Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support at the Amgen Tour of California

Who hasn’t dreamed of having a support staff to feed you before, during, and after every bike ride? Our friends at Skratch Labs have turned that dream into reality, at least at the AMGEN Tour of California! In what marks a first for the cycling world, Skratch Labs will be supporting the human element of racing as the Official Hydration and Real Food Sponsor of the AMGEN Tour of California.

Skratch Labs will be directing their efforts toward supporting the actual humans involved in the race (both riders and staff) by providing real food and hydration products throughout the weeklong event. During each road stage Skratch will have a support car and moto inside the caravan to distribute needed items to riders on every team.

Chef Biju and his team will be cooking up delicious and nutritious recipes from The Feed Zone Cookbook every day from their mobile kitchen – everything is all natural and made from scratch (of course).

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Tasty real food is cooked up daily for racers and support staff.

A Skratch Labs motorcycle and car will even deliver their healthy food options during the race. How would you like this nutrition delivery vehicle for your next ride?

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Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support moto

Because when guys are racing this hard, they need some real food to recover:

Performance Bicycle Visits Ridley Bikes: Talking to Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

ridley_factory_2

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Belgium to visit Ridley bikes was our opportunity to tour the factory and meet founder Joachim Aerts. Joachim had plenty of interesting stories to tell us about why he started Ridley, his work with pro teams, and what the Ridley design philosophy is.

Watch the video below to hear more about Ridley from the man himself:

Of course some of the more interesting tidbits about Ridley came not from the filmed interview, but during more casual conversations. Some of our favorite Ridley facts that didn’t make it into the video include:

  • Ridley got it’s name because Joachim loved the movie Alien. This is completely true. When he was starting the company, he was searching for a name that would be easy to pronounce for speakers of both Flemish and French (Belgium’s two official languages). His favorite movie at the time was Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Scott was already taken, so he settled on Ridley.
  • Ridley is very much a family business. Joachim’s brother helped him get started in frame building, and his father is a regular fixture at the company, where he brings some old-school Flanders cycling knowledge, know-how and attitude to the halls of Ridley’s headquarters.
  • The Noah, Dean, Liz, and other Ridley models are named after Joachim’s children. Sadly, he does not have a child named Helium.
  • Ridley is a key partner in the soon-to-be-built Flanders Bike Valley. Bike Valley is a collaboration between the Flemish government, Ridley, Bio-Racer clothing, Lazer Helmets, two universities, and some composites manufacturing companies. The idea is that by pooling resources they can do more advanced and technical R&D than they could individually. The first project the group is undertaking is building an advanced wind tunnel in Ridley’s backyard. Literally. It’s being built in the empty lot behind their warehouse. And you thought the Noah was fast now…just wait a few years.

National Bike Month: Meet People for Bikes

people for bikes

As you may know, May is National Bike Month. To help celebrate and get the word out, we’ve had an opportunity to interview key people from some of the America’s largest bike advocacy organizations.

This week we were fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Tim Blumenthal of PeopleForBikes and ask him a few questions about his organization. 

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1.What’s the goal of your organization? 

The goal of PeopleForBikes is to make bike riding better for all Americans and get more people biking more often.

2. What projects are you working on currently?

We group our work into two basic areas: 1) Building Better Places to Ride; and 2) Building Political Power. Both are national programs.

We run our Green Lane Project to improve bike infrastructure in cities and large towns. We focus on building protected bike lanes that are physically separated from fast-moving cars and trucks and make bicycling safer and more appealing for everyone–especially new riders, families and older Americans. We also improve bike infrastructure (lanes, paths, singletrack and bike parks) by awarding grants to support their development. We’ve invested $10 million during the last decade in projects like this, as well as the local, state and national groups that help make them happen.

We’re working to build political power to support better places to ride. We’re focused on growing the PeopleForBikes individual supporter base–bicycling’s grassroots army. We currently have 800,000 Americans on board and we’re determined to increase this number to a million or more during 2014. We are becoming a political force: as more people join PeopleForBikes (it’s free), we are developing serious clout! We need your help.

The other part of our political strategy is our grasstops engagement program. We call it the PeopleForBikes Business Network. First, we engage bike business leaders (as well as leaders of businesses outside the bike industry) to share the stories of the good jobs they support, and importance of solid bike infrastructure to their continuing success. Then, we engage other societal leaders—not only business owners, but pro athletes, celebrities, developers—to publicly support and advocate for bicycling of all kinds. Our grasstops program focuses on elected officials, but we want everyone in America to appreciate all the great things that happen when people ride bikes.

