Breakfast: 06:45. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:00. Distance: 192km. Terrain: flat (some Belgian cobbles, 1,839 metres climbing). Climbs: one Cat 3, one Cat 4. Finish: 18:00. Time in saddle: 8h16. Temp: 36C. Drinks: 7 litres.
Suffer scores: John 5/10. Roomie (Wim) 8/10.
Today we will be starting and finishing in Brussels and we have a time trial here tomorrow – a luxury, as it means no change of hotel tonight. We are here, of course, because the Tour is celebrating Belgian hero Eddy Merckx who won it five times. Chris Froome was looking to emulate him this year but is now out of the Tour following a bad crash, though a certain Geraint Thomas may have had something to say about that anyway. My my, we will also be passing through Waterloo, where we hope we won’t be defeated by cobbles or climbs but will win the war. Well, first skirmish of the 2019 Tour in any event. And now you have ABBA in your head!
Tale from the Tour
Firstly, if you are new to the blog the welcome! If you are returning having followed my exploits since 2016 then welcome back! I do my best to avoid too many typos and other errors, but as I do all this on my phone then it can be a bit fiddly. So please forgive me if autocorrect makes a mess of what I have written and I have not spotted it!
I arrived yesterday and met up with some new people on the way and once at the hotel met up with a load of people from the 2017 Tour. It was great to catch up and to reminisce, but I think that by this morning we were all looking forward to creating 2019’s own story.
We were expecting a hot day and got one! It wasn’t too bad first thing, though the pace was slow as we had to navigate Brussels’ cycling lanes. Apparently it’s the law to use the lanes when they are there, which are shared with dog walkers, babies in buggies and other pedestrians – so plentiful scope for things to go wrong. What with that and crossing tram tracks and having to wait at a level crossing! Still, it made for a leisurely opening and the first section was otherwise fine. Main challenge was to drink enough.
We soon had our first view of the cathedral on the Grand Place. The Tour starts there next week, but we don’t play with traffic in the centre of town. The Grand Place will be the ceremonial start anyway (depart fictif) and then we always make sure we are riding before we get to the actual start. In fact, although the official Tour distance is 192km, we rode more like 209km as we start and finish at the hotel. A bit of background there for those new to this.
After the first feed stop we had the two cobbled climbs of the day: Muur de Geraardsbergan and the Bosberg. “Muur” means “wall”, but it wasn’t too bad.
On to the lunch stop and by now it was baking hot. You don’t notice it so much when you are moving, but as soon as you have to stop you realise that you are in an oven. Not as bad as elsewhere in Europe, but challenging none the less.
I was riding with some of the guys from 2017 plus a few others, but 20km after the lunch stop I could not maintain the pace so dropped back a little. Heat probably. This, though, added to my confusion at Waterloo. I thought it would be a nice place for a feedstop but also thought our actual stop was a few km further on. So I missed it and wait straight past. Once I realised what I’d done, I stopped to call Sarah so that no one would wait for me at the feedstop, bought an ice cream and some drinks at a newsagents and carried on. No harm done and I was back in time for a massage and do all those other things that are important: ring home, shower, wash kit, drink some more. And then dinner!
Meanwhile of course we have done some cobbles. Not just the 1.9km mentioned in the roadbook (plus the two climbs), but six or seven “bonus” sections as well. I think maybe they don’t count if they are less than 1km in length, but taken together they at least doubled the anticipated amount of cobbles! But we are in Belgium after all, so that’s to be expected along with farm tracks and concrete roads. Occasionally some nice tarmac was welcome though!
Looking forward to a quieter day tomorrow as it’s only a time trial stage (which we don’t race) and a swim in the pool. Staying in a really nice hotel at the moment.
I should explain the “suffer score”, but first if you need a reminder about how the climbs are categorised, you can look back at my 2016 explanation! Simply put, Cat 4 are the easiest of the categorised climbs, rising to HC which are the hardest (“hors catégorie, or simply “hard climb”!). There are often many energy-sapping climbs along the way which don’t merit categorisation by the organisers though!
My suffer score increased during the day until I reckon that heat + cobbles merits a 5. Wim, my roommate for these first few nights went with an 8 because of extra issues such as mechanical problems and waiting in the heat with someone who crashed. Wim rode half the Tour in 2018 and is here for the duration this time. He has also had to cope with not getting his suitcase until past midnight last night due to it not arriving from the UK at the same time as him.
Finally, a note to those who like examining the stats (you know who you are Steve P!). For your delectation and delight I have added in litres consumed (in flight only, not counting recovery drinks and beer!) and temperature. You might also like to try plotting a World Cup Cricket-style “worm” and compare my aggregate suffer score at the end of each stage with 2017!