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How to make your Bank Holiday ride like the Tour of Flanders

Philippe Gilbert attacking at the 2017 Tour of Flanders
Joe Robinson
29 Mar 2018

Five tips on how to emulate the Classics men this Bank Holiday Weekend

This weekend means only one thing for cycling fans: the Tour of Flanders. The second Monument of the year takes place on Sunday, with the men's race broadcast in full and the women's in part. 

Of course this weekend is also Easter, meaning that most of us will be enjoying a four-day weekend, with both Friday and Monday off. 

The combination of four days out of the office with what promises to be one of the best days of racing in the cycling calendar will no doubt give many of us the motivation to try and emulate the exploits of the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) on our own weekend rides. 

So when you head out to the lanes this weekend how about trying to make your ride feel, look and even smell like De Ronde? 

Below are five fun tips to do just that.

1. Start in longs, finish in shorts

Watch the professionals depart Antwerp at the start of the Tour of Flanders this Sunday. The majority of riders will roll off the start line in a mix of warm clothing, arm warmers, leg warmers, winter jackets, the lot.

But by the business end of affairs a couple of hundred kilometres later, those of them still in contention for the win will have stripped down to not much more than a short sleeve jersey and bibshorts.

In a bid to be as light and aerodynamic as possible for the finish, the riders will have jettisoned their excess clothing roadside, throwing some very expensive kit into the hands of some very lucky spectators if there isn't a soigneur on hand.

So this weekend, depart your home wrapped up as you usually would do yet once you pass through three quarters of the ride increase the speed, peel off your arm warmers, remove the leg warmers and head full gas all the way home.

This mid-ride undressing may see you having to get by without your favourite warmers but it will no doubt have you feeling just like the pros – though we'd stop short of tossing your expensive kit into the bushes. 

2. Ride past as many chip shops and pubs as possible

If you have ever been to a bike race in Belgium, you will know that the smell of triple-cooked frites and Trappist-brewed beer lingers in the air at almost every street corner – to the extent that riders in the race even admit to getting distracted by it despite being on the very limit.

Take the Oude Kwaremont for example. The climb is tackled three times at Flanders making it a hot spot for spectators. At the crest you will find an abundance of frites vendors and a bar selling the eponymous beer of the climb, with the combination being utterly delicious. 

By day's end the top of the climb looks more like what you'd expect on a Friday night rather than a Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, triple-cooked chips and golden Belgian beers are not all that common in the UK but you can recreate the senses of Flanders partially.

When you head out this weekend, carefully plot your route to take in as many local fish and chips shops and pubs as possible. While the smell will not be as good, it should hopefully give you some idea of what riding Flanders is like.

One thing to remember, if the smell of chips is too alluring and you decide to stop a treat yourself, for authenticity the only sauce permitted is mayonnaise.

3. Take on 18 consecutive steep climbs 

The biggest challenge for the pro peloton this Sunday will be the 18 'helligen' (climbs) that have to be negotiated over the 267km of riding between Antwerp and Oudernaarde. 

Including the likes of the Koppenberg, Paterberg and Kapelmuur, riders will be asked to grind up gradients of 20% on multiple occasions, made even more difficult by the fact that 10 of the 18 climbs are cobbled.

This relentless journey up and down Flanders' toughest climbs makes this a real war of attrition with every rider who reaches the the end finishing empty.

Tom Boonen riding up the Muur van Geraardsbergen at the 2017 Tour of Flanders

So to do this idea justice this weekend, plan a route that takes in just as many of the toughest climbs in your own area. The climbs should ideally be between 300m and 2km long, and should contain nasty ramps that take the gradient in to double figures regularly.

While we may not have much by way of cobbles here in the UK, targetting roads with rough surfaces and potholes will deliver much the same effect.

If you cannot find 18 different climbs in your area that fit these requirements, worry not. Like at Flanders, you can simply head to the toughest ascents more than once, just like the race does with the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

4. Make sure these climbs all take place in the second half of your ride

It is also important that you tackle all of these climbs in the final half of your ride. Why? Because that is what also happens in Flanders.

The first climb in the 267km race is the the Oude Kwaremont, which doesn't come until the peloton already has 121km of riding chalked up, albeit through mostly flat (though exposed) Flemish farmland.

In fact, it's only in the final 60km that we see the true racing begin with the final eight climbs. This concentration of tough ascents so deep in the race serves as the perfect launchpad for attacks from anyone still feeling strong at that point. 

So when you head out this Easter, make sure to spend the first couple of hours trundling along straight, flat and ideally wind-exposed roads before heading for those nasty climbs on your run to home.

5. Make a few of your riding mates head nine minutes up the road only to be caught and dropped later

Every year a group of between five and 15 riders will shoot off the front of the peloton within the first hour of racing. They will usually be from the smaller ProContinental teams or WorldTour teams without a favourite in their ranks.

They will quickly build a gap of multiple minutes and work well together, staying well clear of the main bunch for the majority of the race.

Us viewers will naively hold out hope that they'll remain clear, before they're inevitably caught in the last 50km and immediately dropped like a stone in water by the rumbling peloton.

From being nine minutes up, these breakaway hopefuls will then roll in 15 minutes behind the eventual winner, sometimes not finishing at all.

This weekend, draw straws between your riding mates. The unlucky few who pull short will have to ride the first half of your ride like maniacs, establishing a healthy lead over the rest of you.

The main group will eventually catch these pour souls on one of the many tough climbs you are tackling that day. When you catch them, ride straight on by without even a nod of acknowledgement and only regroup at the coffee shop at the end of the ride.