Protected bike lanes are a major initiative for PeopleForBikes

Protected bike lanes are a major initiative for PeopleForBikes

3. How can I make cycling better in my community?

The most important thing you can do to make the cycling experience better in your community is ride predictably and respectfully—both on and off road. Stop at traffic lights and at stop signs. Signal your turns. Use a light and rear reflector if you ride after dark. Alert others when you’re about to pass them. Second, pay attention to the bike-related decisions of your town, city and county governments.  If leaders step up to support a great project, send them a short note of thanks or leave a phone message. If they fall short, don’t be afraid to ask them to do better. Be specific. Get involved with your local or state advocacy group: they will guide your efforts.

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 4. How do you reach out to non-bike riders ?

We emphasize the benefits of bicycling to non-bike riders. For example, protected bike lanes in cities make traveling more predictable and safer for everyone—whether they’re driving, biking or walking. Bike paths, trails and lanes boost business—not only tourism, but often every-day sales at adjacent stores and restaurants, as people pedal by and (often) stop, as opposed to speeding through. Bike riding reduces road congestion and air pollution and improves health: everyone benefits from that.

PeopleForBikes has worked with municipalities all over the country to improve the visibility of bike riders

PeopleForBikes has worked with municipalities all over the country to improve the visibility of bike riders

At the end of the day, we believe that two things will make bicycling better for everyone: more places to ride that are safe, appealing, and close to home and work; and strong public support to create and maintain these places.

Introducing 2014 Pearl Izumi Performance Exclusives

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Well, it looks like the long winter is finally coming to a close, which is good news for all of us. We’ve been looking forward to getting out and riding more—and fortunately we’ve had the opportunity to test out some of the latest and greatest Pearl Izumi clothing and shoes—and we’re big fans of what we’ve gotten to experience so far.

So why Pearl Izumi? Most cyclists own at least one pair of shorts with the signature “iP” logo on the leg…and it’s for good reason. Pearl Izumi has made a name for themselves—both in the amateur and pro worlds—by making some of the most comfortable, dependable and best performing clothes on the market. With super comfortable chamois pads, lightweight jerseys that are perfect for hot days, and because they offer several different levels of gear for all types of riders, there’s usually something in Pearl’s fabric arsenal that will fit your needs and budget.

Now, let’s get on to the good stuff.

This year we did some exciting work with Pearl Izumi’s custom division to make a few special pieces for Performance customers.

Pearl Izumi Elite LTD Jersey and Bib Shorts

For the folks that like to go a little on the faster side, new for this year is the Pearl Izumi Elite LTD bib shorts and jersey. These race-fit pieces feature Performance Team logos and colors, a next-to-skin aerodynamic fit, and maximum breathability.

Feature a distinctive Performance Team colorway, multi-density chamois pad and lightweight bib straps, the Pearl Izumi Elite LTD bib shorts are an excellent choice for long, hard rides

Full length zipper, custom Performance Team graphics and Direct Vent side panels make this jersey ideal for everything from racing to weekend rides

Pearl Izumi Select LTD Jersey and Shorts

For those who prefer a little more relaxed comfort, there’s the Pearl Izumi Select LTD jersey and shorts. These more relaxed pieces feature a club-rider fit that’s a little on the looser side, standard shorts instead of bib shorts, and Performance Team logos and colors for a kit that looks great pretty much anywhere.

Multi-panel construction, Performance Team graphics, and a comfortable supportive chamois pad help set the Pearl Izumi Select LTD shorts apart

Stand out from the group ride with the Pearl Izumi Select LTD jersey, featuring a 12″ zipper, Direct Vent panels and moisture wicking fabric

 Pearl Izumi Women’s Select LTD Jersey, Sleeveless Jersey, and Shorts

And rounding out the custom collection are three new women’s pieces. The women’s collection features the Women’s Select LTD short sleeve jersey, Select LTD sleeveless jersey, and the Select LTD shorts. These club-fit garments feature a more relaxed fit, with a focus on comfort. They’re printed with custom Performance Team graphics for a distinctive look, and can be mixed and matched depending on the weather.

