Liam and I had never been up to Belgium to watch the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), but the trip has always been on my bucket list. I had heard tales of millions of spectators lining storied cobbled climbs where epic battles of human will, endurance and strength take place. I had watched the event on television, and it looked amazing. Whenever I talked to my Belgian friends about the race, I saw a look of excitement come to their faces and their entire postures change in anticipation of the great event. The Belgians are crazy about cycling and the Ronde is the biggest bike race of the year in Belgium -- it is their version of the Super Bowl. I read somewhere that in a country of 11 million people they estimate that 8 million Belgians are watching the race either live or on the television. We weren't planning on making it to Belgium for the race this year, however, when the opportunity to go as part of our continuing Science of Speed Blog project presented itself -- Liam and I jumped at the chance.
|Belgian fans lining up hours before the race|
|Cobbled section of the Oude Kwaremont - Flanders, Belgium|
|Jordan and Liam on the cobbles|
In April of 2011, Liam and I were up in Northern France at the Paris-Roubaix race (another of the classic monuments). We were there to watch the pros, and to ride the cyclo-sportive which is an amateur event over many of the same cobble sections as the pro race (blog post Queen of the One-Day Classics - Paris Roubaix). I rode the Roubaix challenge with a great group from the Trek family. These guys weren't there just to have fun (although they did have plenty of that - along with a broken hand and a few other bumps and scrapes), they were there to asses what the demands of the classics were and, from the ground level, get an idea of what was needed to create a winning bike for the athletes that use their bikes in this type of racing and riding.
|Liam with Trek's masterpiece Domane - the winning bike of Flanders|
|The IsoSpeed Decoupler|
Everything was coming together last spring for the 2012 versions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Trek had worked really hard to get the Domane ready, their athlete Fabian Cancellara (Spartacus) was in peak form. One week before Flanders, at a race called Harelbeke, Fabian got a flat tire on the Kwaremont (which is a cobbled climb also used in the Tour of Flanders). Just after the climb, Fabian pulled over and Jordan was helping change his tire, when suddenly, another rider, Carlos Barredo, crashed into them both. Jordan broke his nose in 5 places and had 25 stitches - it was a serious injury. Fabian wasn't hurt as badly, but he was shaken up. He suffered a swollen knee and a bruised back, which meant that he had a lot of rehab that needed to be done before the big event the following Sunday. Trek and the team where still confidant that they could pull off a victory; and despite his Harelbeke crash, Fabian was one of the favorites going into the race. At the Tour of Flanders, everything was going well. Fabian was confident and strong. Then, bad luck hit again. At a feed zone 65k from the finish, riders were throwing their used water bottles all over the road. Fabian hit a bottle and was launched into the air, and when he hit the pavement he shattered his collarbone in several places. And, just like that, a victory for Fabian and the new Trek Domane wasn't in the cards that year. It was tough luck, but that is part of the sport of cycling. If anything, I think the experience just increased both Fabian's and Trek's resolve to come back and get it right this year.
|Spartacus checking his ride|
Jordan spent a good part of the morning sharing his knowledge of the technology and design that go into making Trek's truly incredible bikes (I now have a Domane on my wish list, although I am still very happy with my Madone). We got a better understanding of what riders need for races. Oftentimes different races and terrain require different equipment. Similar to our experience in Lucca with our segment on power and watts, we started to pick up on an almost new language. It was the language of bike design. Terms like bike compliance, bottom bracket stiffness, race-stable geometry, and power transfer construction all started to make perfect sense. For example "The next time I hit the pave I want to increase my power performance by optimizing my E2-down tube-rear wheel connection, but at the same time decouple at the seat tube to increase vertical compliance and add to my over all ride comfort." Translated --"the next time I ride a really rough road I want to go fast, but I don't want my butt to hurt." It is an easy thing to say, but another thing entirely to design and engineer a bike that lives up to the challenge.
|Liam jamming the 20% grade section of the Koppenberg|
|Jordan, Liam and Simon back at the hotel after the ride|
|Spartacus on his way to victory|
This is Bill and Liam signing out.
*Bonus video - RSLT bus tour with Jordan