My Ronde story is as simple as memorable; especially that coincidentally it happened exactly on my Birthday date. It started few months before, from a simple question of my boss: “Hey Iulian, why don’t you come over to Belgium and join us on the Tour of Flanders?”
While I was thinking about a response on that question, a stock of special Excalibur edition (painted in the new Team Replica design) has been built in the meantime, designated for pure Flemish races. And I didn’t realize when I arrived in Belgium - after visiting our Polish distributor - the great event was just around the corner. Despite the fact I really didn’t know what to expect from a Classic spring course, full of cobblestoned climbs, I could only sign up for this, especially after Jo told me: “When you’ll finish this course – you’ll become a real Flandrien”. What can be more motivating?!
However I still was not realizing what I signed for until we arrived at the starting point on Saturday morning, 2nd of April, the morning when I just turned 27. But when I saw the huge crowds of cyclist and spectators I start liking the “party” I was going to have J.
We were a big group of workmates from Ridley and from 4ZA, as well as many journalists and customers - visiting us - from all over the world. We split in two groups, those like me – riding for the first time on Ronde and eager to have more fun rather than sportive performance – we took 75km, and those who were well trained and wanted to go against the time, they took 140km. As an amateur rider, I don’t cycle very often (not as much as I want), and 75km would become the longest distance I ever made. However I was relaxed and confident due to my lightweight Excalibur, equipped with a compact crank (thank goodness!).
I don’t know exactly how many participants were riding, but I saw registration numbers above 22.000 – amazing isn’t? Me personally, I was registered with number 14549. Probably this is also the number of how many times I asked myself while climbing step hills: “What am I doing here on my B-day, while I could stay very relaxed at home and receive nice greetings from all my friends?” And the answer was the same every time: “You are riding on Ronde Iulian – it’s the best gift you could ever make to yourself. Shut up and keep pushing!” And so I did J.
Actually the ride was not only about pushing. It has many sections where you can simply enjoy the surroundings, feel the breeze, get in different groups, and even meet and communicate with new people from different countries while riding. For me it was also exciting the feeling that I’m riding on exactly the same course as the Pros. And when you know on your own skin how tough can be certain climb, or pave section, or difficult turn, it makes the official race being much more interesting to follow.
I must confess though how “surprised” I was when I hit the first pave section – man was it tough.
Big and rare cobblestones: worst combination. I also noticed if I slow down, my wheels can easily get caught between the stones. I totally lost the feeling that I’m controlling the bike, and I start asking myself if I didn’t turn wrong somewhere before this?! J Anyway, a crash on the stones was not an option for me (especially on my B-day), and fortunately, the bike knew very well how to act on pave, and it behaved really strength. When I realized that, I just put the foot on the gas and we managed to pass successfully the pave. I was so happy being back on flat, and honestly a little bit proud after facing the Flemish character of the Ronde. It was a good lesson for the rest of race, and also the chemistry between me and my bike went up to 100%.
The rest of race was in the same style, testing my legs and my endurance. Of course other surprises like brutal side winds ready to take you away, was also part of the course. But no problem for Excalibur, with its classic round tube shapes, which can handle that easily.
After all, the closer I was getting to finish line the happier I was. The fatigue and tough tests were in past, and I could only think about a well-deserved Belgium beer at the finish. And I could see the same expression on everybody’s faces. Finally when I finished with a big smile on my face and with unbelievable impressions, I went to registration booth to give back my badge with starting-number, and to claim my 5euros for that. But those guys offered me another option instead: a T-shirt with Ronde’s pave logo and “Original Flandrien” inscription. Obviously I took the T-shirt (which I proudly wear now). And I know behind that inscription there is something true J
I enjoyed my beer and I felt just fulfilled. Wow, what a great race, what a great bike, what a great sunny day…what a great B-day!
And now, I can tell you for sure, Tour of Flanders is not famous, it’s just a rumor – until you don’t ride it!
ps: next year’s goal: 140km J