his race; only very bad luck will spoil it now. Again it’s the helicopters advancing above the fields that raises the excitement level to a fevered pitch. This is possibly the best place to be on the Earth right now! Boonen goes by full gas, in the drops, no gloves, a big vein bulging on his neck. Sweet Jesus, there’s a man. A long time later Lars Boom, then a group of five containing Ballan and Flecha pass, they are racing for second place.

Helicopters and TV motos both find Frank and the Banner irresistible. All eyes go to the big screen, everyone is willing Tommeke on to Roubaix.

And then it’s over! It can’t be over. We roll to Lille with a caravan full of Velominati and their bicycles, some to the train station, some to a hotel. Goodbyes all around but it’s hard to believe this eight day ride-a-thon is done. Vive La Vie Velominatus.

We can’t thank Pavé Cycling Classics enough.  Alex, William and Genevieve are the best at what they do and have made this trip something to remember forever.

Slideshow:
Fullscreen:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP2PAF3pRjc[/youtube]

 

// Belgian Affirmations // Keepers Tour // La Vie Velominatus // Unforgettable Rides

  1. Sunday evening I was cleaning out the DVR recordings and decided to watch the last bit of the NBC coverage of Paris Roubaix before deleting it. Boy was I surprised to see the V-Flag on national tv. Had to do a double take and sure enough it was you fellows. How cool was that. Damn Frank, you reminded me of a kid at Christmas. Curiously my wife didn’t share my enthusiasm of the moment.

  2. Very nicely done, Gianni!

    Great photos, great story.

    I’m back from my bachelor party & feel pretty similarly. We got after it from mid-day on Friday to late Sunday night. I felt great during it, but now I feel as if I’ll need a few weeks to recover. Tons of energy throughout the weekend, now I feel completely shattered.

    @frank

    @G’rilla

    @Marcus
    Within 24 hours of arriving, we had consumed more Malteni than any other group so far…in an entire week.

    This. William kept calling us “thirsty”. I think we may have peaked at the RVV, though. It was beautiful.

    I’ve noticed, however, that while drinking like that appeared to have no ill effect on my productivity, enjoyment, riding, or level of energy during the trip, drinking like that seems to have an adverse effect on all those things any time I’m not on vacation. Say, for instance, while I’m at work. Just to name one example.

    I guess the less is that what works on Keepers Tour, doesn’t necessarily work in Real Life (if there is such a thing.)

  3. @G’rilla

    @Marcus
    Within 24 hours of arriving, we had consumed more Malteni than any other group so far…in an entire week.

    I do believe that on Thursday, the quote was “For fooooook sake. You fooooookers need to slow down on the beer. Fooooook!”

  4. @McEnroeMark
    Mark – I prefer to hide in the open. No one expects to find me there. Just like no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  5. @Bill
    “And drink more white wine!”

  6. @Bill
    Ha! Our two main weapons are: fear, surprise and an almost fanatical devotion to the Merckx

  7. Re: Malteni consumption, I thought we were quite subdued. I didn’t get drunk once, and can’t remember anyone else being anything but hydrated.

  8. @brett

    Re: Malteni consumption, I thought we were quite subdued. I didn’t get drunk once, and can’t remember anyone else being anything but hydrated.

    Thats a good point and important to point out that aside from the joking around about this, no one was getting drunk. I never saw anyone do anything stupid aside from Denti almost taking out Museeuw, but he was sober then. But in all fairness, @Minon wasn’t with us, so there’s that.

    Its just that we were all really good at riding bikes and drinking beer. They shouldn’t be surprised. I consider it a “win” that the refurbishing project on the gite hasn’t already been scheduled and that it is reusable at least for a while.

    To @G’rilla‘s point, William was very flummoxed by our universal dislike for white wine. In fairness, its too sugary, like we need sugar. We’re cyclists, damnit!

  9. Great story guys… I have been avoiding the site for about 10 days because as I read the stories of the Tour it makes me realized I should have abandoned my family, skipped spring break with the kids and gone on the Keepers Tour and the realization of that fact pisses me off. Thanks a whole fucking lot. When is the next Tour?

  10. @Nate

    @minion
    He should try a pipe.

    Careful Tommy. You’re one pastel cummerbund away from a Jonathan Vaughters.

  11. @xyxax
    …and a World Championship title, a Tour de France Green Jersey (and countless stage wins), a handful of Gent-Wevelgems, a triad of Ronde van Vlaanderens, and a quattro of Paris-Roubaixs. Did I miss anything?