Ride all day in comfort with the Pearl Izumi Women’s Select shorts, featuring the comfortable Women’s Tour chamois pad and Performance Team graphics

The Pearl Izumi Select LTD Women’s short sleeve jersey features a half-length zipper, light weight moisture wicking fabric and 3 pockets for storage

The Pearl Izumi Select LTD women’s sleeveless jersey is ideal for hot, humid summer days

Pearl Izumi PRO Leader Shoes

You might also know that Pearl Izumi makes more than just great clothing, right? Pearl Izumi also makes some of the most innovative shoes around. We had an opportunity to test out the Pearl Izumi PRO Leader shoes—developed with input from BMC Pro Cycling pro superstar Tejay Van Garderen (who designed the red color to match the team’s kit).

Made with a stiff, unidirectional carbon fiber sole, a supportive yet lightweight upper, and featuring a unique tongue-mounted BOA dial, these shoes are comfortable enough for long days, stiff enough for race day, and great looking pretty much any day.

On our test ride, we found the shoes to be among the most comfortable we’ve tried—thanks to the unique way the Pearl Izumi positioned the dial. Instead of trying to cinch down a series of straps, the single dial simply pulls the whole shoe snugly around your food, resulting in a comfortable, cradling feeling that was easy to adjust and didn’t cause any pinching or hotspots. The position didn’t do a great job of holding our heel in, but Pearl Izumi thought that as well. The heel of the shoe has a grippy, textured fabric that helps prevent your heel from coming out of the shoe, even when hammering in the drops. Speaking of which…the full uni-directional carbon fiber sole was plenty stiff, and we didn’t notice any flex, even when sprinting out of the saddle.

Lastly, we have to say that the look of the shoe is unlike anything out there. It’s understated, yet completely distinctive. When our tester first brought them home to try them out, the first words out of his wife’s mouth were: “Those are cycling shoes? Those actually look good.” Looks aren’t everything, obviously, but in a pair of shoes that feel this great, and have such a stiff sole, it’s just an icing on the cake.

We would note though that these shoes tend to run about a half small. Our tester normally wears a Sidi 44.5/Giro 44, and the 45 PRO Leader felt a little snug on his feet.

The Pearl Izumi PRO Leader shoe is one of the most innovative, comfortable designs on the market

Ready for Spring: 13 Point Safety Checklist

While we originally wrote this post for breaking out the bike after a winter hiatus, we think that this advice is great to follow year-round, even if you’ve been riding for months! You’ll be amazed at what you find if you give your bike a thorough once-over – so what do you look for?

Just follow our 13 Point Inspection checklist.

If you need some reference for where to look for parts on your bike, check out our handy Anatomy of a Bike guide.

 

1. Inspect frame & fork for damage.

Look for cracks or frame separation. Gently lift your front tire off of the ground and let it drop.  Listen for noise (beyond the sound of the chain bouncing).

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you'll hear it

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you’ll hear it


2. Inspect racks, fenders, child seats & baskets.

Make sure all nuts and bolts are securely fastened.

3. Inspect rims and spokes for wear, damage and that the wheel is true

Look for loose or missing spokes (loose  spokes will rattle when moved with your fingers).
Spin the wheel to see if it rolls smoothly.  If not take it to a professional.

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose


4. Inspect tires for cuts, wear & damage.

Check the tires for cracks, dry spots, visible tire threads, cuts, visible tire casing, or debris in the rubber.

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts


5. Test brake levers and brakes are tight & secure.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike.  If the brakes are working your bike wheels should not roll.

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward


6. Test headset for correct adjustment.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike back and forth.  Look to see if the fork rocks where it inserts into the frame.

Click here to see how to adjust your headset

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube


7. Test seat and seatpost are tight & secure.

Try to twist the seat side to side.  It should not move.
Click here to see how to adjust your seatpost

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves


8. Test handlebar, stem, and pedals are tight & secure.

Try to twist your handlebar, while holding the front wheel securely.  It should not move side to side or up and down.
Click here to see how to adjust your stem

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened


 

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight


9. Inspect cables & housing for cracks, kinks, rust or fraying.

Click here to see how to install new cables

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying


10. Inspect brakes for correct adjustment.

Your brakes should squeeze the rim at the same time.  If not, go and visit your favorite mechanic.

11. Inspect brake pads for wear.

Use the wear indicator marks on the pad to determine if the pads are still in good use. If you don’t see any, you can pick up some replacements here.

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point


12. Inspect derailleurs for correct adjustment.

Take your bike for a short test spin or put it in the workstand and try to shift gears. Look to see if your bike skips gears, won’t shift to the selected gear or makes a rattling, skipping sound.

