The second half of August saw 4 more people come to enjoy the sights and sounds of a Belgium summer. Gary and Dippa were on a mission to get some solid training and racing in before heading to the UWCT Masters in Denmark.
For Mark this was his first time in Belgium and his aim was to race and ride as much as possible in the 2 weeks he was here.
In both cases I can confirm that everyone achieved their goals, and in some cases exceeded their targets as far as racing and kilometres is concerned. All the riders were happy to get 80 to 100km of riding in per day, and with good weather and endless routes this was easily done.
Gary and Mark started with the Tuesday bunch ride from Begijendijk which sees 50 to 100 riders leave at 1pm for a 100km ride that averages 37kmh. Both guys stayed with the main bunch and got a great taste of Belgium group rides and roads.
The next day saw the first of 2 days of racing, and for Mark his first Belgium kermess, and this was a baptism of fire! The race was only 60km in length but was on a fast and flowing course with 120 starters. As usual the race started very fast with lap one and 2 close to 50kmh! By the time the bell lap came I was the only one from our group in the main bunch which was now only 30 riders.
The next day racing would be in a hilly course at the birth place of the legendary Eddy Merckx, the town of Mensal Kiezegem. The pace was a lot slower than the day before, but the 700m climb every lap was taking its toll on riders. Again out of 100 starters only 30 or so finished the race.
Mark suffered some gear issues and was out on lap 1, Martin and I finished with the main bunch with Martin in 15th and myself around 20th.
With a few races under the belt I took the group to the KNOET for a 190km return trip to Namur in the French speaking part of Belgium. This gave the group a great look at the different terrain that this country has to offer. From the fast flats of Aarschot to the rolling climbs of Namur the ride not only gave us 190km but 1500m of climbing.
In order to take in the best of Belgium I took the group to the famous town of Oudenaarde, the home of the Tour of Flanders. The day involved visiting the museum in order to get a feel for the ride ahead. After a quick lunch we grabbed our bikes and took in the famous cobbled climbs of the area, this again gave the group a whole new appreciation of the difficulty riding these surfaces at speed is.
Mark and Gary enjoyed the day so much that Gary stayed behind to do a larger riding loop, and Mark went back the next day for the 100km Flanders loop.
The last week of the tour saw the group participate in the KNOET criterium, which is an iconic Aarschot event. The weather was not favorable with rain all day, this meant the 1400m hot dog course would be very tricky.
Martin took part in the elite 1.12b race with Gary, Mark and I doing the KNOET riders race. As always the pace was hot despite the weather, Martin had 19 in his field and only 8 finished the race. Although Martin was off the back of the lead group he was still riding strong until a puncture ended his race.
Mark, Gary and myself lined up at 6pm for the 25 lap KNOET race, and after 1 neutral lap it was game on! It didn’t take long for the field of 65 to split with Mark and Gary in the 2nd and 3rd bunch and myself in the lead group.
By the mid way point in the race the lead group had lapped the remains bunches, but with riders rewarded each lap with “beer tickets” no one was going to pull out!
The buch sprint however had a rider crash, which caused a split in the group. I rolled in around 14th place, happy to still be upright and in tact.
With an end to the week fast approaching the group was keen to take on more bunch rides and racing, but we also took time to see some of the great sights of the area such as Leuven, Mechelen, Lierre and Keerbergen.The continued comment after getting back to our accommodation was how great the riding was, and how easy it is to do 100km with so much to see.
After now dropping all of the group off to continue their travel plans I am left to get one last ride in before having to pack my bike up for 2015 and having to say farewell to this awesome place. I can honestly say that everyone who came on the Total Travel WA Belgium Tour will leave with great memories, new friends and a hunger to come back. The question now is will you be the one in 2016 who gets to experience riding in this cycling mecca??? With limited places for each 2 week block I would strongly recommend booking your place now, as it will sell out.