  12. @xyxax
    Ha! Bravo xyxax!

  13. @frank
    5 E3s come to mind.

  14. @Anjin-san
    Start planning your elaborate excuses to your disappointed family now. The Tour is just a eight days, really a week, and travel, a blip on the family radar. They might not notice. I’d say you have about 11.5 months to plan this so upon your return the locks have not been changed.

  15. @frank
    I was speaking sartorially, my good man.

  16. Maybe next year we can make a movie. Except we would drink beer when they drank tea (maybe @Roadsalve525 would drink tea, perhaps @Rigid too as he completes his Tommy Simpson transformation).

    http://vimeo.com/raphafilms/horscourse

  17. FFS! My apologies. Try this:

    http://vimeo.com/21638450

  18. @Bianchi Denti
    Nice to see you mate. I haven’t told anybody we slept together.

  19. I’m surprised no one mentioned the time I jumped out of a moving vehicle on the freeway to take a wizz and then ran to catch back up and jumped back into the selfsame moving vehicle. And @Bill too, I think.

    That ruled.

    @xyxax

    @frank
    I was speaking sartorially, my good man.

    Right. I guess I was saying that when your palmares are overstuffed to exploding, it says something slightly different when you make a sartorial statement then when the most recognizable characteristic of your racing career was the crafting of your sideburns.

    Just sayin’.

  20. @frank

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the time I jumped out of a moving vehicle on the freeway to take a wizz and then ran to catch back up and jumped back into the selfsame moving vehicle. And @Bill too, I think.

    That ruled.

    @xyxax

    @frank
    I was speaking sartorially, my good man.

    Right. I guess I was saying that when your palmares are overstuffed to exploding, it says something slightly different when you make a sartorial statement then when the most recognizable characteristic of your racing career was the crafting of your sideburns.

    Just sayin’.

    …or getting stung by a bee

  21. @frank

  22. @Bianchi Denti

    FFS! My apologies. Try this:

    http://vimeo.com/21638450

    Psshhhh. 1 bottle of champagne at the end?!?! Rank amateurs…

  23. @frank
    As an honorary Belgian, I should have known such an unqualified juxtaposition might rankle.

  24. Here he is again. Only this time with a minute plus lead, grinding the Carrefour de L’arbre to sand.

  25. @Marko

    Here he is again. Only this time with a minute plus lead, grinding the Carrefour de L’arbre to sand.

    Shit that’s a nice picture!

  26. @marko

    @Bianchi Denti
    Nice to see you mate. I haven’t told anybody we slept together.

    Well, that’s just GREAT! I thought that what happened in Lille, stayed in…oh, what’s the point now!
    Anyway, didn’t @Frank say that it’s not gay in Europe?

  27. Here he is again. Man and machine working as one.

  28. Ya want some Boonen? With some V flag? And a bit of chopper… BOOM!

  29. Cool shots of Boonen. I like those shoes a lot. I don’t understand how folks wear the super thin socks with the slipper-like shoes. I know I have thin & narrow feet, but my shoes are pretty form fitting. Still, I need a mid-weight sock or else my feet are slipping and pulling around on me.

  30. @Ron

    Cool shots of Boonen. I like those shoes a lot. I don’t understand how folks wear the super thin socks with the slipper-like shoes. I know I have thin & narrow feet, but my shoes are pretty form fitting. Still, I need a mid-weight sock or else my feet are slipping and pulling around on me.

    Probably because you either don’t tighten your shoes down enough or your shoes don’t fit. If your shoes fit, the thinner the sock, the less slop there is in the fit, the more direct the transmission from foot to shoe to pedal, etc etc etc.

  31. @brett

    Ya want some Boonen? With some V flag? And a bit of chopper… BOOM!

    I’d love to have the shot that guy on the other side was taking!

  32. @Gianni
    Thank you… Italy next year?

  33. Ladies & Gents, if you’ve not already seen it I present to you Cycling Tips’ Cobbled Classics round up. Please look through these photos, they’re nearly as good as what we’ve seen here over the last few weeks.

  34. I’ve been listening to all the Bruckner Symphonies with Solti and the Chicago Symphony this week – I’ve gotten to the point of nostalgia where I’m starting to piece together a “soundtrack” of our week in Belgium. Bruckner’s work is certainly a viable candidate for the pave.

