Guest blogger Charlotte Elton, a Belgian living in London, shares with us what riding the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) cyclosportive means to her.

Having lived in London for the past ten years, one of my trips back home to Belgium will always be linked to riding the Ronde van Vlaanderen while dragging along a bunch of cycling-mad non-Belgian friends. De Ronde is fast gaining a reputation for being one of the world’s most popular one day races in cyclo-tourism – and thoroughly deserved. This year, 15,000 cycling nutcases of all ages squeezed their highly and not so highly trained buts in tight bright lycra, with the intention of attacking the cobbled hills all guns blazing whilst covering either 87km, 138km or 260km. After completing the middle distance at last year’s sunny Ronde, Corinne, James, Dan and I decided to enjoy the best 9 out of the 13 hills without covering too much distance in a chillier set-up than last year, with our aim being to enjoy every single second of the 87km tour and still be capable of talking sense afterwards. This is said following a stunning picture of me half asleep with a pint horizontally held in my hand at a bar after last years’ 140km.

The author, Charlotte Elton and her riding friend, James

There is nothing in this world that makes me more proud and happy to be Flemish than during this fresh Spring weekend. On Saturday, I joined 14,999 fellow cyclists to glide on top of the historic Flemish cobbles along farms, overheard hearty banter between age-old cycling ‘kameraden’ (comrades) on pre-war aluminium tanks and watched a continuous stream of unnaturally bright colours wade their way through the natural green and chestnut-brown backdrop of the Flemish Ardennes. For an outsider this may not flare up any emotions but I will admit that watching hordes of wheezing cyclists successfully scramble their way to the top of the infamous Koppenberg and the subsequent pride and smile like a coathanger bring a, albeit modest, tear to my eye (in Flanders showing emotions in cycling is not cool).

Photo by bram_soffreau

A highlight of my day on the Flemish cobbles included making friends with a 60-year old local man. After passing him going up the Kruisberg, he superglued himself to my back wheel and at the top freely admitted, panting heavily and only as an old-fashioned Belgian with no idea of what the word chauvinism signifies, that he could not let a girl hop past him. A fan of climbing, I was passing buckets of people (let’s say, men – I saw a meagre 5 other fellow ladies!) but this tough older cookie would not crumble. At the Oude Kwaremont, my favorite 2.2km uphill stretch of badly laid cobbles that sets fire to your quads and would make a catholic nun for the first time in her life use ‘God and f*ck’ in the same sentence, I saw the 60-year old’s bobbing back ahead of me and set my sight on not seeing him in front of me again. As I squeezed past him on the narrow Kwaremont, he drilled his bike to mine with a Black and Decker, while breathing like a deer that had just escaped a group of lions, right to the top. With a litre of foamy saliva shaping his mouth, he grabbed my shoulder and officially invited me to be part of his all-male cycling club.

Photo by joopvandijk

Further highlights include a Red bull disco stand dishing out red bull cans which was stationed immediately before one of the tougher climbs, resulting in every participant, including the overweight ‘all the gear –no idea’ types to fly over the cobbles straight to the top like only a Merckx or a Boonen could.

Following 87km of bouncing wildly on the cobbles, an abundance of oranges and stroopwafels (honeywaffels) and no punctures, we euphorically crossed the finish line amongst hundreds of fellow cyclists high on endorphins. It was a fantastic day out and will undoubtedly be repeated next year. So, start preparing those calves and quads on the Olympic route of Box Hill for what will be another epic day of cycling next year. And in case you see a Flemish woman bawling her eyes out when you climb the final few meters of the Koppenberg, just give her a pad on the back, tell her Flanders is a wonderful place and to get back on her bike.

Header image by crosby_cj