Click here to see how to adjust your rear derailleur

If your derailleur isn't shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster

If your derailleur isn’t shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster


13. Inflate tires to sidewall pressure.

Tires have a range of tires pressures written on the side wall that is a useful guide.  You should pump up your tires before every ride.
Click here to see how to inflate your tires

Need some new tubes? Stock up here.

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Everything check out okay? Go pedal! 

To find out what essentials you should bring on your next ride, check out our article here.

National Bike Month: Meet the League of American Bicyclists

May is National Bike Month, a celebration of all things cycling, so it seemed like the perfect time to chat with our great cycling advocacy partners who work hard to make riding bikes better. Every week this month we will introduce you to a different group that is making a difference here in the US. First up is Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists.

League of American Bicyclists Logo

What’s the goal of your organization?

The mission of the League is to lead the movement to create a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone. We believe that bicycling brings people together, and that as more people ride life is better for everyone; communities are safer, stronger and better connected; and our nation is healthier, economically stronger, environmentally cleaner and more energy independent. We want everyone to enjoy the benefits and opportunities of bicycling. I’ve been with the organization for more than ten years, and I feel like our mission is more relevant and valuable now than ever. ( I can’t speak for the entire time since we were founded in 1880!)

League of American Bicyclists in DC

Advocating for cycling on the steps of the US Capitol

What projects are you working on currently?

Today, we aim to achieve those goals through advocacy, education, and promotion. We have a national advocacy presence in Washington DC where we work with Congress and the Federal agencies to ensure funding, policies and programs are in place to build a more bicycle-friendly America. We run the Bicycle Friendly Community (and Business, University and States) program that recognizes cities for their work but more importantly provides a roadmap or blueprint for becoming much more bike-friendly. On the education side, we run the only national certification program (with curricula and materials) for bike education experts — we currently have around 2,000 active League Cycling Instructors sharing their passion and knowledge for safe cycling with anyone that will listen!

National Bike Challenge

Events like National Bike Month, Bike to Work Day, and the National Bike Challenge fall into the promotion category along with the extraordinary volume and variety of rides that our 900+ affiliated local clubs and advocacy groups put on year-round. The National Bike Challenge has to be the most inspiring way of getting more people riding. Every year we are blown away by the stories of lives transformed by participation in the Challenge. We love it and hope you are signed up and part of the Challenge. And as if that weren’t enough, we are also actively engaged in promoting greater participation by women in bicycling, the bike movement, and the bike industry.

May is Bike Month

What actions can I take locally to make the experience of cycling better in my community?

In each of those areas, there are ways for individual cyclists and local organizations to plug in and take action. You can sign up for action alerts — both national and local “calls to action” when we need the voice of cyclists to be heard — or attend the National Bike Summit each March to be part of the advocacy team. We have scorecards you can use to do a quick analysis of your community or business to determine how bike-friendly they are; every BFC  and BFB application generates specific feedback — we encourage you to join your local advocacy group to get plugged in there. If you can’t stop talking about bikes and bike riding and safety…maybe you need to share that passion with others by becoming an instructor. If you aren’t quite ready for that, the classes those LCIs teach are full of great advice whatever your level of experience.

Having said all that, there are TWO really simple things you can do to make your community more bike friendly. Number one: ride your bike. Number two, write to your Mayor, County Executive or Council member and tell them you care about bicycling and want bicycling to be better. Throw in a couple of specific examples of improvements, and you are on the way!

First Look: 2014 Charge Cooker SS 29er Mountain Bike

When we unboxed the Charge Cooker SS mountain bike, everyone had something to say.

Mostly, folks wanted to start customizing it right away. Here were some of the initial reactions:

  • I want to turn it into a monster bike with drop bars!
  • You’ve got to find some chrome grips and bits to match that frame finish.
  • I could totally ride that to work.
  • No horizontal drop outs? OH! It has an eccentric bottom bracket. Nice.
  • I could always use another mountain bike. Do you need that right now? Can I have it?

Clearly, everyone was excited about the possibilities that the Cooker SS presented, but at first blush, it had plenty to offer right out of the box.

