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Tour of Flanders Fan Ride report: Get inside the excitement and intimidation of pro racing

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11 Oct 2020
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The Tour of Flanders Fan Ride – riding through shouting crowds on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, rolling road closures and moto escorts while the Tour of Flanders-proper takes place elsewhere on the route – is an exciting yet thoroughly intimidating way for amateurs to get an inside experience of pro racing in a way that a sportive simply can't live up to.

As Cyclist found on a trip with Velusso back in April 2019.

Words: Jack Elton-Walters Photos: Flanders Classics

Each Monument – in fact most of the Classics now – offers amateur riders the chance to take on the same course as the professionals. Each sportive normally happens the day before the pro race, although it can sometimes be the day after or even months later as is the case with Milan-San Remo.

The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are examples of events where the mere mortals take on the parcours the day before the main event.

In 2019 the Flanders sportive sold out all 16,000 places and counted 1,832 British tourists among that number, the third best represented country after the home nation Belgium and its closest neighbour, the Netherlands.

That's also an increase on the number of Brits who headed over the year before, making the most of the frictionless movement from one part of Europe to another.

The Tour of Flanders sportive is an amazing event, no doubt, but finding your way up some of the narrow cobbled climbs with that many other riders in close proximity can be difficult and many riders, regardless of their own fitness or bike handling skills, find themselves forced to a standstill and unable to get going again.

Walking on cobbles in cleats can be even more difficult than riding on them.

However, there is another way of riding the Ronde route on race weekend and this option comes with huge crowds, closed roads, moto escorts and mechanical support. It's the nearest to the pro experience most of us will ever get.

 

The Tour of Flanders Fan Ride: An intimidating way to cycle in Belgium

Run during the professional men's and women's races, but when both pelotons are far away elsewhere on the course, the Tour of Flanders Fan Ride takes on a 106km loop starting and finishing in Oudenaarde.

The circuitous nature of De Ronde's route, with its repeated climbs and tightly packed road closures, makes it possible to run a fan ride such as this in a way that other races might not be able to accommodate.

The route also means that those taking on the Fan Ride are able to see the pros in action. This opportunity came when the professional men's peloton was heading for its second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont.

Following behind, the Fan Ride group headed to the famous stretch of cobbles with the crowds in situ, ready to cheer – and jeer – any riders that went past, regardless of speed or ability.

Jeers came in the form of English-accented derision about riding the 4% climb in the inner ring. Easy to criticise from a beer-soaked perch on the bank, harder to ride up the cobbles in the big ring when you're a tired amateur.

Cheers were heard loudest whenever one amateur overtook another (unless the faster moving rider was off the cobbles in the gutter, which is inexcusable), and forged on ahead hoping for the end of the climb.

After the Oude Kwaremont the amateur peloton was in bits and headed to the next challenge of the day, the Paterberg, in small groups.

Riding the cobbled climbs of Flanders with crowd support

Video: Riding the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg through the crowds

The Paterberg may only be 350 metres in length, but its position this late in the ride and its 12%+ average gradient made it a daunting and leg-sapping two minutes of riding.

It's best to stay sat down on steep cobbled climbs to give your rear tyre the best chance of retaining traction, but with the very real threat of cramp in both quads - which could have led to a comedy fall in front of the baying mob - I was forced to alternate between standing and sitting, undoubtedly pulling all sorts of faces.

Riding up these climbs in the full glare of the crowds, present in their many thousands to see the professionals, was probably the most intimidating thing I've done, on or off a bike. But as intimidating as the climbs were, the whole day was an amazing experience.

Rolling road closures, motocycle outriders, domestiques for those who need them and a support van for quick wheel changes or assistance in the event of a puncture or mechanical, the Tour of Flanders Fan Ride should be a consideration for anyone looking to get a full Classics experience this year, or any year.

The experience doesn't end on the finish line, however, as part of the package is access to the marquee which sits behind the gantry where food and drink are served for the duration. Get back soon enough and you'll catch the closing kilometres of the women's race and a good chunk of the men's on the screens before heading out to see the winners cross the line.

 

Cycling in Flanders

For anyone looking to head over to cycling's heartland away from the Classics season, Cycling in Flanders is a fantastic resource with downloadable routes, advice and all you need to know when planning a visit to the Flemish cobbles and bergs.

Cyclist rode with Cycling in Flanders back in early spring 2019, which you can read more about here.