A riveting short trip to Italy ahead!!

Buongiorno a tutti, I am at the airport awaiting to depart to fly to Italy. The schedule it seems quite full on.

I will be landing in Italy at 1130am, apparently at 2pm I am riding,completely unaware of this.But it is fine that is why we are SaddleDrunkers...

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Exploring the new Ronde 2014

We are pleased to have guest writer and rider Kris Van de Velde, telling us about the Tour of Flanders. Kris runs Kuai Sports Events & Promotions and acts amongst others as the Race Director & Promoter for the popular Genghis Khan MTB stage race in Inner Mongolia, China, and also as promoter of the upcoming Victoria Velotour in Australia.

As every cycling enthusiast from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgium, nothing else mattered last weekend but the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders. It is the highlight of the cycling season and 

de facto

 the celebration day of the year, more so than 11 July (Day of the Flemish Community) or 21 July (Belgium's National Day) for that matter. Following three years spent in China it had been a while since my last ride on the famous 


 short, steep bastards of hillclimbs plenty of which covered by cobblestones rather than tarmac. A lot had changed since then and not only my competitive level: also the course of the Tour of Flanders has changed dramatically.

Panoramic view.

Since the mid-nineties and throughout the noughties 

de Ronde 

has witnessed a significant increase in popularity among the international cycling community, which began to realise that there is another spectacular classic one-day race other than the renowned Paris-Roubaix. Suddenly amateur cyclists from the US, Australia, Great Britain and even Japan turned up in ever bigger numbers in the magnificent city of Bruges to ride the integral cyclotour version on pre-race Saturday. 

De Ronde

 also developed quite a majestic symbol: the Muur van Geraardsbergen. That legendary steep and cobbled climb in the final 20k of the race had become the ultimate image, illustrating both the beauty and the extreme challenge of the event. Everyone wanted to conquer the Muur and climb up that famous small chapel at the top.

Some of the climbs.

In 2011 ownership of the Tour of Flanders changed hands and went to Flanders Classics, a new  financially healthy organisation that was bringing nearly all local spring classics and semi classic races under one and the same umbrella. When the new people in power announced they were changing the design of the Tour of Flanders and alter the finish from Ninove to Oudenaarde, in so doing deleting the Muur van Geraardsbergen from the race course, Flanders was on fire and cycling fans abroad were even adding oil to this  unbelievable 'blasphemy'. Not only was the Muur taken out, but instead there would be three loops of the Kwaremont and Paterberg which gave Flander's biggest cycling event the appeal of an ordinary kermesse race and on top seemed to be designed merely to please the many VIPs who attend the race and pay good money for the privilege, too.

The controversy did not let up after the first two editions of the 'new' Tour of Flanders proved to be lacklustre races with the top guns waiting and waiting until the final loop to go blazing. The fact that they were won by Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, the two best cobblestone classic riders of this generation, did not lift the disappointment most cycling fans felt.

The amateur cyclo version of the 


 of course also had a facelift as a result. It is impossible to let 20,000 people loose on three small loops , so the amateurs on Saturday actually do a modified course nowadays that feature a number of climbs that the professionals do not have to digest on race Sunday. As I found out last weekend, that actually means that we amateurs have a more diverse and interesting course than the pros!

Another view.

Nothing has changed for the start: 7 a.m. in the centre of Bruges with roughly 4000 others who take up the challenge of riding the full distance of 245km this year. Less ambitious riders can still opt for a 140km and 70km shorter version. The goal for the first hours of the tour is to save as much energy as possible and this you do by sitting comfortably in a group. This is not difficult with so many riders participating. It is chilly in the early morning and some people like to up the pace from time to time to get warmer. When thinking of the Tour of Flanders you would forget that this region is actually pancake flat. The long stretch from Bruges via Kortrijk towards Oudenaarde serves as a reminder of that: other than a bridge over a highway there was not a single altitude metre to be noticed.

