Read about the experiences during Ronde van Vlaanderen The Wolfpack Bike Experience.
The meeting is scheduled at our hotel in Tielt in the early afternoon, where the whole Wolfpack Team – riders, sports directors, mechanics and other staff members – has already assemble. Two buses and two vans equipped exclusively for bikes, some cars for the sports directors and some vans for the special guests of the Bike Experience. There are eleven special Wolfpack guests: three Americans, six Belgians and two Dutch who arrive at the meeting points on their own, as they are basically locals. We have two Wolfpack vans just for us, we are being given kits and gadgets, we use the official bikes of the riders (Gilbert, Keisse, Senechal, Stybar, Lampaert or Declercq) , we have two mechanics at our service (the very kind and very good Geo and the extraordinary Jaak) and with their help we set up the bikes for all the participants. Some have their own bike to take as a reference for the assets ... while others prefer to use their own bike, which is still checked and prepared by Geo and Jaak. Gradually the group is formed around the bikes... the great passion that we share and which knows no boundaries, bringing us closer and helping us become friends, even if we come from different countries and belong to different cultures.
The Wolfpack spirit is immediately felt and shows its effect; just as the riders, we too will be one for all and all for one on the Flemish hellingen of our special Ronde van Vlaanderen. Once the bikes have been adjusted and everyone’s happy, we have a meeting, during which we make a briefing and an introduction of what’s to come over the next days. While having a beer, everyone presents himself and just like that, good vibes pop up, we talk and listen to each other, we get to know each other and we bond in order to successfully become a real “team”. The program schedules a transfer to Oudenaarde on Friday and a trip to the Museum of Tour des Flanders. Oudenaarde is the city that is preparing to welcome the happy invasion of 16,000 participants of the Ronde Cycling, with its four different routes and fascinating but gruelling cobblestone “walls” that await us. For lunch we’ll have spaghetti at the Peloton Cafè inside the museum and during the first afternoon we will meet with Johan Museeuw, who will explain us the secrets of the route segment that we’re going to reconnoitre. We’ll have dinner at a beautiful round table, large and comfortable, in an excellent position... right in front of that of the staff (team managers) and those of the riders, our champions, who after dinner will come to meet us, to exchange some jokes and to give us their tips and wishes for our reconnaissance of the stones. A feel-good atmosphere ensues, each rider has a way of presenting himself and making himself known, a good team spirit is born, a blend of Flemish passion and competence (Belgians and Dutch already know the Ronde and the sweet charm of the hills of East Flanders) takes place and is immediately cemented with strength and the exuberance of the Americans (who are attracted by the magic and the unchanging historical charm of this race that is the pride and historical heritage of the Flemish and of the cycling community).
Friday, April 5th
After the Oude Kwaremont, you descend on a steep and narrow road towards the gruesome Paterberg, a hill just 300 meters in length, but with a 22% maximum gradient, an effort which the Wolfpack will successfully overcome happy and all smiles, despite the fatigue. Some then follow Andrea for another ride which will see them taking on this brutal “wall”. All back together again, we will tackle the king of the walls, the ferocious Koppenberg, a cobblestone country road, with narrow and very steep slopes, featuring damp and slippery cobbles. We are lucky, there’s a few riders and the pavé are dry. Having made our way over this famous and tough hill, we descend towards Oudenaarde. Happy and feeling accomplished, the Wolfpack returns the awesome Specialized bikes to the mechanics Geo and Jaak, who had prepared them for us, we exchange impressions, feelings and experiences, then we return to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
There is a meeting room ready for us at 7.30 pm, where a presentation of the routes of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo (“We ride Flanders”) is set up, but then suddenly comes an unexpected and very welcome surprise... Tom Boonen knocks on the door and asks to enter the room, the formidable champion from Mol, who wrote history on the stones of Flanders and Roubaix (and of many others races, his palmares boasting more than 150 wins) speaks to us for – the Wolfpack Bike Experience members – for half an hour, an extraordinary opportunity to meet, learn and interact with this legendary and amazing champion, who with smiles, modesty and professionalism reveals the secrets of the course and wishes us the best of luck. Photos, autographs, handshakes and lots and lots of admiration and a truly unforgettable moment. During dinner everyone talks of the events and experiences lived during a long and intense day... and thinks of the race that awaits us tomorrow.
Saturday, April 6th
This is the day, the long-awaited day... we are at the Wolfpack group on the “walls” of the Ronde to face these narrow streets and cobblestones that have made, make and will make history of cycling. We travel to Oudenaarde with the two guest vans and with the bike; 16,000 participants on four possible routes, the Wolfpack group is divided into the two groups taking on the 139 and 197km parcourse, respectively. Only one of us, the strongest and most trained, ventures on the 239km-long route. The weather is a little cloudy, but without rain and without wind, elements that often make the road ahead even harder. We are lucky, the narrow streets and paved roads are in excellent condition, all dry and practicable... it will be a great day of passion and love for the bike, and at midday the sun peeps out to warm our hearts and our legs, a perfect day for sharing, passion, smiles, team spirit.
