are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SRC (Côtes La Redoute, take 3)

Image Hosted by
Shot at 2009-05-26

“There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it” Alfred Hitchcok

The alarm clock wakes me at 4:30AM. Ridiculously early. This is the time I should be coming home, not going out, but less than an hour later, out I go. It’s a twenty-minute journey to my ride to Maastricht. For once I’m not the last to arrive. We pack our bikes into the car, and squeeze into the seats. If all goes according to plan, in a little over five hours I will finish something I started 11 years ago.

As we make our way south, we note that we are not alone. Every other car has a racing bike on the roof, or the trunk, or inside. It’s a procession, the Ascension procession, better known as the Steven Rooks Classic.

We chat idly. As we pass all of the bicycle adorned cars, we critique the various bikes on view. Assessing the set ups, laughing at some paint jobs, wowed by others. The closer we get to Maastricht, the more bikes we spot, until two hours later we hit a small traffic jam, almost a kilometer long line of cars, all taking the same exit, all about to ride. We’ve arrived.

Bikes unpacked and put together; clothes changed; money exchanged, timing chip collected, and we’re off. In eight eighty kilometers I will finally, finally have my chance to climb the climb, that I’ve twice attempted, and twice failed to climb. Côte de la Redoute here I come.

The roads bottleneck with riders making their way south. Direction Liege. A small group passes us, recognizing them I jump on, and chat briefly with one of them. We pass a few groups, and then I realize that my friends are a few hundred meters behind. They’ve chosen for a gentle pace. Gentler than I prefer, but friends are friends, so I slow down and wait.

I see an older woman standing on the side of the road, and say “bon jour.” She replies with a “goedemorgen.” We’re still in the Netherlands.

After twenty plus kilometers of flat roads, and congested bike paths, the peloton parts. A right for the shorter course, cross the road, and swing left up the hill for the longer. A chorus of clicks and clunks accompany the symphony of shifts: the climbing has begun. Easy now.

I take off my vest and arm warmers, and pull a fruit bar out of my pocket.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait.

Thirty-two kilometers into the ride we hit the first feed, fill our bottles and wait for the rest of the group to catch us up. I notice that the rest stop is located at the entrance to a Canadian War cemetery, which I find slightly disconcerting.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait.

I find myself thinking of my first attempt at riding the Redoute, and how I never even made it, waylaid by a broken finger and bad back. Standing on the side of the road, shouting encouragement, and giving a few pushes up hill, and learning the Dutch term for “Ik hoef ‘et niet” from a cyclist with more pride than legs, ended up being my experience of the Redoute that day.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait.

We ride through a small town, where the streets are paved with cobbles. I remember these cobble from two years ago. Back then it was raining, rendering the smooth cobbles slick. So slick, that I almost fell over, as I kept my pace slow, in my vain attempt at getting traction. Today it’s dry, and I notice that it’s a beautiful place, worth coming back for a visit I think to myself.

It’s a dash of the Ronde in Wallonia. Later in the day, I’ll have a dose of the Kemmelberg, when I find myself descending on some more cobbles. The riders in front of me slow down, and pedal gingerly. I grow impatient, and bounce along past them, through the arch, and up the hill.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait.

I see a group of riders up the road. As I approach, it appears that there’s one rider at the front, and about ten behind. Their pace is moderate at best. As I ride past, I see that the rider on the front is a woman, and her bibs are so worn out, that they’re transparent. The men on her wheel seem to be enjoying the show.

Later, on one of the climbs – the Trasenster? – I will see another woman, riding a brisk pace up hill. Something doesn’t look quite right, until I realize that from below the knee she has a prosthetic right leg. I want to say complimenti, or chapeau, or keurig, but don’t. It may come across as patronizing, which is not my intention.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait. Go.

With the ups and downs, and for that matter, the all arounds, our group has split up. We’ll meet again. I know where, I know when. Yes, at the top. The top of the Redoute.