About the Frame

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The 2014 Charge Cooker SS Mountain Bike

The first thing that we noticed was the matching frame and fork finish. The Tange steel-butted chromoly tubes feature a gorgeous, polished finish, an eccentric bottom bracket and stainless steel hardware. For some perspective, Tange steel is custom drawn and has a titanium-like feel: lively, comfortable and forgiving thanks to its road vibration dampening properties. It is formed using Tange’s 90 years of experience in manufacturing steel tubes. It has a high level of strength, responsiveness and stiffness. The Cooker SS fit, in conjuction with a more aggressive frame geometry and a wide, 9-degree sweptback flattop handlebar, translates into a body-forward, confident riding position to handle plenty of aggressive trail obstacles.

About the Drivetrain & Brakes

Charge chose versatile 32-tooth to 18-tooth cog gearing. The Truvativ E400 crankset features a chainguard for added chain security. It is easily customizable by adding your favorite 4-bolt ring or single-speed cog.

About Tires & Clearance

Like most 29ers today, the Cooker SS featured a set of hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors. Given the lighter duties of a rigid single-speed bike, that is more power than will be required by most riders; a definite bonus in our minds.Finally, terrain can vary widely, depending on where you live, and where you love to ride. The Cooker SS comes with a great set of Maxxis Aspen tires. They are ideal for fast-and-furious trails, where low rolling resistance and less dig is required. However, if you prefer something beefier, the Cooker SS has plenty of tire clearance. Personally, we love the Forte Pisgah tires for their bite, durability and versatility.

Our Two Cents

In conclusion, if you’re in the market for an eye-catching single-speed 29er, the British designed 2014 Charge Cooker SS offers plenty of performance right out of the box, plus the ability to be customized to your hearts content.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Good For Cyclists?

Google Self-Driving Car

Google Self-Driving car recognizes other road users, including cyclists.

In case you’ve missed it, tech giant Google has been working on computer controlled self-driving cars for a few years now, and, as you can see in the video below, they are closer to reality than you might think. Now we know what you’re thinking – this is all well and good for sharing the roads with other cars, but what about relatively small and less predictable cyclists and pedestrians? As cyclists we signal our intentions with hand signals or other gestures, and require much different speeds and distances to be passed safely.  Well, they’ve thought of all of that – their latest technology is smart enough to recognize the needs and behaviors of cyclists, and react accordingly. Check out the video for some of their latest test runs:

While this technology is still in its infancy, we’re excited about the possibilities. If they can work out all of the kinks, then the prospect of having computer-controlled self-driving cars is great news for cyclists. These cars will be programmed to follow the rules of the road without fail, and without distraction. A self-driving car won’t become impatient or take an unnecessary risk to pass, because it will know that a slight delay really won’t make a difference to the overall trip. Occupants of cars will be free to text away or play with the radio, while the car does all of the thinking for them to keep the roads safe for everyone to share and enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday

Mark jumping on a mountain bike

Performance Visits The Paterberg

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This is going to hurt. At over 22% in places and entirely cobbled, the Paterberg is one of the toughest climbs in cycling

Sadly, cycling’s heroic cobbled classics races are now over for the year. Always one of the high points of the season, we were very fortunate to get to see one live this year. While in Belgium, our hosts, Ridley Bicycles, generously arranged for us to to be able to see the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the slopes of the Paterberg– a once in a lifetime chance we won’t soon forget.

Flemish cartpet

Flemish carpet

While only paved and added to the Ronde in 1986, the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status in cycling. This small hill– only about 260 feet tall and rising innocuously out of the Flemish countryside– seems insignificant when compared to giants like the Alpe d’Huez or the Angliru, but the Paterberg is a small monster in its own right: blowing apart races, ripping apart chains, and sometimes forcing even the hardest of the hardmen to dismount and walk.

We climbed the Paterberg as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo ride the day before the actual pro race, and it was every bit as difficult as it looks. Rising steeply at a pitch of nearly 13% and at times maxing out at a leg searing gradient in excess of 20%, all of it cobbled, the Paterberg is truly in a class with few equals. The hill is a devil to climb, with a grade that makes your breath scrape in your lungs and cobbles that don’t lightly forgive the rider who loses his focus, but it offers unparalleled rewards. At the top, you find yourself in a broad meadow covered in tall, waving grasses. Looking out from the Paterberg’s summit you take in a vista of rolling Flemish farm country, often viewed under the shifting light from racing clouds. Sheep and cattle graze in lush green fields that have been farmed for thousands of years.

