That’s a wrap for our Spring Classics tours for 2019 and what a ride it was!
Primarily focused around arguably the biggest Classics of the lot, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, we had three separate tour options; The full 11 days – kicking off from Flanders, right through to Roubaix, with a dose of the Ardennes in between. Or alternatively, 4 days at the start, or latter, depending on the favoured Classic.
It all started on a crisp Spring day in the stunning Belgian city of Ghent. Sunshine, smiles and some serious excitement in the air as we welcomed our crew for the week and got set to hit the narrow cobbled lanes and countless bike paths surrounding the charming, historic city. Hosted and led by former Classics phenomenon, Stuart O’Grady, alongside fellow Aussie former professional, Nick Gates…it’s fair to say, our guests were in great hands.
Following a cruisy warm-up spin to shake-off the travel and get the legs into gear, it was preparation time for the first big challenge of the tour, the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo (Gran Fondo) the following day. This would deem the perfect opportunity to ride the many iconic cobbled sectors and bergs so famous to the race, in amongst an impressive 16,000 other keen goers.
Come ‘race’ morning, our crew took to the start, nervous, but smiling and eager to hit the road. Many tough km’s were endured and plenty of time was spent battling it out in the pain cave, but that didn’t stop our riders from finishing on cloud 9, ecstatic to have made it round and all smiles after an epic day out amongst the Ronde madness. As the day before the ‘real Ronde’, the atmosphere was full of pure excitement, passion and anticipation and we got to absorb the best of it.
The cobbles were now conquered and a good drop of Belgian beer, fresh frites and some serious race action was calling. Following a decent nights rest, we were up an at em’ nice and early to get set for another big day, this time on the other side of the fence, spectating. Now was the time to live and breathe the incredible Ronde van Vlaanderen and witness the world’s best cyclists show us how it’s done to perfection. Our base for the day was on the epic, Oude Kwaremont; a famous, incredibly challenging and often race-shaping cobbled climb. The prime place to watch as the pro men and women would face it multiple times throughout the day, ensuring some thrilling live action and roaring, passionate crowds! To be right there in the thick of it was a surreal experience.
The following day, we set out for some more cobbled adventures. Inspired by the pro’s and beaming confidence now that we’d had a good taste of the terrain, and learnt some of the tricks of the trade from Stuey. For today, it was all about the Muur van Geraardsbergen, an iconic Flanderian cobbled climb; short but brutal. By now, the legs were certainly feeling the burn, and the grimaces were well and truly out. Nonetheless, everyone had a great crack and even stuck it out for a few rep’s. Once you get the cobble-adrenaline rush, it’s difficult to deny!
On return, we set off for a very special, exclusive lunch with the ultimate King of cycling, Eddy Merckx. Widely regarded as the most successful cyclist of all time and incredibly respected in the sporting world – what an honour to sit down over lunch, in his home country and hear all about it.
As a small token of our appreciation, Stuey and Mummu Cycling owner Marcel Berger presented Eddy with a little taste of Australia in a magnum of 2007 Penfolds Grange. Thank you Eddy!
The next morning, we set off bright and early for a change of scene; East bound to tackle the trio of Ardennes Classics. First up was La Flèche Wallonne, where the murderously steep Mur de Huy dangerously awaited us. With gradients reaching up to a leg stabbing 26%, this 1300m kicker is no joke! A challenge, no doubt, but our crew aced it and still managed to complete the day grinning, despite the grim conditions thrown at us.
Come race day for the pros, we’ll undoubtedly be feeling their burn. RESPECT.
Next up for Day 5, was the iconic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, lined with countless challenging, punchy roads; the race-famous gnarly ascents of La Redoute, La Roche aux Faucons and Saint-Nicolas all on the menu. Challenge accepted as the sun came out to play and the mood was high! Another day, another Classic. ✔️
The final Ardennes Classic to conquer, was Amstel Gold. An absolute treasure to cross over into the Netherlands, greeted with clear blue skies and pristine, smooth roads. So very appreciated, following our back-to-back days battling over the rough, sporadic roads of Belgium.
We set out to ride the finale of the race and although grateful for the conditions, it was no easy feat, with a number of relentless kickers thrown in the mix and some serious suffering endured throughout. However, with Haribo fuel, Amstel beer awaiting (+ nachos for Stuey) and great company on the road, we made it through another day all smiles.
Glad we enjoyed the smooth roads while we could, as the pavé of Paris-Roubaix was now well and truly calling…the Hell of the North coming in hot!
The next day, we made our way across to France to do some much anticipated course recon ahead of the Paris-Roubaix challenge ride that lay before us the following day.
The ‘test ride’ had us brimming with excitement, adrenaline and some real nerves in understanding the immense pain and challenge that awaited. Nonetheless, by now we were so ready to rock them 🤘.
To top, we were also able to visit the famous velodrome and the special Roubaix showers, alongside 2007 champion, Stuey . Some incredible memories here for him and an honour to be there alongside!
Another highlight of the day was meeting the Astana pro team staff for a Q & A session. Great to get some insight into the time and preparation that goes into preparing for the Queen of the Classics and such a prestigious race. One thing’s for certain is that the mechanics have their work cut out for them on this one!
Next up – RACE DAY. Well let’s just say, ‘the race before the race’…
A nice early start had us rugged up and raring to go carve up the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. For many, a dream come true to ride the epic roads of the ‘Hell of the North’ in race format and alongside a former winner of the race, in Stuey.
It was a massive challenge for all and a huge effort to have everyone arrive into the iconic Roubaix velodrome, exhausted but ecstatic to be there and to have battled through. A great day all round which left us more ready than ever for the big show the next day.
The real ‘race day’ did not disappoint… As expected, it was one hell of a show and we were right there in the midst of it, lapping up every second. We experienced some incredible Trouée d’Arenberg pavé action before moving on to the Roubaix velodrome hospitality zone to witness the spectacular finale that saw an outstanding Philippe Gilbert storm across the line to take an emphatic victory over Nils Politt. A true champion and very deserving winner. Chapeau!
To top off a surreal day at Paris-Roubaix, we also had the opportunity to move from our hospitality zone on the final corner approaching the velodrome, right into the heart of it. Surreal to witness the thrilling battle in such close proximity and then experience the elation and incredibly passionate emotion from Gilbert and his team. Just one of many amazing moments to take home for the memory books.
A special thank you to all of our guests on tour for making this trip such a success and a true delight to run. Your positive attitudes, genuine love and excitement for the Classics, and easy going natures ensured an outstanding trip was had and one we’re certainly heading home smiling about.
Secondly, big up’s to our ever-impressive, hard-working team of staff on the ground for impeccably running the show from start to finish. And then to the team behind the team back in the office for the hours of planning and preparation that set it up for such success.
Now it’s time for some much needed rest, before we start counting down the days to our Spring Classics 2020 adventures.
Registration is now open. Don’t miss out on what’s bound to be another hell of a ride! Sign up, here.