I’m with the climber of our group. He’s been looking forward to today. After all, when you live in a country where a bridge is considered a high point, you don’t get many chances to show off your climbing prowess. I wish that the KM was here, because unlike our climber, he tends to ride an even tempo uphill. I can follow that. With the climber, it’s a classic climber's Yo Yo tempo: in the saddle, then out of saddle, backwards, accelerate, back in the saddle, tempo, repeat.

I’ve lost tack of how many times I’ve blown up trying to follow his rhythm, so today I won’t even bother. I’ll catch him on the descents. He’s not bad at descending, but I’m better. At least I think I am. It’s not that I’m even very good at descending – after all, I don’t get many opportunities to practice.

The thing is, on these kinds of rides, I don’t trust the riders in front of me. Had we left earlier, and gone with the front riders it would have been different. That’s not the case. Due to our slow start, we’re amongst the weekend warriors.

This becomes clear when I find myself descending down a long straight road. I’m passing people, in a conservative tuck, at +/-65kph. I don’t need to go that fast, but then again, I could be going faster. That’s when I notice some riders moving suddenly to the right. As I find myself wondering what’s up, I spot a water bottle rolling in front of me. There’s no time to react. There’s not even enough time for my life to flash in front on me. I loosen my grip on my bars, and hope for the best. I hit the bottle, and bounce. Somehow I keep going. I shout at the riders for not giving a warning. A kilometer, or so later I spot a rider with one bottle, and call him a prutser.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, wait, but not for long.

One of my friends started the day with a little piece of paper, with the length and percentages of each of the eleven climbs of the day. That was clever. I wish I were that clever. I only had one climb on my mind, and it wasn’t the Haute Desnie. I use the momentum of the previous descent to start up the base of the climb. A minute later the climber joins me, along with another one of our party of five. I opt for caution, and let the climber set the pace, sliding in behind his wheel. I’ll never learn.

To my surprise he’s steady. I hold his wheel, and we start passing riders. The road is wide, and I try not to look too far forward. Give me a serpentine climb any day of the week, but when I see long relentless climbs coming up I tend to crack. This time ignorance is bliss. The climber keeps the tempo. Much to my surprise he’s not getting out of his saddle. I focus a few bike lengths ahead of him.

We pass more riders. I note something up the road, is this the end? Must be. Climbs don’t last very long in the Ardennes. This one does. This one goes on, and on, and on. At least that’s how it feels. I briefly lose contact with his wheel, and another rider slips into his draft. I ride along, and place my hand on the Squatter’s hip, gently pushing him away. He doesn’t like it, but I don’t care. We pass more riders.

I look up. Ahead of us, the road is littered with riders, but I don’t see the top. I shout – to myself, to my company, to anyone who’s listening – when the f___ is the climb over? Nobody answers. That’s OK. It was a rhetorical question. The climber maintains a bearable tempo.

We pass more riders. The climber says something to me. It’s in English, but I don’t understand. That’s a bad sign. He never speaks to me in English. The last time I remember him doing that was when he dropped me on the Giau, two years ago. Against better judgment, I look up the road. I see what looks like the crest. We pass more riders. I see a line painted on the road. I ease up. The climber continues. I’ll catch him on the descent.

Up, down, left, right, eat, drink, straight, but I no longer have to wait.

The descent doesn’t last very long. At least I don’t remember much about it. I see a town in a valley. At least, I think I remember seeing as town in a valley. I see a sign – Remouchamps – that means one thing… the Redoute is near. We enter the city, and briefly ride alongside the Ambléve, before taking a right turn, followed by a left. We ride underneath the highway, and I see the graffiti from Liege-Bastogne-Liege’s past. The Redoute has begun. Easy Now.


Arron said...

great read. looking forward to some pics.

Shaver said...

no pics alas. forgot my camera.

CyLowe said...

If you want the ups and the downs without the rest stop madness, join us for this ...

We can easily tack on another 60 km to suit your suffering needs.

Sorry, no cobbles, just great riding. And Fudge Rounds for aham.

Shaver said...

Did someone say fudge?