As always the apprehension of the build up was incredible. See the route, the bergs my friends. It all made me buzz with excitement. This year was special for a number of reasons. Not just the change of course and finish town but because of the words of ego exchanged between Big-Kev and myself. and the fact that it marked a year since separating from my wife.
Last year, Kev and I went mildly prepared and rode with fire and got a damn good spanking. I suffered from being overweight and Kev had Sciatica. This year, Kev had ridden like pro in his preparation. 400km a week in the hills of East Yorkshire. I had moved house and had a 15mile commute and had shed over a stone in weight. How could we lose?
This year my best friend and neighbour Mel came with us. This was gonna be an eye opener for her. Sheer madness sharing a car and hotel with us too heathens.
|The Start - oh you're smiling now...|
|not sure which climb but as always side by side Big-Kev|
So Saturday morning came and dang!! it was soooooo cold. bitterly so. This was my first problem. I had forgotten my sexy le Col jacket. I also forgot my Garmin. Problem number 2. We rolled out of Oudenaarde just before 10am riding along the river until the routes separated and we waved goodbye to Mel. Kev and I soon found a small group and tagged on. Rolling at a good tempo and even trying to drop a couple of Belgians didn't seem to matter. We were riding like gods.
16km in the Molenberg approached. Kev and I did our usual "good luck mate, see you at the top". We tipped into the bottom of the Molenberg from the far right of the road and for a brief moment felt a little bit pro. I hit the berg hard at about 25mph and just applied power. And it came in bootfuls. Stamping on the pedals I flew up the Molenberg and shot out of the top past a group of cheering Belgians...one of which shouted Big Ring and pointed at me. I rolled over the summit grinning like an idiot and looking over my shoulder for Kev. Sadly Kev got his gearing wrong and lost all his speed and almost stopped. Shame. Much back patting ensued and we rolled onwards to the next cobbles. The morning pretty much blurs here until we get to Koppenberg. again, rolling along the flat at well over 20mph we had a massive peloton behind us. no-one was coming through. This told us we had a high speed.. Turning left into the Koppenberg this year, we put the power down and began yelling as we shot up the left hand side of the road. the groups moved and we hurtled towards the steep section. This year I had Kev's wheel and I was keeping it. Heads down and spinning we climbed higher and higher. Kev spotted a gap in the crowds and slipped through. At this point the gap closed and I was off. My last view was Kev bouncing skywards through the crowd. I screamed "GO ON KEV" The whole berg spun around to see who was shouting. Amazing to see him ride effortlessly up.
This set a rhythm for the day. Fast flats and bergs ticked off. Taaineberg I loved, Eikenberg was easy, Varent and Foreest were fast and fun. Each time we rolled into a cobble section or berg. "good luck mate - see you at the top" sometimes Kev up first some times me. The flat sections were my favourite. I love just stamping out a big gear and bouncing over them. Even an errant water bottle couldn't take me off. Merely riding over it. Front wheel skipping sideways into the dust. but maintaining all my speed. I love the cobbles.
|Giving the taainenberg a damn good spanking|
|Oude Kwaremont - it all came out here|
Unfortunately the lack of garmin and warm jacket meant I was beginning to suffer. Riding beyond my ability and getting colder. I wasn't eating enough and I began to get very cold. Kwaremont was fast approaching...
Cresting the hill, we shot down the main road to the foot of Kwaremont at over 50mph. I know it was 50mph as I spin out at 49.7mph on my compact. Turning right and right onto the bottom of Oude Kwaremont we applied the power again. Only this time, nothing came. I was empty. Only pain in my legs. Kev disappeared up the road.
Some of you will know, I have an emotional switch for moments when I need to apply supreme levels of effort. This was that time. Flicking though the cassette was running out of gears and getting ever slower. I looked down at my top tube and saw my sticker (@roadbikedave) all the emotions of losing a friend came flooding back. Telling myself, its 20km to the end. Its only pain. Dave cant feel pain anymore Dave cant ride up hills anymore. COME ON RICH FUCKING DIG IN. I did dig in and slowly the power came back and before i knew it, I was on Kev's wheel again. Climbing through the village I drifted off his wheel again and once on the flat, I pulled him back again. I cried nearly all the way up with images of Dave flooding my brain. Eventually the top came and the pain subsided. A huge pat on the back from Kev and we were rolling on to the patterberg. But alas, the cold, the effort and the lack of food meant that as soon as the steep bit came up, I was empty. I physically couldn't turn the pedals. I just stopped. It took all my effort to walk up. I was physically empty. Nothing left.A broken man and still 12km to go. As I got to the top I heard "MARIO" Kev shouting to make me laugh to spur me on.. We gathered ourselves at the top and rolled on.
I lost Kev. He kicked and just rode away. I was done. Leg pain and an empty tank. I hopped from group to group in what felt like a ferocious headwind. I saw the kilos tick away. 5km to go. 3 km to go 2km to go. .Everytime my head dropped, i saw the sticker on my top tube - @roadbikedave - and there was my next kick. Through 1km to go and there was Kev, waiting at 300m to go. We rolled over the line holding hands. "thanks for that buddy.that was fucking hard" i was empty. I had given 100% and left it all on the road.
We rolled though Oudenaarde to Qubus to find Mel. We had worried about Mel, Was she OK without phone coverage. Hope she is OK. She was waiting for us and apparently just got there. Unbelievably, we road 140km in the same time she rode 80km. no wonder i was dead. Unbelievably, in 2 years of riding with Mel, she has never seen me totally empty. This was that day. We were still in high spirits though. Taking the piss out of folk and devouring our body weight in Burgers, frites and beer!!! I love Belgium, pretty girls just thrust tins of beer in your hand.
Yes this was a good day. Fuck me it was hard. I have never felt pain and suffering on bike like it.But i did it. and like the commemerative Tshirt says, I finished what I started.
This week is the 6 month anniversary since we lost our friend Dave(@roadbikedave) I only knew him a short while but enough to call him friend. This amazing man continues to affect peoples lives as he did in his life.
This year's Ronde van Vlaanderen will be remember for years to come. Thank you Kev for being the best friend a guy could want. Thank you mel for being a tough cookie and riding that. And thank you Dave for getting home that day.