Baroudeurs on Tour with Guido
Guido, you’ve been keeping busy in the run up to the summer season. What did you get up to?
For me cycling this year has gotten off to a fantastic start. I started my trial period cycling with the Baroudeurs in early October 2021. Training with the group, mostly around Regents Park, provides some much-needed motivation on those sub-zero, 6am January rides.
In March of this year, Josh Kearn (a fellow Baroudeur) and I travelled to Belgium to take part in the Tour of Flanders sportive. Known to the locals as simply ‘De Ronde’ its reputation proceeds it. The 180km route took in the infamous cobbled sections and climbs as ridden by the pros in the Classics series.
Josh and I rode together, and it was most definitely one of the most memorable day of cycling I’ve ever had. As a bonus, it was a joy the next day to watch the pro race out on course (we choose the Molenberg to watch it pass) and having done the route ourselves, it gave us a great feel for the race; which is something one often cannot appreciate sitting at home watching it on TV.
Why did you do it?
The decision to compete was actually rather spontaneous and I didn’t have a particular reason to do it other than knowing it would be an excellent opportunity to push myself, gain a sense of achievement and most importantly to have fun and enjoy what I love doing most. I suppose it’s on the bucket list for many keen cyclists.
Out of all the races, what was it about Flanders that most appeal to you?
De Ronde, like the others in the One Day Classics series, is unique on the professional cycling calendar. It’s different to a grand tour as it’s a one-day full gas race. Throw in the brutal cobbles, and often bad weather and it’s a spectacle for fans. Watching the live coverage back in 2020 with Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel battling it out put me in the mood. De Ronde is also one of the biggest amateur sportives out there, so after two years of cancellations due to covid I thought it a shame to miss it.
How much planning did you do? How did you get your information?
I personally didn’t do too much planning, I left that to Josh who rather intricately had devised train times and booked the hotel. I did however pay close attention to De Ronde’s route, as this would dictate my eating/ stopping strategy and ensure I wouldn’t get too carried away straight off the start line and blow up on one of the climbs. We planned for all weather eventualities as the forecast kept changing right up until the day of the event.
At one point, I was fearful of there being the risk of ice due to sub-zero conditions freezing recently wet cobbles and tarmac. Thankfully though we were lucky, and the weather was probably one of the best De Ronde has had in years. We both also read into the Flandrian cycling culture and the history of the race with Josh particularly engrossed in his book on the ferry and trains.
How did you get there?
We caught the highspeed from London to Dover before boarding an early afternoon ferry to Dunkirk. We had previously intended to go to Calais but with huge tailbacks and delays at Dover we opted to get on the first boat possible. From Dunkirk we improvised and made our way via train to Oudenaarde before both cycling half an hour or so (with all our kit) to the hotel in Horebeke where we stayed the night. On the return we did the same, but instead via Calais. Continental trains proved to be an issue as they don’t allow bikes on the TGV unless it’s under a plastic cover (such as a tarpaulin). This policy (rather silly if you ask me) meant we were in trouble with a French conductor, although he thankfully eventually let us on.
What is it like riding in Flanders?
Before going we’d heard horror stories of crashes and mechanical failures on the cobbles. But in my experience, the route wasn’t overly difficult. Having said that though, I think in bad weather and the extra 60km that the pros do on the flat from Bruges before they reach the cobbles in Flanders it is still a race which shouldn’t be underestimated. The climbs in and of themselves aren’t particularly challenging on paper, in fact from where I live in the Southeast you can find similar (if not harder) sharp and punchy climbs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. But doing it over cobbles made it a lot more technical and it is of no surprise that riders such as MVDP with their cyclo-cross skills do so well here. The region’s gentle rolling hills and quaint villages made it picturesque. Perhaps best of all was the atmosphere, both at the sportive and the pro race. The small town of Oudenaarde, which the race passes through and around several times before the final sprint finish, was bustling and came alive in the evening, it was like a carnival!
Is it similar to anything you’ve done before, or is it completely different?
