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    De Ronde Aftermath

    In the weeks leading up to De Ronde van Vlaanderen, there is all sorts of hype on every channel. Cycling news pages are covering every spring race in Belgium, trying to separate the favorites from the rest of the peloton. Brands are watching closely as their teams establish themselves as forces to be reckoned with come that magical Sunday.
    Riders are in a whirlwind of races, sometimes multiple times per week, from the end of February to mid-April.
    But what happens after De Ronde? Within 24 hours of the winner crossing the finish in Oudenaarde, those who lost are asked about their "excuse," everyone watches the highlights, there's a quick talk about what could have been, and then the focus quickly shifts to Paris-Roubaix that will come just 7 days later. We wondered what happened while all the attention was drawn away, so we took a ride Monday morning to find out what happens when the eyes aren't looking. 
    Vince took me to his home in East Flanders to watch the race, and the next morning at 9am we were suited and booted to go discover what happens after De Ronde. 

    First stop: Oudenaarde. Through the foggy, chilly morning, we rode 20km to Oudenaarde, and the road became familiar.

    Vince looked over and said "welcome to the finish of De Ronde." We got closer to see the VIP viewing building, the finish stage, and countless trucks to collect the parts as the big temporary structures get disassembled until next year. 

    It seemed empty. All the signage along the barriers was gone, the big finish banner disappeared, and even the finish line was already painted over black for traffic to resume. 
    In the square of Oudenaarde, the only sign of a bike race having passed through was the lingering smell of beer from the party the day before; all of the garbage had been cleaned up and life seemed to be back to normal. I was stunned: my town of Leuven looks worse at 9:30 after an average weeknight of student parties. 

     

    We stopped at the base to collect ourselves, and then we were off for some hurt. I took the start way too hard, and by the top I was struggling to keep the pedals moving and the bike rolling forward. 

    Again, for having a race here the day before, the only remaining signs of anything special here the day before were the metal fences along the route, and a few neatly-tied black bags of trash that had been cleaned up and was now waiting on the side of the road for the collection crew. 

    Third stop: Paterberg. Another climb known famously for making and breaking some of the world's best cyclists, the Paterberg makes up in steepness what it lacks in length. The Paterberg is a short climb and relatively new in the 100+ year history of De Ronde. In 1984, a farmer, jealous of his friend who lived on the Koppenberg, paved one of his farm roads with cobbles just so the race would come by the house. It is now one of the critical climbs of the race, where a lone leader maintaining his gap over the top usually means victory as he descends into Oudenaarde. Again at the top I took a look around. Had it not been for a few more fences and a metal tower for the TV camera, it would seem like any other Monday. 

    Final stop: Oude Kwaremont. As we approach it, I can see the big white tents of the VIP viewing areas. The inverse of the Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont is less steep, but long. The grade starts on a paved road, evolves into a steeper cobbled climb, then by the top becomes "false-flat" gradient while still dealing with the rattle of Flemish cobbles. Despite it's name, it is actually a climb only used from 1974 onward, after the parallel climb, known as Kwaremont, was paved over for regular road traffic. It is easily one of my favorite climbs of De Ronde; where the gradient is long, but rhythmic. The fanfare is just amazing as the riders will pass the climb multiple times throughout the race, and the length usually helps create the selection, with its length creating massive gaps between groups of riders over the top.

    Here we began to see some sign of a party. The sides of the road were covered in litter from beer cups to little Flemish flags. The local scouts group of kids were out with bags and sticks, cleaning up litter from the side of the road, and the area around.

    Each VIP booth (of which there are multiple on Kwaremont) was deserted, but still had yet to be taken down. Most of the climb still had the metal fencing along the sides, and in the little village halfway up, a whole fleet of trucks and vans was at the ready to begin disassembly. 

    After our morning in Flanders, it became obvious as to why the focus shifts away so quickly. We saw a few riders doing the course the day after, and the cleanup crews were busy, but nothing special was left. Life would return to normal the rest of the year... But as Vince said that day: "Only 364 days left till De Ronde!"