Originally published at Matador Network.
Unless you’re riding during Sunday’s professional event, riding the Ronde is a day affair. For me, cycling the whole 245-kilometer course was about 10 hours from start to finish. Just 90 minutes of that was rest, with everything else taking place on the saddle, my body absorbing every bump as I maintained one of the more unnatural positions in sports for the same amount of time normal people complain about sitting at their desk.
Climbing cobblestone hills as steep as 22% grade can make grown men and women weep on this course. Residents of the surrounding villages of these climbs say they’ve heard every curse word in every language. Of course what goes up must come down, and skimming across medieval cobblestones at 20-plus miles per hour does a number on those oh-so-sensitive regions no matter how much you prepare. Point is, nobody simply walks away from the Ronde.
Chicken legs have no business at the Ronde. If you dare take on these climbs, then that must mean you’re walking around with a pair of tree stumps for legs. Otherwise, you’ll be like me and dismounting at the Koppenberg, slouching up the hill by foot with damaged pride.
(I’ll be back for that damn climb…)
Something is liable to go wrong with even the best of bikes over 245 kilometers of rough terrain. Back home you might be able to call a significant other for help or hop on a train. In rural Belgium? You better know how to repair a flat on the fly or figure out what the hell is going on with your chain.
There’s certainly a place in the world for $100 single speed bikes — urban commuting comes to mind. But you need a special piece of machinery to have a chance at getting through the Ronde in one piece, bike included. Riding the Ronde is an opportunity to gawk with drooling delight over all the incredible bikes this glorious world has to offer, and if you are lucky, show yours off.
The Ronde van Vlaanderen along with Paris Roubaix signals the start of the cycling season with a pair of classics that truly test the salt of the men and women brave enough to take these courses on. Riding the Ronde shows a strong appreciation and understanding of the cycling world, a sense of respect the course repays only in blood and sweat.
If you’re in Belgium to ride the Ronde, then you can stick around and watch the pros do in a breezy six hours what almost sent your body into shock in a full day.
It’s a safe generalization to say cyclists love a good beer. Few things beat the rewarding sensation that comes with a well-crafted pint of suds after spending hours hammering it out on the saddle. Finishing all 245-some kilometers of the Ronde van Vlaanderen is just about the best justification you can get for throwing back a glass or two or three of Belgian ale.
Disclaimer: I rode the Ronde in 2014 with BMC Switzerland as part of their Granfondo Experience contest. I totally understand that I was obscenely lucky and that there are better cyclists ready and waiting to ride the Ronde themselves.