This weekend is the annual Belgium World Championships (well, if you are Flemish) also known as De Ronde Van Vlaanderen or by it's English name, the Tour of Flanders. It's a professional race so you have to be a pro to get invited. In a couple of weeks, the Sea Otter Classic will take place in Northern California. Unlike De Ronde, anyone can enter the Sea Otter. That seems to be the major difference between the two.
Okay. You can enter the cyclo-tourist version of De Ronde which is held the day before. Lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) individuals can ride exactly the same route as the professionals ride, all 165 miles of it. But, the tourists can't ride alongside the pros. Seeing how fast the pros ride, maybe that is a good thing.
At the Sea Otter Classic, the joes can ride with the pros. Well, sort of. While there are different categories for each racing class the classes go off at five minute intervals so all classes are on the course at the same time. The "sort of" part is because the pros go off after all the amateurs have finished, but for that one day, you can race on the same course at almost the same time and compare your finish time with the lap times of the pros. In my book, that comes pretty close.
Is it really necessary to compare De Ronde with Sea Otter, probably not, but I only have one blog and I thought it would be fun to double up. You mileage may vary.
You might be wondering why De Ronde is such a prestigious race to win. It has to do with the murs or walls or climbs which punctuate the final 50 miles of the route. They are short, steep and most are cobbled. Every once and a while someone like Jacky Durand sneaks off and wins the thing when he wasn't the strongest rider in the field, but to paraphrase the legendary Phil Liggett, "the race always produces a worthy winner."
That's a bit of a backhand way of saying if you aren't one of the strongest riders in the field you don't have a chance. The climbs would be very, very tough if they were just smooth pavement. Throw in bone wrenching cobbles and it becomes epic. This Sunday we will find out who is strong. Trust me.
You also have to be strong to win at Sea Otter. There are road, mountain and BMX events and there are so many categories that last year over 9000 riders participated. Some were strong and stood on the podium. Others were less strong, but still had a great time and some were just there to participate and still had a great time. The key phrase here is that everybody had a great time.
The Sea Otter Classic runs from April 16-19th. Visit their website at www.seaotterclassic.com to find an event that suits your riding. And don't forget to check out De Ronde. I am pulling for George Hincapie. He hasn't had a great spring, but he's been so close for so many years and he is strong.
If your only memories of Belgium are fries with mayonnaise and high alcohol content beer then you are definitely missing something. Yesterday was the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders to us English-speaking types. It is more than a 165-mile bike race full of steep cobbled climbs. It is the premier sporting even in all of Belgium. Forget soccer(futbol to you non-English speaking types), Formula 1 at Spa-Francorchamps or a tennis match between Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin, De Ronde is it. Not only are the crowds huge, but they exude passion, way more passion than the Black Hole in the Oakland Raiders' stadium.
Yeah, it's a bike race, but it is also a desert topping, floor wax and much, much more. Yes, it is one of cycling's one-day 'classics', but when the weather turns to ugly like it did yesterday, it becomes legendary. If your only exposure to bike racing is standing around in an industrial park watching your significant other go round and round for an hour or so, it is hard to describe how popular this event is with your average Belgian. They are probably still partying in Ninove, to be sure a Belgian won, however, it wouldn't matter if an alien from team Roswell had been first across the line.
You see, it is all about having a great race. Given how much a win in this event means to a pro rider's career and the difficulty of the parcours (that's 'race course' for you English-speaking types) it is almost impossible not to have a great race. If you are not a 'hardman of the road' your chances of winning De Ronde hover somewhere between slim and none. The climbs, though short, are extremely steep and most are cobbled. And if you think the craftsmen on "This Old House" laid the stones with their laser levels you would be sorely mistaken. In most cases you are convinced that nobody laid the stones. There must have been a truck bed spill which nobody bothered to clean up.
Dr. Phil types love to say 'its the journey, not the destination.. After 165-miles of incessant winds, rain and hail and all the cobbles, the riders in De Ronde would probably have a few choice words for Oprah's folksy friend. But, the pros will come back to Flanders next year and the year after that and the year after that. After all, it's De Ronde.
ps- if you can't be in Belgium, you should be watching all this on Versus!