    Anyhow, I also wanted to thank you all for your fantastic photos! Nigel, GITA has requested the one you shot of me in my Giordana kit at the velodrome – since they distribute Giordana, Merckx, and know me, it was of interest to them. I’ll let you know what they do with it (facebook or website?!).

    Also, I took the liberty of using some of everyone’s photos for my journal, that I also wanted to be sure to share with you. I finally finished it – took a while as I kept procrastinating in hopes that the trip wouldn’t end in my mind. Finished, and no, it’s still alive and well in my mind and heart.

  35. http://cruisingthecobbles2012.blogspot.com

    Oh, and for those of you who were aware, I want to thank you for your kind words and such, I got the job at the University of Wyoming – I will be training at 7200 feet in Laramie, WY this fall…as well as teaching.

    You now have a friend in the Denver/Boulder/Wyoming area.

    My best.

  36. I just had a coffee with Bianchi Denti, who very kindly presented me with a few super cool souvenirs from this fantastic trip the Velominati either actually enjoyed, or enjoyed following vicariously. As one of the latter, I’m blown away to have been retrospectively made to feel a part of it in a small way through this generous gesture. Thanks very much, mate.

  37. @Oli

    Awesome, we thought you might get a kick out of that! I’ve got some swag for Jonty too…

  38. @McEnroeMark
    Had a look at your blog and its great. I think we’re all struggling to come down, but there is always next year!

    And a massive congrats on the job – don’t know how far that is from Alta, but we ski there (almost) every winter. Maybe we’ll see you in January.

    @Oli
    We thought you’d like that. Cheers!

  39. @Oli

    I just had a coffee with Bianchi Denti, who very kindly presented me with a few super cool souvenirs from this fantastic trip the Velominati either actually enjoyed, or enjoyed following vicariously. As one of the latter, I’m blown away to have been retrospectively made to feel a part of it in a small way through this generous gesture. Thanks very much, mate.

    Flag signed by no less than Lionel Flanders (a close cousin of @BarryRoubaix).

  40. Thanks, @brett and @frank! I’m absolutely stoked!

  41. @Bianchi Denti
    Haha! Thanks again, mate.

  42. @McEnroeMark
    Great blog, looking forward to reading the whole thing over lunch. Fantastic news about the job as well.

    As @frank says the come down has been a bit of struggle but having not managed to ride much since the KT, Saturday’s ride was a bit of a brutal awakening, wet with a headwind from all points of the compass, I realised how much fitness you can lose in a month. A proper jour sans. The only highlight was a brief tow behind a tractor when I hit 46kmh heading back into my village.

  43. @McEnroeMark
    I read your blog in a sitting last week mate, and I got a real buzz out of seeing the tour from someone else’s perspective, both in words and images. Nice one bruvva!

  44. @McEnroeMark

    http://cruisingthecobbles2012.blogspot.com

    Oh, and for those of you who were aware, I want to thank you for your kind words and such, I got the job at the University of Wyoming – I will be training at 7200 feet in Laramie, WY this fall…as well as teaching.

    You now have a friend in the Denver/Boulder/Wyoming area.

    My best.

    Great stuff Mark. Congrats on the new job!

    Now who can read French?
    http://www.nordeclair.fr/Sorties/Bons_plans/2012/04/08/des-americains-s-offrent-une-echappee-no.shtml

  45. TOM BOONEN NATIONAL CHAMP AGAIN !!!!!

  46. @Belgian Cobblestones

    TOM BOONEN NATIONAL CHAMP AGAIN !!!!!

    Sweet Ass News.He is back in the Kit. He should be, no one has ridden better than him this year.

  47. @Belgian Cobblestones

    Very good ride by Boonen but for me Niki Terpstra was the hardman of the day.What A fucking ride.Plus in a perfect Dutch summer weather:40km/h wind and raining.

  48. @TommyTubolare team OPQS just did a big ass V swoop on national titels : 3 Nat road championchip jerseys and 4 TT Nat jerseys in one weekend , the whole team is just gonna cruise in winners jerseys and not the regular kit 

  49. And our boy Kristof Goddaert layed down a fair amount of aV2r for 2nd!

  50. Unbelievable! Pretty stoked to find this news on my computer this evening!  Many great memories showering back – nearly as much as the downpour in the race today!  Great photos on Cyclingnews.  And can you believe that Boonen!  We were there for his incredible run, that continues to run and run and run!  Hope this finds everyone cheering and smiling back on our unforgettable spring!?!  My best to you all!

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/belgian-road-championships-2012/elite-men/photos/228302

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