Crunch time! I booked my bike and I onto a Eurostar to arrive in Brussels the day before the race to allow me an easy night in Brussels, using a free night with Hotels.com to get a fairly decent hotel. I dropped the bike off at eurodespatch where I had arranged to meet with Neil from Bowman, who wanted to do a short interview for the Bowman video blog, and to hand over a spare mech hanger. Just in case. You can see the interview here on their Between the Lines Blog. Bowman Cycles also did a nice pre-race blog post with questions and answers from all the BC Pilgrims riders at this years TCR.
I bumped into a few riders in the train station, notably Socrates #34, and a few others around the Eurodespatch desk, and a few dotted through the station. I wish I’d paid more attention now, but with all the nerves and an inbuilt inability to remember names it was a futile task.
When I arrived in Brussels, I bumped into Olly #22, also riding a Bowman Pilgrims, and while riding through town to the hotel I bumped into Dragan #137. Meeting all the riders on the way out was great, and everyone’s friendliness and openness in spite of all the nerves jangling was a sign of the community that this event has. Strangers are also immediately comrades.
Brussels was a strange place at the time and possibly still is. Countless armoured personnel carriers and soldiers were all over the place, and is a really unfortunate sign of the times. That said, I didn’t feel any safer as a result – just found it odd that in this day and age you need to have such a large military presence in a city.
After checking into the hotel, I packed and repacked a couple more times. Once I was happy enough I headed out for a bit of food and beers. I honestly tried my best to avoid drinking too much. Sticking to Westmalle Tripel may not have been the best strategy for this.
The original plan was to meet up with a mid day group ride organised by Jack Keevil #11, however after waking up, lying in as long as possible then hitting up the hotel breakfast buffet, I realised I would need to hang around for nearly 2 hours in order to join up with the group. Nerves pushed me on, and I decided to just get to the start. The route was one plotted by Jack, and was perfect – lots of quiet lanes followed by a jaunt along the river/canal.
Registration in Geraardsbergen was a fairly straightforward affair. Take a number and get in line! It was a great opportunity to meet other riders. Again, I forget the names of quite a few (sorry!), but I was chilling around and noticed some key contenders sat all around me – James Hayden #75 and Emily Chappell #7. I kind of felt a little bit of a pretender with all the seasoned randonneurs around me. It was great to catch up with riders who I’d met before the race having met either through social media or been on rides with. Chris Herbert #182, Darren Franks #114, Paul Buckley #67 & Philip Schwedthelm #16 were all there.
Once I’d sorted my registration, I went down the road to the pasta bar. I wonder if this place only opens as a pop up once a year for the TCR? Business was booming! I had a big pasta pot with Paul, then rode around town looking to stock up on some food and water for the night ahead.
Mike Hall gave a thorough briefing in the afternoon, after which we picked up our brevet cards in a handy waterproof Lezyne wallet and headed off into the town to kill the 3 or 4 hours left until the race started in the town square.
I met up with Thimothy a friend from Belgium who had come down to watch the start. We met in the square for some food, and I tried and failed to eat a rather large portion of frites mayo, and as this photo shows my nerves were not very well masked.
In fact, there were a lot of other riders hanging around the square not quite sure what to do with themselves. I bumped into Chris Herbert again, who by now had taken up smoking to calm the nerves. I was seriously tempted to join him.
We decided to head up to the Muur to try and kill an hour or so. It was nice to climb up to the top in daylight, and at least have a vague idea of the way. We ended up going the wrong way however, and via slightly less cobbled route which was probably for the best. Chris had a crash only a couple weeks before and dislocated his shoulder, but was determined to continue with the race. The extra cobbles would not have helped.
We all gathered back down in the square at 9.30pm for a 10pm neutralised lap of the town. There were so many people in the square to see the race off, and the atmosphere was buzzing. I managed to get all the Bowman Pilgrims together for a photo which was quite cool.
After the town mayor set us off on the neutral lap, we made our way slowly up and round the town to while all the spectators lit their torches and made their way up the Muur. Coming back through the town, we were able to make a full attempt at the Muur. I made no attempt to hold back on the climb, I was absolutely buzzing!
Once over the top, past the crowds, it got really quiet. Riders turning off left and right, stopping to set up their kit, and make sure nothing had fallen off. Now was the time for racing. The next stop would be Çannakale for some. Many would not make it all the way.
Videos from the start
I’m not sure my words do this start justice, so here is a video short from the start of the race that might help a bit: FIRE & COBBLESTONES (also check out their other video shorts from the race)
My friend Thimothy also made a video and you can see me pass on the Kapelmuur – hopefully you can see this here TCR No.4 Start – Kappelmurr (this link may only work with friends on facebook)