The medium-long Wolfpack follows the pace of the formidable Andrea, our captain, who guides us and opens the way for us... we meet during the fifth hour of race; Geo, the mechanic, has provided sweets and chocolate cakes to make us smile further with joy. We take a group photo and we proceed again towards the final... to face again some roads that we already know but this time the Koppenberg, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg are full of fans and supporters who help us with applause. We conclude the route arriving at the official finish of the Ronde, on the straight road that leads to the center of Oudenaarde, at the Campanile and the Cathedral... ritual photos and smiles under the banner and in front of the stands. Then we go to the Market Square, where thousands of cyclists celebrate and drink several beers in joy and good company... The Wolfpack group is back together; all for one and one for all... we too... extraordinary! The evening arrives and we return to the hotel... a long and hot shower to forget about the fatigue and reflect on a day of passion and memorable and beautiful effort, then everyone at the table to share an excellent meal. After-dinner of fun and excitement comes next before calling it a night.
Sunday, April 7th
We wake up early because today is the day! The Ronde van Vlaanderen – the real one – and the Wolfpack Team is waiting for us! Transfer to Antwerp at the hotel where the team is staying, the riders, the mechanics, the sports directors and all the staff to meet the managers who follow our guests and special guests. We move to the port area along the Scheld river, where a boat and its crew are there waiting for breakfast on board. Many elegant and attentive people, special VIP and guests “like we are”! We arrive at the dock in front of the area where the teams are coming with their buses with riders and sports directors and car fleet with bikes on board and mechanics around. We have free time to enter the closed area with a special pass arranged for us and everyone goes wherever he wants. And a large number of fans, journalists and reporters gather around our team, Deceuninck – Quick-Step. Meanwhile, two giant screens project live images from the stage of the official presentation of the teams, sign-in, souvenir photographs and interviews with the protagonists. The riders pass close to us and we also have the chance to try to approach them, without disturbing them too much, as they are focused and ready for this great race. We meet, we talk to each other and we wish them a good race.
All the strong World Tour teams are present, with their best riders – this is the epicenter of the great cycling world. And in the center we are also guests of the Wolfpack Bike Experience, staying close and living together with them this unforgettable day. Then the race starts and we move to the “hot” area... our hospitality located along the Ronde van Vlaanderenstraat on top of the Kluisbergen, an entire tent set up along the route to follow the passage of the women’s race live (formidable and beautiful riders with heart and courage) and the three laps of the men’s race in the usually decisive section for attacks and selection of the strongest. Music, entertainment and laid tables await us... the sumptuous and rich buffets, the counters of the beers (which are all really good here), hot food, cold food, sweets and desserts, large screens showing images directly from the race ... a small group of courageous attackers has a few minutes on the chasers. Then Andrea has a nice idea: a short walk to bring us all of the Wolfpack group to the Oude Kwaremont to see the second passage on the cobblestones, a crowd in delirium and ecstasy... applause and cheers, images and video recordings. They are the riders who make the race but it is the public that make it big and legendary ... an unbridled passion takes us along with many and together with all... beautiful and unforgettable. We return to our special hospitality to see the third passage and live in front of the screens the end of the men’s race. The tension rises and a great silence is interrupted only by what’s happening in the race, the images of the attacks and the counterattacks, of the riders that prove to be among the best and those who have mechanicals and punctures, then an immense happiness follows.
Alberto Bettiol launches a formidable attack on the Oude Kwaremont, playing his cards at the right moment and flying off the front, opening a gap and increasing his advantage on the descent taking to the Paterberg. He gets over the top with a significant margin and goes all the way to the finish line, where he captures his first professional victory and his first Ronde van Vlaanderen. Wonderful and unexpected great joy for us Italians and sincere admiration for this champion. Back to our team, and Deceuninck – Quick-Step take a well-deserved second place with the strong Kasper Asgreen that does something extraordinary, clipping off the front in the finale and holding the chasers at bay, as the sprint of the group behind is won by Kristoff. Cycling is here, cycling is this ... for a long time and for so long. In the evening we return to Oudenaarde and to an Italian restaurant – pizzeria ... the Wolfpack have dinner and relax, then return to the hotel in Tielt, spending the evening in friendship ... then finally rest.
Monday, April 8th
Breakfast together and then free time: each with joy in the heart and the wonderful memories of unforgettable days. Hugs, wishes, see you at another new and different Wolfpack Bike Experience, the great Classics and the most important races on the World Tour Calendar.