august 16 - race in temse (st niklaas)
The Verhulst family came out in force to support Conor in his last Belgian UCI kermis with the smallest peloton of just 36 starters. What the Temse kermis lacked in number it made up in quality with the strong BMC Development Team in attendance. The BMC team ripped into proceedings early on and split the peloton into 4 groups with the dominant BMC team in the 14 rider front group. It was day over for the rest as nobody could match the BMC juggernaut. Two of the BMC riders at Temse are going to the World Road Championships (Under 23) in Qatar and one took victory at the last Paris Roubaix (for Under 23). This draws the Conot flemish blog to a close & hope you enjoyed the ups and downs.
august 15 - koppenberg Versus Van der wally
The last morning in Oudenaarde and Conor Van Der Wally is determined to hit the Koppenberg a couple of more times (as you do when you're just 18). So that now makes the Koppenberg count of Conor 6 Koppenberg 0 (rode 6 walked 0). In an attempt to bring reason to an out of control situation it was time for the red steel Rossin (circa 1985) to get lost on tiny Flemish lanes near Oudenaarde. You know where you are with steel (meaning heavy & nowhere).
august 14 - kokerelle
The last day at the Kokerelle B&B and a big thankyou to Kathy Sante for making our time so enjoyable. A special thankyou to our delightful neighbours in Julien & Lydie who made us feel so welcome. We look forward to returning to the village of Maarke Kerkem in March 2017 to see Tom Boonen win his last Paris Roubaix.
August 13 - race in stekene (hulst, dutch border)
Another day another drive down the E17 Freeway from Oudenaarde towards Antwerp, this time to the small village of Stekene only 2k from the Dutch border.
Stekene was a return to UCI level competition. Being just 2k from the Netherlands something like 40% of the peloton was Dutch in the 80 strong field. The circuit was only 6.5k per lap for 17 laps that ran beside the E40 Freeway for a time, then looped back through a small forest in a nasty crosswind. These bigger Belgie & Dutch riders are seemingly born to this type of bulldozer racing ... every corner is their idea of a hill and Stekene was full gas from the start. If you think there needs to be a hill to make bike racing super difficult then think again - racing at UCI level in Belgium is fierce. The early break of 6 riders went away (as usual) and Conor looked comfortable in the peloton. So much so it was an opportune time for the BiciSport Director Sportif to head to the "rustic" (semi tragic) Stekene pub for a beer (heck counting laps is hard work). Seven laps in and the peloton started to chase the break in earnest and Conor went from looking comfortable to "eating his handelbars" for lunch at 75k. If you needed convincing that UCI was tougher than WAOD then Stekene at a crisp 45kph average was it. Last stop is Temse next Tuesday for the final UCI level race.
august 12 - verbust, merckx, coliyn & TEMSE
A chance to catch up with Eddy Verbust and see through the Verbust Museum (acknowledged as the best private cycling museum in Belgium). Eddy then kindly arranged a tour of the Eddy Merckx Velodrome in Ghent where we met Luc Coliyn (Belgian professional in the early 1980's in the Fangio Pro Team).
Late in the day we drove down to Temse (near Antwerp) to see Koen Verhulst race in a VWB League event over 50k. The VWB League is yet anorher "league" in Belgium unrelated to either the UCI or WAOD and just adding to the seemingly endless supply of local Belgian racing.
august 9 - wall of huy & ardenne loop
With a small gap in the racing calendar it was a chance to go down to Huy (more precisely the Mur of Huy with a maximum 26% and average of 19%) as the main objective of the day. We simply downloaded a recent major cyclosportive route onto the Garmin and followed numerous low traffic roads and climbs through the Ardenne. The Mur (Wall) of Huy was as expected (super steep) and straight up out of Huy town in 38 x 28.
august 8 - Koppenberg count - Conor leads 4-0
Some days in pays to speak Flemish & be able to actually read a Flemish cycling website ... we drive to Meilegen for a 64k kermis race with high anticipation only to discover that the race had been cancelled !. Oops. So it was a training ride instead up the Koppenberg where Conor leads the Black Beast 4-0 (meaning 4 rides up the Koppenberg with no crashes or long walks). Conor is now using 38 x 25 in the crown of the Kberg cobbles. Tomorrow we drive to the Wall of Huy (maximum gradient of 25%) combined with a 110k loop through the Ardenne from the village of Nandrin.
august 7 - basil verhulst (Signs for Molteni Arcore)
Some 200 of the faithful Verhulst peloton joined forces (meaning they all got together with a few Duvels) to celebrate the birth of Basil Verhulst (winner of the 2040 Tour of Flanders). The Basil party was called a "babyborrel " ... where all the relatives come to see the new baby at the one time (and not randomly visit (annoy) the parents just after the birth). So all the relatives just wait until the babyborrel to see the new baby. Most of the relatives cycled their street bikes to the function. The formal christening of Basil is done at a latter date.
