A day out in the Baloise Belgium Tour

Back in March I responded to a tweet to post a photo of yourself in shorts. We had some great sunny days in March and I responded to the tweet with a photo (as you do ;) ). I hadn’t really thought about if afterwards until suddenly in April I got a message asking if I’d like to join the Team Roompot crew for a day as VIP during the Belgium Tour. Had to think about it for a few seconds (it’s a bit of a drive from the North of the Netherlands) but it’s a superb opportunity and Belgium is a different setting. That makes it really interesting too!

(click any of the images for the full set of photos)

So I said yes (like there was any choice) and on Saturday May 27 I drive to Diepenbeek. After a bit of a mix up about the Carpool parking place (that we’ll not get into… ever again!) we were picked up by our host of the day and former cyclist Johnny Hoogerland who drove us to Ans where the start and finish of that day’s race were.

Roompot‘s team captain Michel Cornelisse gave some insight on tactics and plans for the day and then we were allowed to roam the area a bit to look at the various teams for a bit before heading to the start of the race (finally getting to see the LOOK bike up close, that was a serious runner-up for my own bike selection last year).

All teams have more or less the same setup: a big bus for the runners and cars parked next to them stocked with spare bikes and wheels. You have to be careful where you walk as there are cyclists riding up and down the street warming up everywhere. And all between them are the bicycling fans wanting a photo or autograph of their favourite cyclist (or in some cases of all of them)… it’s busy!

There’s lots and lots of fiddling with the bikes right up until the start to get them just right. Most of the bikes have personalised  plans with the increments taped on the stem or frame. You’ll fine loads of cycling computers and here and there a camera on the bike. I spotted one on the Roompot team and those cameras give a fantastic insight in racing in pelotons.

All right then. Time for the start! We walk to the start line (being checked for possible bombs because these days you never know) and wee the whole peloton leave Ans in a neutralised start (so no early escapes yet). We then head back to the van and start our very own ‘tour of Belgium’. As the VIP-guests we get to stand at various locations along todays course to see the cyclists pass. This car-chase is a thing of it’s own. Racing at speed through narrow streets, finding ‘way-in’  and ‘ way-out’ locations to cut the course and arrive on time at the next location can be nerve wrecking. Luckily Johnny manages it all alright.

Our first stop is along the first climb, since another crew of the Roompot team will be waiting at the second climb. A few of the VIP guests can hand out bidons to the runners, which is easier said then done. There’s already a group of runners loose from the peloton so we see the set group in two sets.

When the runners have passed we head to the second point. On top of a hill exiting the forest. It’s a fantastic sight, but then most of this area is. Coming from the North of the Netherlands the highest point we have is a pile of junk. (Literally: the garbage-disposal location VAM is the highest point and (hooray!!!) will be open to cyclists next year). A small audience is gathering and while waiting for the peloton there are still lots of other cyclists taking on the hills here. That is until the car races along announcing the arrival of the peloton. A few minutes later the caravan turns around the corner.

 
 

Again bidons are handed out and then we chase the peloton for a bit. We do this all the way in the back, behind the cars with spare parts. As we race down the hills at a pace of 80km/h, it’s a scary sight that still we’re being overtaken by a few cyclists that head down the hills at a pace of around 90km/h. And I was getting rather worried at 68km/h at Lanzarote!

 
 

The next stop was at a top of yet another climb where bidons and food supplies were handed out and then we had to get a move on to try and get to two more spots. Tagging along the caravan we caught another ‘way out’  found a crossing where the peloton was to pass at an interjection (where I saw a lovely roadbike-tandem) and then we headed to the last point for the bidon hand-out.

 
 

Now we were in a race to the finish. Quite literally as we headed in to wrong direction a few times (now me not finding the carpool parking place doesn’t seem so weird anymore, right???) and we find it with minutes to spare. A sprint to the finish-line and we make it just in time to see Maurits Lammertink of Katusha Alpecin take the win. Roompot’s Pim Ligthart comes in at thirteen.

In conclusion we now know that although the cyclists may think they have it tough: at 35 degrees in a car with a faulty airco all day long racing from one place to another is no picknick either. But it was a awesome day and superb to be part of it, wouldn’t mind doing that again a few times more often!

Thanks to Johnny Hoogerland and Team Roompot for the hospitality!