Ronde van Vlaanderen
I’ve raced Ronde van Vlaanderen once before, in 2012. It wasn’t one of my best races, I fell off the pace around 70 kilometres into the 120 kilometre race and rode the next 30 kilometres in a dropped group before we were pulled from the race.
The streets were lined with spectators fanatically waving the iconic yellow flag of Flanders and the feeling of being pulled from the race, I imagine, was somewhat similar to the feeling dogs get when they get caught destroying something. Sunken ears and tail between my legs, I wanted to crawl into a hole and reappear only when everyone had gone home.
It’s hard to describe just exactly what makes this race so special. It surely has something to do with it’s rich history, it’s challenging parcours, and the region in which it is raced; Flanders. There is a vibe of excitement and anticipation that – in my cycling career – has only been challenged by the Olympic Games in London.
Needless to say, in 2014 I was determined not to repeat my performance of 2012.
Whether or not I was actually going to start this year however, was uncertain until about lunch time yesterday. Struggling with a serious case of ‘bad legs’ since racing Gent-Wevelgem last weekend I wouldn’t have blamed my team manager if he had put in another team member instead of me. During our Flanders reconnaissance rides earlier in the week I’m almost certain my Mum could have dropped me on the cobbles.
Receiving a text message at midday yesterday my team manager asked, “Chloe, are you okay to start tomorrow? I need to know before inscription at 2 o’clock.”
I replied, “I feel a lot better today. In my opinion I’m okay to start but I understand if you want to put someone else in instead of me. I leave it up to you and what you think is the best for the team.”
Next thing I knew I was starting my second ever Ronde van Vlaanderen. Fortunately, my bad legs subsided and I was pleasantly surprised with my race.
With a team of six our team manager delegated jobs to us all; we had two designated leaders in Elisa Longo Borghini and Ashleigh Moolman, Lauren Kitchen and Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen were to cover any moves in the first 40 or so kilometres, and my job – along with Audrey Cordon – was to shadow our two leaders and make sure they had the easiest possible ride before the ‘business end’ of the bike race.
As the race left Oudenaarde I thanked the cycling gods that my legs had returned. Weaving through the peloton it took me 15 kilometres before I finally accomplished my first goal, get to Ashleigh. Ashleigh had started on the front line as the South African National Champion so it was a mission in itself to get up to her.
I could see my other teammates riding well in the peloton, Audrey and Elisa were always present at the front and Lauren and Cecilie did a good job of covering the front of the peloton. While a group of two momentarily snuck off the front the pace was so high that the peloton was still together as we raced towards the first obstacle of the day, the Wolvenberg; the first of ten climbs.
Elisa, Audrey and I made it over the climb in the top twenty riders, and while the climb stretched the peloton it wasn’t enough to make a selection. We had thought that selection would come around the 50 kilometre mark when the peloton hit the first cobbled climb of the day, the Molenberg, which was followed in quick succession by the flat cobbled sections of the Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat and Haaghoek.
Surprisingly however, the peloton didn’t split.
The first concerning move of the day went on the third climb, the Leberg, as a Rabo/Liv rider and an Orica-AIS snuck off the front. With Audrey unfortunately stuck in the 53 chain ring after her battery literally fell off her bike (thank you cobbles) I got on the front to control the gap.
We reeled in the breakaway riders just as we summited the fourth climb of the day, the Hostellerie, and then the Rabo/Liv team let the peloton have it. It was like cannon balls being fired; one rider would launch, be pulled back, and then another rider would go.
Somehow, I managed to find myself off the front with Annemiek van Vleuten just after the sixth climb of the day, the Valkenburg. While she urged me to work I knew enough not to ride away with the former winner; I knew she would drop me like Charlie Sheen drops inappropriate comments on the next climb so we were soon back in the peloton.
As we neared the next climb I could hear our team manager urging us to get to the front. Finding Ash we turned into the base of the seventh climb, the Kaperij, in prime position and managed to stay there. While the peloton had definitely thinned, nothing serious had really happened yet and it was on the eighth climb, the Kanarieberg that the race really blew up.
I watched the lead riders dance up the long, straight, steep climb as I slugged my 39/27 gear up the fourth last climb of the day. That was the end of my race, but I managed to ride with a fairly sizable peloton to the finish.
Finally having the opportunity to ride up the iconic Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg with the deafening crowds was a spine tingling feeling. I can only imagine what Ellen van Dijk was feeling as she rode solo over the grueling cobblestones to win her first ever Ronde van Vlaanderen.
My teammate, Elisa, finish fourth for the second year in row which was a result we were all proud of.
There’s little time to reflect on my second Ronde van Vlaanderen however. I’m starting my own mini stage race with one rest day. Tomorrow I race GP Dottignies before I travel to the Netherlands to race the five day stage race (starting on Wednesday), the Energiewacht Tour, with the Australian national team.