August 6 - race in kalken (GHENT)
The Kalken Kermis was on a quick circuit of 3.9k per lap with only two corners for the 77k distance. The circuit is situated just beside the E17 Freeway (to Antwerp) hidden in amongst a jungle of farmers fields growing maize & hops (for brewing beer).
As usual the breakaway went early with 7 riders and they went out to a 25 second lead and it stayed that way for lap after lap. Finally they were caught with 5 laps to go and the winning break went away immediately. Conor Verhulst-Tarlington rode well in the peloton with good position throughout and finished 22nd from 60 starters for an excellent result. Prizemoney at Kalken was another 3 Euro plus a can of drink taking total Belgian career earnings to 9 Euro & 3 cans of drink. Maarten Verhulst is still waiting for his percentage cut of the winnings ....
august 4 - Roubaix velodrome
The next race is on August 6 so a chance to see the Roubaix Velodrome minus the crowds and April weather. From Oudenaarde its just a 35k drive into Roubaix (maybe 45k on a bike for a 90k return ride).
august 3 - Antwerp derny classic (with tom boonen)
Every time we venture into Antwerp with Eddy & Maria Verhulst to see a bike race it seems to rain. In 2006 we saw Nico Eeckhout win a Belgian Pro Road Championship (Boonen was 3rd that year) in the pouring rain, then Robbie McEwen won the Antwerp Derny Classic in 2006 in another heavy thunderstorm. Again today the weather was simply awful with constant rain making the cobblestones in central Antwerp so slippery they were difficult to walk on let alone chase a tiny derny through greasy corners. The star attractions were Tom Boonen & Filippo Pozzato with the Derny Classic held over 3 separate heats of 30 minutes per heat (winner is on overall points). Had a good chat with Dennis Luckermans who runs the Belgian dernys and he was most helpful on the enhanced petrol mixture now being used - this will help John Crouchley (BiciSport) in restoring the seven Dunc Gray Velodrome dernys (used at the Sydney Olympics).
august 1 - race in bazel (Antwerp)
Bazel was a delightful little village on the outskirts of Antwerp. The circuit was mostly single lane Flemish country lanes and only the finish straight resembled a normal road. 61 starters lined up with 3 riders getting away on lap 4 (of 11) and they stayed away. Conor rode an excellent race and held good position throughout the 75k distance. Final placing was 26th for another 3 Euro pay day and another 43kph average speed.
July 30 - Mechelen post tour criterium
JULY 29 - race in beveren ... Waas great
Beveren Waas is on the outskirts of Antwerp with a 6.45pm start over 75k and 11 laps. Beveren was the first start for Conor in the WAOD League. 50 riders started on a circuit that was a mixture of dual carriageway and single lane narrow Flemish lanes. The pace was brisk from the off and went to 50kph and finally settled by half way. Conor was riding well and in there comfortably to such a degree Maarten & myself had a few Duvels. Conor rode very well for an excellent 24th place (from 50 starters) and won 3 Euro plus a can of soft drink. The average speed for the 75k was a sharp 43kph.
July 28 - BMC SERVICE COURSE + Spa Francorchamps
Just outside Oudenaarde is the BMC Concept Store plus the BMC Pro Team Service Course. The Service Course has a glass viewing wall so it's easy to just look in at all the activity. Then it was a 2 hour drive down to Leige and the Spa Francorchamps motor racing circuit for the practice session for the Spa 24 Hours (for Le Mans style cars).
JULY 27 - race in Deinze ... 46.1kph AV for 114k & 154 micro sprints
Deinze looked more like Chatswood being full of high rise apartments than a sleepy Belgian village and the car parking was more akin to Warringah Mall than some quiet country road. If you can imagine doing a bike race around Artarmon, through Lane Cove and laps of Chatswood then this was it. There was high density housing, traffic everywhere (thankfully no cars on the course itself) and a real urban style concrete jungle. Only the Belgians could attempt to run a bike race on an urban circuit like this. The 145 starters lined up for a lesson in super fast Belgian kermis racing with Deinze well known for ex pro's being on the start line to stir it all up. The race was absolutely full gas from the start and by the end of lap 1 there were 146 riders in single file and all on the utter limit. It was painful to watch. Conor's computer registered over 50kph average for the first three laps and the peloton looked like a grenade had gone off by the end of lap 4. Brutal really doesn't describe Belgian kermis racing and now its time for a change of strategy to WAOD (Division 2) level races from here on. The next race is in Beveren Waas near Antwerp on July 29 in the WAOD League.
