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I heart team Zissou!
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Fellow rbr'r MarkS, taking advantage of a business trip in Europe round the time of the great monuments (coincidence??? I think not!) convinced me to play hookey from a race this w-end to go up and meet him in Flanders to check out the action at the Ronde.

Like I really needed some arm twisting to agree to watch some people race on cobbles rather than to do it myself!

So eaaarly Sunday AM, I head off to the Gare du Nord, catch the early-bird TGV to Tourcoing and RDV up w/ Mark who has decided that the best way to teach himself to drive a stick is to do it with a rental car -- yikes!

After much time spent scrutinising the map, we decide that the best thing to do would be head up to the Koppenberg and catch the riders their live and then find ourselves a café to try out some of the local brewed specialties (no, beer is not usually part of a balanced training regimen, but when in Flanders, do as the Flandrians!) and catch the end of the race on TV.

Mark had spent the better part of Saturday riding the Ronde route w/ 12 000 other riders participating in the RVV cyclosportive. I won't go so far as to say that he was limping, but I did catch him wincing whenever we came close to anything resembling cobbles!

After some exemplary route-finding on the narrow market roads that pass for major thoroughfares in this part of Belgian, we finally made it within walking distance of the top of the Koppenberg and set out.

We were not alone.

In fact, it seemed that a fairly significant proportion of the region's population had come up with the same great idea as we had. And they had sent up multiple megatronic viewing screens and massive beer tents... in an instant of wordless communication, Mark and I knew that this is where we were going to spend the whole day!

I whipped out my Breton flag and afixed it to the umbrellas I had lugged up from Paris in the hopes that they would be enough to keep the rain away (it worked!) just so that somewhone, somewhere on the Koppenberg would be flying something other than the ubiquitous Lion of Flanders. Mark was wishing he had brought a Maryland flag which, according to him, is "objectively the nicest of all the State flags" (flame away!). We staked out our 20 square centimetres of territory each just at the top of the climb and waited. Young, old, drunk and cold -- all of Flanders seemed to be gathered here in what can only be described as a "super bonne ambiance" -- a really great and friendly atmosphere. Mud was everywhere on the sides of the road -- most people were prepared with their wellingtons and other assorted "dirt" shoes... some people inexplicably chose to wear something a bit more exotic!
 

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I heart team Zissou!
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Discussion Starter #2
Flanders #2

Then, as the crowd got more and more animarted and under the downwash of the hovering helicopters, the first riders appeared amidst a huge roar.

Marichal and Schmidt opened up the show, followed by the golden boy himself whose surge at the top caused an apoplectic frenzy in the crowd. Baguet and Zabel chased hard, Pettachi was already out of the race -- and then came the scattered remains of the peleton, grimacing and fighting their way off of the Koppenberg. Made me glad to be a spectator that day!
 

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Good stuff my friend, and to tell the truth, I am very jealous, as I'm sure just about everyone else is on here. Do you have any race pictures? I'd like to see those as well posted on up here if and when you get a chance. Thanks!
 

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I heart team Zissou!
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Discussion Starter #4
Flanders #3

I tooks tons of pictures of the rest of the peleton -- but won't post them today as I need to get other things out of the way. After, the last rider went by, closely tailed by the voiture balai (it was a unibet rider btw, and , no, it wasn't VDB -- or his dog). Mark and I headed over to the closest beer tent for some Leffe's, some Bratwursts and for some TV race action. The last two pictures show the crowds' reaction when a. Tommy launches his sprint and b. takes the Ronde. A good day to be a Flandrian in Flanders!
 

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I heart team Zissou!
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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Flanders #4

Mark is thinking he will be scouting out all the cobbles that eastern Maryland has to offer and I am thinking that one day, before I die, a Breton will once again rule in the springtime classics!

We head over to the Koppenberg proper for an up-close look at the cobbles -- great view, horrible, horrible cobbles! They have quickly reverted back to something that, while not quite as bad as what they were a few years ago, is likely to knock out even the best set dental filling in the world.

We walk back to the car enjoying the beatiful, if nippish, springtime weather and drive down to Paris -- on the way, even the sky seems to be smiling on the rainbow jersey wearer's victory!

A great day spent with a great crowd watching some great racing in a great region of a great country! What more could you ask for on a Sunday in spring?

Hope you enjoyed!

A+

Philippe
 

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pass the hot sauce
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Philippe, thanks for sharing the story and photos... really nice to see! That shot of Boonen cresting the hill is great and the crowd looked really animated. Must have been great energy there.

Cheers, Mike
 

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Roadbikereview Editor
Steelman Eurocross bike
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Wow. We're puttin this on the front page of roadbikereview!!

We read about it and watch it. You live it.

francois
 

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I heart team Zissou!
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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks all -- It's hard work keeping up with the race scene here for RBR but someone has got to do the dirty job!
 

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Enjoy I did.

philippec said:
We walk back to the car enjoying the beatiful, if nippish, springtime weather and drive down to Paris -- on the way, even the sky seems to be smiling on the rainbow jersey wearer's victory!

A great day spent with a great crowd watching some great racing in a great region of a great country! What more could you ask for on a Sunday in spring?

Hope you enjoyed!

A+

Philippe
After landing in the US last night (Thursday) and spending a full day in the office today (Friday), it is hard to believe that just five days ago I was in Flanders and seeing all of this first hand. I am much too tired now to say anything really coherent about my trip -- I probably will post some stories in a day or two. But, I could not let Philippe's report pass without a few comments now: (1) Philippe's words and photos really capture well the experience of the day; (2) The photo of Tom Boonen is as good as anything I have seen from Graham Watson and his cohorts; (3) Thanks Philippe for a great report and a great day.

P.S. Maybe I drank too much Belgian beer on Saturday and Sunday. But, after my weekend in Flanders Tom Boonen now is at the top of my favorites in the pro peloton. He not only wins, but he does it with class and ease and chrisma. And, if the various reports I have read and heard are true, he also is a decent guy. I'll always have a special place for Erik Zabel in my pro pantheon, but Tom now is No. 1.
 

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Deliciously Ironic
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Wonderful!!

Thanks for such superbe photos, Philippe! I hope your riding/racing has been going well, perhaps this trip will infuse some extra "oomph" into your endeavors!

Ed and I say HI from Chicago! wishing we were there!
 
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