2015 A Day in Flanders with the An Post Racing Team
An Post-Chain Reaction Cycles is a UCI Continental cycling team registered in Ireland, based at the Sean Kelly Academy in Merchtem, Belgium, that participates predominantly in races on the UCI Europe Tour. The team is managed by Kurt Bogaerts and cycling legend Sean Kelly with sports director Niko Eeckhout (Belgian Road Race Champion 2006).
As sponsors of An Post cycling team, we were delighted to be invited to join the team on a reece of part of the Tour of Flanders route, just a few days before the actual race took place.
The Tour of Flanders or the Ronde Von Vlaanderen as it is known in Belgium is Belgium’s most brutal day in the saddle. The riders are sent over narrow slippery cobblestone roads with nearly 20 steep leg-breaking hills. The hills are so steep that they are called muurs, or walls, and they come one after another, for hours, until the riders are shattered with exhaustion. The Ronde is so difficult that the man who wins it earns everlasting fame in Belgium.
The morning of the ride heavy rain fell and a call was made to defer setting off for an hour or two which was deemed a good call too as by the time we set off the roads had dried out considerably. So in fine company we set out from our hotel in Ghent at 10.30am, our peleton consisting of sponsors, journalists and the entire An Post Chain Reaction Cycles team of cyclists and back-up team – in all around 40 cyclists including legends.
A steady pace was maintained at the head of the peleton by the An Post team with the guests happy to suck in behind. We flashed across the flat Flanders landscape content that there were no mountains within our viewing range and thinking that the hills can’t be that bad. After 28 kilometers it all changed as we swung into the village of Melden which signalled the start of the Koppenberg climb, the first cobble section. The Koppenberg is 600 meters long with a maximum gradient of 22% and an average gradient of 11% and today it was wet and slippery making it impossible even for many of the full time cyclists to stay on the saddle. The experienced heads were lending advise to the first timers to drop down the gears and maintain pace as you hit the cobbles but it was impossible to maintain momentum with riders, even the Great One, dropping like flies. As we regrouped at the top and surveyed the fall-out caused by this brutal cobbled section the BMC pro team on a practise run for the Ronde came bombing up the Koppenberg making it look easy. Well after all this is what they are paid to do!
Following on from the Koppenberg the cobble sections came like the unstoppable tide. We tackled the Steenbeekdries (500mts avg 5%), Taaienber (700mts avg 7%), Kruisberg (800mts avg 6%), Oude Kwaremont (2kms avg 6%) and finally the Paterberg which had a maximum gradient of 20% and an average of 13% but thankfully was only 375mts long.
After the Paterberg the group headed for home and arrived back at base having completed 110kms and experienced a taste of what brutality the professional riders will endure in their quest for glory on Sunday when they will cover many of these climbs twice including the Paterberg over a course of 264kms.
At 6.30pm we attended the official launch of the 2015 An Post Chain Reaction Cycles team, being introduced to the team members one by one. The Irish Elite Champion Ryan Mullen is here, as is the Lithuanian Elite Champion Paulius Siskevicius, and of course Sean Kelly, the legend that they all aspire to emulate in some form, who never wanted to be a farmer but is in fact still planting seeds and helping to develop a new crop of young riders.