Friday, 14 November 2014

Retro Ronde and The Joy of Cycling

Following last years trip to Tuscany and taking part in L'eroica, I had been chatting to an Australian called James Foster and he mentioned another vintage ride in Belgium that he was thinking of entering called the "Retro Ronde". My ears pricked up to this as Belgium is a little closer to the UK than Italy and it would easy to drive there rather than fly.  To give it its full title, the Retroronde Van Vlaanderen is very similar to the L'Eroica in as much as the restrictions placed on the rider with regard to the age of the bike are the same ( so anything built before 1987) and you should ride in period style clothing with vintage woollen jerseys/ costumes being the order of the day and even a sprinkling of tweed here and there.

Period costume is the order of the day
With 2014 being its 8th year, the key to this ride of course is the route and the type of road surfaces  you get to cycle on. Starting in the town of Oudenaarde in the heart of Ardennes, it features some of the  climbs and cobbled roads that have been the stars of such 1 day classics as the Tour of Flanders, Gent Wevelgem etc. With that in mind I registered on the website, booked some accommodation, a ticket under the channel and on the 12th June I headed off to Belgium.

One of the main differences between the vintage scene and sportive type rides in general seems to be the atmosphere and the type of cyclist each event appears to attract. Now Im sure there is some crossover of participants on these events  as I also take part in one or two home grown sportive's on my modern steeds ( steel of course) and I have no doubt Im not alone in that, but, I have to say there is a much more relaxed celebratory atmosphere on the vintage rides which seems to embody a era long since past, that harks back to a joy of cycling and the freedom that two wheels brings. One lovely element that I wholeheartedly approve of is no cycle computers!! So no Garmin here, no average speeds, max speeds or power outputs and most of all no STRAVA. Just the wonderful joy of two wheels and three triangles to tackle in this instance, cobbled tracks and hills  deep in the Ardennes country side. Brilliant.

Saturday dawned and I headed down into Oudenaarde to check out parking and get my bearings, There was also the opportunity to take part in a short 25k ride that took in the Paterberg and the Koppenberg cobbled climbs. The Paterberg got the better of me as I slipped a gear halfway up and resulted in the walk of shame but I shook off my disappointment and managed to ascend the Koppenberg where others were falling by the wayside.

My school boy hero has his own cycle route

The walk of shame up the Paterberg

Back in the centre of Oudenaarde the cycle jumble was in full swing as was the music and a fantastic dance group called the Dipsy Doodles. The town also plays host to the " Tour of Flanders " Museum which is well worth a visit ( more of this in another blog) The afternoon saw the town centre Retro Criterium take place with various race categories which on this occasion I was happy to watch (but may take part in next year).  All this added up to a real vintage vibe and a great atmosphere. However the highlight of the afternoon had to be meeting Tom Simpson's daughter Jo and talking about her dad, just wonderful.

There was even a penny farthing race 

Some wonderful vintage bikes
Alex Stefanovic ( third rider from the left) in full flight, well ok then medium flight.

Lead out lap for the multi speed  Criterium race

The highlight of the afternoon ....meeting Tom Simpson's daughter Jo

 So Sunday dawned, a fresh, bright and sunny morning, it looked like it was going to be a great day. The atmosphere at the start was electric and with a blessing from the local priest and a wave from the town Mayor we were off, heading out into the Ardennes.
A busy start line

The Town Mayor and Priest 

The first feed station
And another feed station
Cobbles galore

The Kemmelberg
The final feed station 
So I guess the photos sum up the day for me and whilst I could wax lyrical I'm not going to, It was just a great day out, a great weekend away, meeting some wonderful people for whom riding on two wheels brings so much pleasure. Belgium is a great country with a rich cycling heritage and the Retro Ronde doffs its hat to... not only this but so much more.

Happy days and see you all next year.