July 26 - roeselare POST Tour Criterium
A short drive from Oudenaarde to Roeselare in West Flanders for a post Tour criterium. The mandatory breakaway goes out to a 45 second lead (crowd doesn't even notice), then the magic catch by a peloton doing a lot of talking & smiling (crowd still too busy having a beer), Thomas De Gendt attacks (crowd finally wakes up for the local lad), Greg Van Avermatt does a bit (crowd something close to excitement as its another Belgian after all), Michael Matthews digs in (crowd impressed), the local Tour legend wins (crowd goes crazy). Happy days & where is my Duvel. Lets do it again tomorrow in Lommel on the Dutch border & St Niklaas on Friday.
JULY 25 - race in SINAAI # 2
The same course & same start venue as two days previous. The Molenhoek Kermis (or fete) was still raging and hosted 3 race days in succession to keep the locals drinking their Duvel. At the back of the massive kermis tent were local belges shooting arrows !! (with rubber noses) at a prize wall of toys (hit one and you take it home). Never seen that before & whatever rocks your boat. The aussie support group in the VerHulst family plus Sylle De Dock (ex Tulip Computers Pro Team swannie) turned up in force to support Conor.
Just 57 entrants (previously 113 two days before) lined up and again included the Belgian Elite Road Champion in Joeri Stalleart. The pace was on from the start and a break of 10 riders went away on lap 1 and 10 riders bridged across on lap 2. Conor was looking comfortable just sitting in the 37 rider peloton during laps 3 & 4. Across the rough Sinaai cobbles on lap 5 and the SRAM rear mech has a big moment and the gears just jammed. By the time it was sorted the race was long gone. Race over and a big sigh from the Conor-VerHulst fan club on the finish barriers. The next race is two days away in Deinze in East Flanders.
JULY 23 - race in SINAAI # 1
Belgian "kermis" races are generally 120k and are run off in something like 2 hrs 45 minutes ... do the math on that and if sounds quick it feels quicker. Kermis simply means a community style fair (or fete) and the bike race is the "entertainment" and an excuse for the fete patrons to drink a barrel of belgian beer while the cyclists carve each other up. Sinaai is near St Niklaas in East Flanders and 9k per lap with 13 laps. The circuit had two stretches of cobbles. The start list numbered 113 with the current Belgian Champion and several internationals from Canada, Ireland, UK plus some Dutch domestic teams.
Conor started in the middle of the peloton and the first lap of 9k took just 11 minutes (do the math on that !). The second lap and there was a crash which Conor avoided (rode over a fellow competitors front wheel) and chased and got back on the peloton. Nice work. Meanwhile a group of 20 had escaped and formed the breakaway of the day. Conor was looking comfortable through laps 3 & 4 (as much as you can averaging 45kph) and preparations were made for MO'R to hit the Belgian beer tent. Unfortunately another crash on the cobbles during lap 5 split the peloton. Conor wasn't directly involved but was delayed enough to end his day. Overall a pleasing start with the next race planned for Monday July 25 again near St Niklaas. Dinner was celebrated in Antwerp with Frans Ver Hulst who turned 90. The Ver Hulst family have been great supporters of BiciSport cyclists in Belgium over many years.
JULY 21 ... A NEw DAY A NEW TEAM & JERSEY
Conor met with the ASFRA Racing Team principal Luc Assez at Flanders Cycles in Oudenaarde. Luc presented Conor with his new ASFRA Flanders Cycles team kit. ASFRA sponsor a range of teams from Under 15 up to the semi professional level.
JULY 20 ... Its a BERG-FEST
First training ride over 35k in 30 degree heat and its a 5k warm up along the Kluisbergen Railtrail to Melden with the first stop being the Koppenberg (heck, why not ?), then it was off to the Old Kwaremont climb and a photo opportunity at the Karel Van Wijndeale Monument (creator of the Tour of Flanders Classic). Barely had time to say "where is my Duvel beer" and we climbed the 22% Patersberg (Patersberg never looked this hard on EuroSport). Final berg of the day came shortly afterwards at the Kortekeer climb plus a brief crossing of the Etikove cobbles.
Kokerelle & Oudenaarde
Conor Tarlington & Mike O'Reilly arrived 19 July and settled into "home" for the next month of racing in Belgium. The Kokerelle B&B (www.kokerelle.be) is in the small village of Maarke Kerkem just 4k from Oudenaarde. The Kokerelle B&B sits just beside the Eikenberg cobbled climb used in the Tour of Flanders and only 5k from any number of famous cobbled climbs also used in the Flanders classic. The Koppenberg is just 8k away and the Old Kwaremont maybe 10k and if you're really keen the Roubaix Velodrome is a 75k round trip on the Schelde River bike path.
Belgian Racing Guide
An excellent Belgian racing guide can be found at www.thechainstay.com in the Belgian Racing Guide section. This website has numerous handy insights into how and when the racing scene operates in Flanders.