I have done big punchy rides like this, although they were solo and not a huge cycling event. Riding a sportive such as De Ronde or the Paris Roubaix is one of only a few opportunities you can have as a cycling fan to feel like one of the pros, perhaps except a crit race but even that’s not the same. Whilst I’ve done smaller organised events, it’s by far the largest sporting event I’ve taken part in so in that sense was rather different and felt very special. Last summer before my 18th birthday I set out to bike pack Land’s End to John O Groats (1700km). I completed it in 14 days. Doing it solo and wild camping made it my own personal adventure and challenge. I would say that LEJOG was a very different ball game to Flanders, but they both felt like big achievements, just in very different ways.
What was your plan on the day? What went well and what would you do differently?
After hearing the horror stories about Flanders and not being too certain about how I would manage on the cobbles my main aim was to finish the event and have fun. My plan for the day was to ride within myself and pace it well, not wanting to get too excited at the start and then bonking heavily. My fuelling strategy (which I’ve relied on and trained with for a long time now) worked brilliantly and by the end of the sportive I still felt I had some left in the tank. One thing I would want to do in future would be to push myself more to set a more competitive time.
Would you say you’re built for these One Day Classics, or did you have to recondition yourself?
I enjoy, and am used to, long hours in the saddle so I wouldn’t say I had to recondition myself too majorly. Growing up in Kent means I’m very much used to punchy climbs and I felt well accustomed to riding De Ronde as a consistent steady state effort. The steady but consistent riding over the winter period (much of which with the Bs) was a great opportunity to maintain some form from the summer and certainly helped prepare me for Flanders.
You’re not going slow either. What motivates you?
For De Ronde the atmosphere definitely kept the adrenalin going. The sheer number of cyclists to race gave it a competitive but friendly feel. Also having a good riding partner in Josh to keep me company and race me up the climbs (some of which he dropped me on) was a great source of motivation. Meeting other riders, albeit briefly was also a great way to pass the time. More broadly speaking when cycling solo I sometimes listen to music or audiobooks, but I also enjoy my own company and use cycling as a chance to think and relax. Strangely, I often do maths on the bike to pass the time and to check my pace, this usually consists of speed- distance- time calculations and converting miles into km.
What are the 3 things that you did well in Flanders and what’s the 1 thing you’d do differently?
- Good eating and stopping strategy (we stopped at three of the very well organised pit stops to stretch off the legs and restock with food/ water).
- ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. I feel I had good organisation in terms of kit and bike preparation which meant I had no mechanicals or issues and was able to focus on the ride.
- Now that I know the route I would want to set PBs on climbs etc and a faster pace overall to make sure I give it my all.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do such a ride?
- It’s great fun and one should take the chance to socialise with the other riders and locals to really get involved with the event.
- Plan and have contingencies… for everything!
- The obvious tips such as do a decent amount of training, don’t go mad in the first 50km and fuel properly.
- In our case transport to and from Flanders was the biggest hassle. In an ideal world one would have a van/ car and take bikes in it via the Eurotunnel. Alternatively take the train, make sure to check their bike policy ahead).
- Every ride can be unique. For something like De Ronde read up on its history, and about its notorious climbs and features. This way you’ll enjoy it more.
Big question – will you do Flanders again and are you ready?
Yes! In fact I’ve already booked my place for next year and myself and a few others Bs are looking into accommodation, transport etc as we speak. I aim to do the full 235km route next year which I think is definitely feasible. As I’m currently at university I expect things to calm down a bit after exams so I’m hoping for a big summer of cycling which will aide my physical preparation.
Besides Flanders do you have any further plans or goals?
Yes I do, in large part though I don’t cycle as a means to an end, I cycle because it’s an end in itself.
LEJOG 2023: One of the first things that came to mind after completing Lands’ End to John O Groats was ‘I want to do it again’ and ‘how can I do it faster?’. The same can be applied to De Ronde. For LEJOG 2023 I plan to cut off around 300km (as I took some detours) and plan to average a slightly higher speed with more hours in the saddle per day. So ideally I want to get it down to 8 days. Beyond that I plan to get some experience in the British Army Cycling crit racing series later this summer and continue putting in the miles going forward.
I’m also a keen walker, at the time of writing I’ve just got back from leading an expedition in Snowdonia as part of my university hiking society. This summer some friends and I intend to do the West Highland way (Glasgow to Fort William) and a future ambition would be to the national Three Peak Challenge in under 24 hours but there are a lot of logistics and planning still required for that.
Is there anything the club, or people can do to help you?
Nothing comes to mind beyond looking forward to the summer cycling season with the club in and around London.
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