The fun started with the Wolvenberg, an often underestimated climb on tarmac road with a double digit maximum gradient. Here's where I thought: "oops, that went smoother in the past." Stubbornly pushing 39x21 instead of x18 as in my so-called glory days genuinely made me fear for the rest of the day. Luckily, that first climb was followed by two flat cobblestone stretches, and here I was able to push a solid gear. That is needed when you ride on cobblestones. A heavy gear, hands loose on top of the handlebar and smoothly fly over the stones. Then came the short Molenberg, where the cobbles are in horrible shape at the moment, followed by yet again two flat stretches. I realised that most of these cobblestone stretches were already over and done with and in my personal view that is a big improvement from the organisation. I remember a few years ago that most of these streets were placed towards the end of the course. Those days you really cursed at them because they sucked all the remaining strength out of your legs and then you still had to get up that Muur van Geraardsbergen afterwards. Flanders is not Roubaix, we want to focus on the 



Kris Climbing.

A series of tarmac climbs came up next and those either warm you up or instill fear for the 

Beast of Melden

: the Koppenberg. The toughest and steepest climb of them all with 22% maximum gradient and cobbles in very bad shape. One wrong by yourself or by a rider before or next to you and you are lying on the ground. Most participants indeed don't manage to stay in the saddle and walk up, more often than not blocking others who see their conquest of the Koppenberg thwarted. Later at the finish the first question family and friends will ask you is: "did you manage the Koppenberg" . You can imagine there's few lovely words being exchanged between people as they struggle their way up in pursuit of a "yes, I did it!". Last weekend, I did not want to ride up, though. After 175km and not being in shape, there was no way. But bloody hell: where is everybody? I approach the Koppenberg with seven Spaniards and around us there's no cyclist to be seen! An unexpected vacuum in the otherwise consistent stream of people that day. Calling it an open goal would be too easy but it was a sudden boost to the morale resulting in a stubborn refusal to get off the bike. And also: who knows who is standing and watching up there on top? I shifted down the x25, the smallest gear I had, pushed my heartrate to new heights of late and could not suppress a slight smile as I crossed the line that marks the top of the Koppenberg.

The beauty & the........

Everyone who succeeds is riding on a cloud for a few kilometers. But in the new 


fairytales do not last long as the next climb is also notorious: the Taaienberg. This is the climb where Tom Boonen traditionally unleashes his demons. Coming only briefly after the Koppenberg, this is where many people's lights went out. Mine were also fading but still on. The climbs follow each other rapidly now and it is necessary to take it easy because at the very end there is of course still the famous duo Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, which now have become the determinant climbs for the professionals. In fact, the Oude Kwaremont is not the hardest climb at all, but upon reaching the top you continue on bad cobblestones for still a long stretch and it is not flat as in flat  neither. Perhaps to my personal advantage, too many riders at the same time meant that the pace was very modest and I could save strength for the final climb of the Paterberg: a short but very steep 20 percenter. A Dutch TV reporter on the side of the road was yelling questions  at me as I began the climb and the many spectators on the Paterberg motivated me to go all the way once more. After the top, there was just 12km of solid tarmac road to the finish in Oudenaarde.

Another View.

Verdict: the route for us amateurs is more rewarding than a few years ago and the finish in Oudenaarde of course is quite an added-value. The organisation is clearly very experienced and there were no mishaps at all, with plenty and sufficient food and drinking stations as well. Then again, I still miss the old finale with the Muur, the Bosberg and the slightly rollercoaster road to Meerbeke-Ninove. The combination of Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg and the unexciting straight road to the finish just do not have produce the same kind of vibe. Maybe in a few years? In any case, I am looking forward to the 2015 edition already!

Kris Van de Velde


Mission Complete.

Bartolo talking to us about Granfondo Selle Italia 2014

No Number for me today!! Cervia, GF Selle Italia: exasperated agonism is not allowed for me today... maybe a bit of "tacchetta" while climbing with my  fellow travellers but at the top of the climb we wait each other to relish the amazing "ristori" (Italian name of food stations which includes cakes made by various "nonna", salami, ham, cheese, pasta and wine).

The Start.

Above all the long time lost friend's company is be the primary reason for me to be here today. He is also a SaddleDrunker, mainly for MTB and not a roadie.

Then, 05:45 wake up call!

Copious breakfast, check backpack to ascertain that everything has been packed (shoes is a must!!), then careful not to wake up the rest of the family, I slide like a snake as quiet as a butterfly to the garage.

Arrival in Cervia at 7.00, where I find all the "chipped riders" already revving up their legs in the line up like horses pawing waiting for the gates to be opened.

