Christine Bertram was the lucky name pulled from the hat to win our recent Going Going Bike / Go 4 Cycling competition to experience a VIP day out at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on March 31. Christine has put together a guest blog for us on her experience of an amazing day watching the Ronde and everything that goes with it. We hope you enjoy it!
The Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the monument races of the cycling season and going by the impressions from the television and comments from spectators, the race is just that – monumental.
Cobbles, brutal climbs, crazy fans, iconic landscapes. As is always the case, the TV only delivers half the excitement. If you’ve ever been to a big bike race (cue the Olympics or the Tour of Britain or even just a local race), you know what I mean – the swoosh of the wheels, the gentle, precise clicking of gears shifting, riders shouting warnings at each other and all at breakneck speed that you can only appreciate if you’ve seen for yourself. Swooosh! – and they’re gone.
I had planned to watch the Ronde at a local cafe, run by cycling enthusiasts sipping a couple of Belgian beers along the way. But then everything changed, thanks to a little e-mail from GoingGoing Bike telling me: “Congratulations! You’re going to watch the Ronde live! You’ve won the VIP package.” I did a little dance and then phoned a friend – with the Million Pound question: Are you coming?
On the Saturday afternoon, we got ourselves to Oostende (unsurprisingly, Bruges was fully booked) for the night, had some fantastic pizza and an early night. I could hardly sleep though, the excitement was too great!
Christine was overjoyed to be at the Tour of Flanders
Race day: autographs for kisses
Train to Bruges, quick breakfast and then we walked to the meeting point, to check in with our hosts for the day, the guys from Go4Cycling, who organised our VIP day. On the way there, we came past the warm-up area, 2 hours prior to the race start – empty. Not a single team bus.
After checking in, getting kitted out in Go4Cycling paraphernalia and being treated to some yummy chocolate Easter eggs, we wandered off to explore Bruges along the fenced off course towards the City Hall. The streets had started to fill with fans: little kids sporting Tom Boonen jerseys, girls “selling” kisses for autographs, grown men with Tom Boonen faces strapped on and music playing from strange contraptions, groups of friends dressed up in fancy dress.
The Flemish sure love their Ronde. The whole atmosphere was just fantastic with people having a good time in the sun, waiting for riders to come and sign in. And then they came: every single one got greeted with loud cheers, whether they were famous or belonging to a local team. They all were treated like heroes. And the race hadn’t even started!
The peleton rolls out at the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen
The VIP race experience
Just before the actual start we met up with our hosts again, climbed on our luxury bus filled to the last seat with cycling enthusiasts and off we went to our first viewing point – and this was when the rush started. A constant mix of hopping off the bus, finding a place in the crowd with a good vantage point, building up the excitement as the entourage of motorcycles and cars passed through, the noise level of screaming people grows and swoooooosh!
The riders pass. Back to the bus, settle down, follow the race on the telly, while the expert bus driver finds his way through small villages and back streets to get us to our next viewing point – just in time. It was fabulous, the constant ebb and flow of live viewing and warming-up in the bus (yes, it was bitterly cold).
We quickly realised that apart from the Ronde, there was another race going on. The race of spectators to the next viewing point. We weren’t alone as soon faces started to become familiar. Nods were exchanged, the experience enjoyed, a quick chat about who was going to win, and off we went, to congregate at the next spot. It was like belonging to a secret society.
All the while, we were well looked after by the Go4Cycling team with drinks and a very tasty lunch box and cava, coffee and cake later on. Along the way we met more crazy fans, most notably the Ronde Party Bus.
Our last viewing spot was in a lively little town where riders passed through twice and there was a big screen to watch the finale. At the time the riders passed, Cancellara had not made the first selection and the break away still had a small lead. It all happened amazingly quickly after that or so it seemed. Back at the big screen, it felt a bit like at the horse races: people shouting riders’ names to urge them on, to pull through. Nervous waiting, anxious groans when Cancellara dropped Sagan, delighted shouts. And then it was over. Just. Like. That.
All eyes were on Tom Boonen (black, yellow and red jersey), the home favourite for the race
All’s well that ends well
Still on a high we returned to the bus, watched the highlights and expert analysis on our way back to Bruges. I was so shattered, I dozed off.
Days later, I was still telling friends and colleagues at work about the incredible time we’ve had. Getting within touching distance of the riders and the race, trying to make others understand the toughness and the speed of it, the amazing fans along the route, the secret society of migrating race spectators. It was all brilliantly organised, a day I’ll remember and I can recommend it to anyone.
Thank you very much Going Going Bike and Go4Cycling.