Yes, I may be a little biased, but this year’s Spring Classics trip was nothing short of amazing. The Spring Classics week is something every cycling fan must do once in their lifetime. The atmosphere is electric. Everyone in the streets, shops and restaurants are all talking about cycling. There is an energy in the air. All in anticipation of these two races that take place over the first two Sundays in April.
Just being in Belgium and Northern France for the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix is enough to get every cycling fan frothing at the mouth. We were lucky enough to have Australian cycling legend, Stuart O’Grady come on board as a host. Thus, giving our guests a real insight into the world of a professional cyclist and unheard of opportunities to meet with greats both past and present of this great sport. There was no greater privilege than the opportunity to meet and discuss cycling topics with Eddy Merckx. Arguably the greatest cyclist of all time.
The trip was book ended, first Flanders and the following weekend Paris Roubaix. On each occasion the group had the opportunity to join thousands of others and ride the same roads as the pros only 24 hours before the main event. Tackling iconic sections including the Koppenberg, Kwaremont and Patterberg in Flanders and the famous farm roads of Paris Roubaix. Some dating back to Napoleonic times such as the Arenberg forest, Mons en Pavele and Carefour d’Larbe. Each ride giving a new appreciation and respect to the professionals, and giving them a new perspective on the races having ridden the roads themselves.
In between both Flanders and Roubaix we took the opportunity to explore some of the roads made famous by the Ardennes classic races – La Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold and Liege Bastogne Liege. The crew added iconic climbs such as the Mur du Huy, Cauberg and Cote de la Redoute to the bucket list of roads ridden on the trip. We even created a classic race/ride of our own, Liege Spa Liege…. keep your ears to the ground, this will become the next big classic!!
Race viewing and access
We spent the afternoon watching the Tour of Flanders on the Oude Kwaremont. This vantage point allowed us to see the race pass no less than three times. The roar we heard as Phillipe Gilbert attacked on only the second climb up the Kwaremont (and 60km from the finish) could be likened to a football World Cup Final. It sent shivers up my spine and gave you a great appreciation as to how much the Belgians love this race and Belgian cyclists.
For Stuart, this was also a new experience, “being among the crowd for the race instead of being in it, you get a great appreciation as to how much it means to the fans” he said.
The crew would see the Paris Roubaix experience on another level again. Reid, one of our guests from Brisbane described it best, “Seeing Paris Roubaix live was a dream. Being here with Stuart as he celebrates 10 years since he won the race is just special. Truly unbelievable”.
In the morning we chased the race live. First seeing the riders come through the first cobbled sector and then as they passed through the Arenberg Forest. We’d rush back to the van and then make our way to the Roubaix velodrome where VIP seating awaited, only 300m from the finish line.
Stuart O’Grady and his little black book
Undoubtedly what set this tour aside from any other (aside from the great crew) was the access Stuart was able to provide into the professional cycling world.
On the bike, he would tell stories of past races, team tactics and how they approached different sections of the Spring Classics races. Off the bike, he opened doors and experiences that money can’t buy.
I’ve already mentioned the afternoon with Eddy Merckx. This was only the tip of a long list of catch ups and meetings that included:-
- A visit to the Quickstep team service course
- An evening catch up with the Orica Scott team and Sportive Director, Laurenzo Lapage prior to the Tour of Flanders
- Dinner with his former team mates Kartsen Kroon and Luke Roberts
- A chance meeting atop the Mur de Geraardsbergen with former World Champion Paulo Bettini
- The opportunity to see the famous Roubaix showers where each cubicle has a plaque of every past winner of Paris Roubaix. We did notice once name missing, last year’s winner Matthew Hayman. It was a privilege to be able to watch as Stuart got to place Matthew’s plaque in the showers.
- A quick hello post the Paris Roubaix from 3rd placed rider, Sebastian Langeveld added the icing on the cake to our VIP experience in the Roubaix velodrome
Our tour had a diverse range of guests from university teachers to engineers and salesmen… all sharing a common interest in cycling and a love for the cobbled classics. Each day presented us with new experiences and stories just as good as the last.
The end of each day was celebrated with good food and a Belgian beer or bottle of wine. It would often lead to two or three more as the stories continued to flow. The comradery between the group grew with each day.
It was a great privilege and an amazing experience to spend the classics week with this crew and be in the presence of Australian cycling legend Stuart O’Grady for its entirety. Best thing is, we will do it all again for the Tour de France! Click here for more information on our tours with Stuart O’Grady.