The Tour of Flanders: An account from 3 time participant, Marty Jemison
Also known as the “Ronde van Vlaanderen” (RVV), The Tour of Flanders is the first of the ‘Spring Classics’. It was first held in 1913 and is raced one week before Paris-Roubaix. The 2012 race will be the 96th edition of this ‘monumental classic’ and will take place place on April 1st. The course is 254.4 kilometres (158.1 mi) long, between Brugge and Oudenaarde, Belgium.
The route has been changed this year and the new final features the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, both will be climbed three times. Also included in the final is the infamous Koppenberg, this cobbled climb (hellingen in Dutch) has an average gradient of 11% with a maximum of 22% over and is 1.5 miles in length. (Yea, hard!)
Here is a list of the 17 climbs in the 2012 edition and their characteristics.
1. Nokereberg – Cobbled at 5.9% average and 1,200 feet long
2.Taaienberg – Cobbles at 6.6% average and 1,700 feet long
3.Eikenberg – Asphalt at 5.9% average and 2,000 feet long
4. Molenberg – Cobbles/Asphalt at 7% and 1,500 feet long
5. Rekelberg – Asphalt at 4% average; 9% max and 2,500 feet long
6. Berendries – Asphalt at 7% average and 3,000 feet long
7. Valkenberg – Asphalt at 8.1% average and 1,730 feet long
8. Oude Kwaremont – Asphalt/Cobbles at 4% average; 11% max and 2,2000 feet long
9. Patterberg – Cobbles at 12.9% average and 1,150 feet long
10. Koppenberg – Cobbles at 11.6% average; 22% maximum and 2,000 feet long
11. Steenbeekdries – Cobbles at 5.3% average and 2,200 feet long
12. Nieuwe Kruisberg – Cobbles at 6% average and 3,200 feet long
13 Oude Kwaremont – Asphalt/Cobbles at 4% average; 11% max and 2,200 feet long
14. Patterberg – Cobbles at 12.9% average and 1,150 feet long
15. Hoogberg-Hotond – Cobbles at 3.5% average; 8% maximum and 1,000 feet long
16. Oude Kwaremont – Asphalt/Cobbles at 4% average; 11% max and 2,2000 feet long
17. Patterberg – Cobbles at 12.9% average and 1,150 feet long
*don’t just look at ‘average’ as the experienced riders know which climbs have extreme maximim percentage grades with horrid cobbles…
There is 100 kms or 62 miles of flat riding on the narrow roads of Flanders, Belgium before the race gets to the first hellingen (climb). I have raced the the Ronde van Vlaanderen as a Professional on three occasions and every time it took almost exactly two hours to reach the first climb. The peloton starts with 198 riders and many who will not finish the race, ride at the front keeping the pace around 30 mph average (Yea, it’s flat out!). The course has a lot of turns so keeping a high average pace means that the peloton is screaming fast whenever there is a straight away. If there is any wind, it means that you will spend a lot of time in the gutter suffering before the first climb. :)
In 1999 I took 39th in the RVV and in 2000 I was in the race proudly wearing the stars and stripes as the US Professional Road Champion.
I had trained very hard over the winter and wanted to have a strong season while wearing the national champions jersey. You can see me racing in this short video
leading the peloton up the Kluisberg climb 180 kms into the race. This was only the 5th climb in the race that year and most of the peloton was still together. As the climb got steeper, all of us at the front were pushing over 500 watts of power. Its a real art to produce that kind of power with a poker face, but, even so you’ll only drop a few of the best Professional riders in the world. As the race progresses the champions will attack the climbs with accelerations that greatly exceed 500 watts and likely hit 900-1000 for the real show.
If you watch the short youtube video you will see me get a flat tire at top of the Kluisberg. After getting a wheel change from my teammate, I desperately chased back to the group. Just as I had regained contact, a group of protagonists were escaping without the leader of my team, Viatcheslav Ekimov. Over the next hour I played a huge role to help him bridge back to the leaders. In 2000 I finished 71st.
My first year as a Professional, I was riding for the Dutch team, WordPerfect and was living close to the Murr de Geraardsbergen. Living in Flanders, meant that I had ridden all of the hellingen several times, but the local Belgians are still amazing to race with. They ‘know’ exactly where to place themselves in the peloton and how to gauge their efforts. In that first year I had learned a lot from locals I was able to train with. It’s amazing to hear ‘what side’ of the peloton to be on and when to be in the top ten riders etc. etc. What may not be apparent on tv is how critical it is after the top of some of these climbs. After the hellingen where it flattens out, it’s often exposed and very windy, you must have good position with strong riders who will make sure the leaders do not get away. The tactics in the Tour of Flanders can not be understated and the Belgians are the masters. Honestly, the hairs on my arms rise as I think about it.
The race starts in the beautiful city of Brugge and I encourage you to put this race on your bucket list of races to see in person. The last time I saw the race I was there as a spectator and visiting some of the riders and director sportiff’s that I knew. I remember commenting to Scott Sunderland (DS at CSC at the time) about how quiet all of the riders were and he smiled and reminded me that for the riders it’s not all that quiet and that this was the calm before the storm. We had done so many races together, but perception as a rider and an observer are quite different. As quiet and calm as the riders seemed there ares enormous hearts beating strongly and preparing for the battle ahead. In the competitors minds it’s everything but quiet.
I’m living here in Park City and I will be watching the Ronde van Vlaanderen, live at Park City Roasters and will be happy to answer questions about the race. There is a deep tradition of bike racing in Belgium and the fans there, are hardened with knowledge and appreciation for the athletes. It you are in the area feel free to stop in and say hello.
1999 US Professional Champion
Tour de France (1997 & 1998)
Adriaan Brouwer, fresh beer found only near Oudenaarde, Belgium and the finish of the Tour de Flanders aka Ronde van Vlaanderen