A view of the race is open to all...provided you get there early enough

A view of the race is open to all…provided you get there early enough

Climbed twice in the race’s finale, the Paterberg is often the scene of an attack that detonates the race and truly separates the weak from the strong. And seeing that the Paterberg’s second ascent is also the final climb before the finish, it’s definitely where we wanted to be to witness what’s frequently the race’s deciding move.

When we got to the Paterberg, it was like arriving in cycling heaven. In a pasture field alongside the narrow road, hundreds of Belgian, Dutch, British and French cycling fans milled around, watching a giant outdoor video screen, waiting for the race to come through. The Lion of Flanders, the iconic yellow flag with a black lion that has been a symbol of northern Belgium for centuries, was on display everywhere. Lotto-Belisol and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep supporters waved small flags, and everyone wore the cycling cap or jersey of their favorite team. Nearby, a small stand was set up to sell Jupiler beer—a staple of Belgian cycling events, and another to sell frites in wax paper cones. Small children wandered around waving multiple Flanders flags and chanting “Tommke! Tommke! Tommke!” (Tom Boonen, the hometown favorite).

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

We settled into a decent spot where we could see both the screen and still be close enough to the road to get a good spot when the race came through. We could always tell where it was by watching the hovering helicopters covering the race. The closer the race got, the more crowded the hill became and the more the energy built.

Belgium is a country with cycling close to its heart. It’s difficult to explain how deeply two wheels run in Belgian culture– but these guys grow up riding, spend their autumn watching ‘cross, and come out by the millions to watch the Ronde. By the time the women’s race came around, the crowd was already pretty fired up, and cheered loudly as the first riders charged up the hill. One of the last riders in the group, a rider from Estado de México-Faren Kuota, broke her chain and was forced to walk. The crowd began to chant “Give her a bike! Give her a bike!” as team car after team car drove past.

tour_of_flanders_paterberg_019

Riders in the women’s race are cheered on up the Paterberg

Several hours later when the men’s race came by, the crowd was in full-on party mode. As Tom Boonen came charging in with a group including Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and other favorites, the crowd rushed to the barricades, cheering for their hometown hero. The biggest show of support, though, was for a virtually unknown Cofidis domestique. His rear derailleur broke less than half way up the hill. With no team car in sight to get a new bike, he was forced to sit by the side of the road. By the time his car got to him, the rest of the peloton was far out of sight. At this point in the race, there would have been no shame in stopping. The Cofidis team was completely out of contention, and what remained was over an hour of brutal cobbled hills and roads with terrible headwinds, all of which he would have to ride alone. When his team car finally showed up, instead of getting inside he pulled a fresh bike off the roof, got back on and started pedaling. The crowd went nuts. Belgians love this kind of stuff. The guy who doesn’t give up, who keeps on going even when there’s no hope of winning.

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost (he’s waiting for a new bike)

After watching Mr. Cofidis get to the top, everyone moved back into position at either the Jupiler tent or in front of the big TV screen. Shortly after the first run up the Paterberg, Boonen found himself flailing and out of contention. At this point crowd allegiances switched to everyone’s favorite adopted Belgian, Fabian Cancellara. This subtle but quick shift didn’t seem to particularly bother anyone, so we just rolled with it too. When the race came around to the Paterberg the second time, the crowd rushed to the rails to watch Cancellara and Sep Vanmarck duel it out on the climb, trying to chase down a breakaway, then immediately proceeded to ignore the rest of the peloton and  ran back to the video monitor.

In the closing kilometers, the crowd packed in tighter and tighter to watch. People cheered on their favorite riders in a cacophony languages, and the crowd took on a collective energy that felt almost overwhelming. It was without a doubt the most intense excitement we’ve ever felt during a bike race. In the final meters, as the race came down to a match sprint, the crowd roared and the tension built. When Cancellara finally edged out Greg Van Avermaet for the win, it felt like a wave finally broke over us, the tension released with a huge rush of cheers.

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Walking back down to the car, we stepped over discarded paper Lion of Flanders flags, crushed Jupiler cans and lost Lotto-Belisol team caps. The dust from the race still hung heavy in the air over the cobbled roads. The people we passed seemed subdued, spent somehow from the excitement of watching the race. In the absence of the cheering crowds, the Flemish countryside seemed oddly quiet and empty. To watch  live and in person that we’d seen so many times on TV was an experience that would take us a long time to really full comprehend. The riders go so fast, and the race is so frenetic, that it’s not until long after the riders have passed that it sinks in what you’ve just seen. But it’s not something we’re ever likely to forget.

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