This time I am actually taking it easy and I slowly go to the meeting point to wait for my friend's arrival. I call him at 0725 and luckily he is awake but he is running late. Not bad at all!  It means I can indulge myself in a nice "espresso".

Avis Faenza Ciclismo.

I walk inside the bar and...wow..surprise . . : There I find some cyclist friends from 'Avis Faenza Ciclismo", a team from my home town that last winter I joined for occasional rides with my wife.

Yes, they all have race numbers but they seemed relaxed. As they are led by  "Granfondo" expert and veteran Gian Franco Lama, I am sure they will also have a wonderful and enjoyable ride admiring sceneries and the ristori.

Just time for a coffee and a quick chat, then time to join the back of the queue in the grid.

8am we start! I should say at 8am the first ones are departing. We cleat about 10 minutes later: wings of people and loud music follow the riders from the start line along the seafront.

The first 20km are flat and at these kind of events you have to take extra care as the amount of people can easily create crashes.

We rejoin the group of the Avis Faenza Ciclismo, they are really well behaved, all in line like a team and still led by Lama. Sometimes I wish there would be more teams like this one.

Legs are warming up, after a little climb,we approach the first real climb, then again we can start relaxing and chatting...Then another one in S.Teodorano..where we find the first ristoro! Cakes, jam tart, fruit … but the best is the ristoro “d'epoca”. Due to the fact that today there is also the vintage bikes GF, the "ristori" also provide a vintage menu.

The "ristoro d'epoca' provides meat pie, veggie pie, mushrooms, bread with honey, panini with salami, bread with butter and sugar and Sangiovese to avoid the mouth being dry.

We carry on cycling. After various climbs and downhills we reach one of my favourites climbs called "La Ciola".

At the top of "La Ciola".

Then,  at this time my friend starts to experience little pain in his legs. Probably due to the the transition from MTB to Road Bike. Thanks to him having this little pain, we have a chance to take it easy and enjoy the panorama of the surroundings. This is something that most of the time I don't have a chance to do as I push too much on the saddle.

After a little while we approach Montevecchio, “Cima Pantani”, nicknamed in the honour of the Pirata who used to come here and train.

After taking few photos we keep cycling until we reach the last 30km of flat with wind against us. I could see the pain on my friend's face, nothing to be worried it is quite common for cyclists.

We finally cross the finish line with a really good time!

The weather in Cervia is beautiful. The sun is out and the temperature is pleasant making us reluctant to say goodbye to each other.

We had a great morning of cycling, sharing a passion. We discussed the various issues of the morning before heading back to our cars.

SaddleDrunk Kit still looking good after 5 hours of riding.

The wife and the kids are waiting to hear from me. They are looking forward to share my amazing emotions on my return at home.

A quick shower and drive off to a nice cool-down and relaxing with wife and kids.

You can have a look at the profile of the race,click here 


Ciao for now, and let's get SaddleDrunk.


Latest media release from WTB.

As UK and Italy ambassador for WTB and Freedom, SaddleDrunk is please to announce the following:

WTB and Freedom Merge to Form Wilderness Trail & Freedom

MILL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – April 1, 2014 – Long standing mountain bike brand Wilderness Trail Bikes, known throughout the industry as WTB, announced today that it will be merging with its urban counterpart, Freedom.  Effective immediately, the two separate brands will form one, Wilderness Trail & Freedom, rebranded as WTF.

“We’ve asked for WTF for quite some time now,” elaborated Justin Kirkwood, WTF’s creative director.  “The ThickSlick tire’s overwhelming success is irrefutable.  Now under one roof, WTF will offer a staggering portfolio.  From 16 versions of the WTF ThickSlick to 11 different WTF Vigilantes spanning 26, 27.5, and 29”, WTF has augmented its reach.  The future is bright for WTF.”

All existing WTB and Freedom products will immediately transition to WTF products.  Tires will clearly display WTF lettering on sidewalls and saddles will also broadcast the new WTF acronym.  The wolf head logo will stay while the lettering will change to appropriately display the new brand, WTF.

About WTF

Founded in 1982, WTF was formed in the birthplace of mountain biking to design better bicycle products.  Through durable, affordable, and effective bicycle products as well as countless hours spent advocating on cycling’s behalf, WTF continues to promote bicycle usage as the way of the future.

Have a good day and Let's get SaddleDrunk.