Sportives you have to ride. #6 – Tour of Flanders

At number 6 and the first in our series of sportives you have to ride in your lifetime is the Tour of Flanders Sportive. This is one of the most popular sportives in Europe with around 16,000 riders taking to the roads and bergs of Flanders the day before the biggest race in the pro calendar in this region. About half the riders on the sportive are from outside of Belgium with 3,000 or so coming from the UK. In your peloton you will likely see Americans, Spanish, Italians, Dutch, Germans, Irish and Scandinavians all enjoying the warm hospitality of the cycle loving locals. This sportive is steeped in cycling history and makes for a brilliant weekend with the pro race on the Sunday. The sportive is focused around the famous cobbled climbs of Flanders including the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg with gradients riding to over 20%. Locals cheer you on up the climbs and the atmosphere on the route is friendly and fun.

What makes the Tour of Flanders Sportive so great

Aside from the first stretch of the long route, there is never a dull kilometre on this sportive. In the medium route (127km) there are 22 climbs or cobbled sections – thats one featured section for every 5.7km. The race organisation is fantastic with marshalls at every key junction, well stocked feed stations & sign posts at every key section telling you the challenge that awaits and at the top of each climb and end of each cobbled stretch the distance to the next climb is shown. Therefore you are always riding with the next key section in your mind and as you get closer to the finish and the famed climbs of the Kwaremont & Paterberg the excitement builds and builds.

The Basics

Date – April 2nd 2016
Distances – tbc. 2015: 239km, 127km & 71km
Elevation – tbc. 2015: 2100m, 1600m & 930m
Start Town – Long Route: Bruges. Medium & Short Route: Oudenaarde
Finish Town – Oudenaarde (Long route entries include shuttle back from Oudenaarde to Bruges.
Accommodation – Lots of options for this. Choose from the following:
Bruges – best for long route. Also perfect for the start of the pro race
Ghent – closer to Oudenaarde and a great selection of bars / restaurants
Kortrijk – slightly closer to Calais and Oudenaarde

The Route

Tour of Flanders Long Route MapThe long route goes from Bruges to Oudenaarde following a similar route to the pro race the following day. The route starts in the beautiful market square at first light in Bruges and the first 100km are fairly uneventful. As you enter Oudenaarde you join the medium route riders and the climbs and cobbled sections then come thick and fast.
Tour of Flanders Medium Route MapThe medium route is all killer no filler with the flat section from Bruges removed and the first climb starting within the first 10km. Key markers on the road include 27km – longest cobbled section (Paddestraat – 2.3km), 73km – Koppenberg (500m, avg 9%, max 22%), 110km – longest cobbled climb (Oude Kwaremont – 2km, avg 4%, max 9%), 115km – Patterberg (400m, avg 12%, max 20%).
Tour of Flanders Short Route MapThe short route packs in the highlights of the Tour of Flanders into 71km. The first and last 13km are relatively flat leaving 41km in the middle featuring 9 climbs and 2 cobbled sections including the most famous climbs (Koppenberg, Kwaremont & Paterberg). If time or fitness is not on your side, this is a great option.

The Key Sections

The main feature of the Tour of Flanders Sportive is the sheer volume of climbs / cobbled sections so to pick out three to focus on is a bit misleading. The majority of climbs are challenging with plenty of double digit gradients. Three of the best and most famous climbs are:
1. The Koppenberg – the steepest part of the route at 22%. The climb is very narrow, so much that the organisers have put a bypass route for anyone that does not want to ride this sector to ease the traffic. You will be elbow to elbow with other riders here and keeping your pace and cadence up is key.
2. Oude Kwaremont – the longest cobbled climb on the route. The Kwaremont has often been the launch pad for the decisive break in the pro race and if you are still feeling good at this point there is just one short climb and then 13km of flat until the finish. The cobbles here are smoother than on many climbs and the gradients more gentle in comparison but the length and the brief steep sections can take their toll. The Kwaremont is wider than the other two climbs featured here so you can easily overtake and join wheels of other groups.
3. The Paterberg – the final climb on all three routes. The Paterberg is short at just 400m but gets very steep at 20% and at this point riders are tired and you will see plenty of people walking up the top part of this climb. Again this climb is narrow so pick your line – it should be less packed than the Koppenberg. Keep your pace and cadence high, the pain will soon be over and the road flattens out and the final sprint to the finish contains no further challenges.

What’s it like to ride the Tour of Flanders Sportive

The Weekend

The sportive starts early on Saturday – 7am to 8am for the long route, 7am to 9am for the medium route. You can collect your entry the day before in Oudenaarde or at the start on the Saturday. Registration is very quick and the organisation is excellent. The traffic into Oudenaarde can be heavy – parking is well sign posted and free and you can follow the masses of cyclists to the start.
All routes finish together in Oudenaarde where there is a race village with beer tents, food stands and some retail stalls. If you are in a group and have been split up along the route, this is a good place to meet and recover. For the long route, there is a shuttle service back to Bruges – this must be booked with your entry (all our long route entries include this).
Sunday is all about the big race & 2016 is the 100th edition. The team sign on and presentations are in the market square in Bruges. Crowds here are huge to cheer the teams off and if you are ok with an early start this will get you in the mood for the day. Roll out is at 10am but the teams and crowds build up from 8.30.
Finding somewhere to watch the race depends on personal preference. A lot of smaller roads are closed for the race from late morning so if you want to watch the race live either get in position early or be prepared to walk. There are plenty of buses put on to help you get to key points. There are big screens in several spots on the route including the Kwaremont & Paterberg. There is also a fan park by the finish line in Oudenaarde with huge beer tents.
TV coverage starts at around 12pm. Most bars, pubs & restaurants will be showing the race. This is a big day in Flanders so a lot of bars will be packed. The town square in Oudenaarde is a good spot as you can see the team coaches, visit the Tour of Flanders museum & watch the race in one of many bars.

In Summary

The Tour of Flanders Sportive weekend is a must for every cyclist. The sportive is a great celebration of cycling with riders from across the globe. The route keeps you interested the whole way with climbs and cobbled sections packed in quick succession finishing in the Kwaremont and Paterberg back to back before a 13km sprint to the finish line in Oudenaarde. The weekend is capped off with one of the biggest pro races in the calendar. Soak in the atmosphere, grab a beer and enjoy!