Big day today, started sunny and warm, beautiful day for watching a great race, one of the classics. We have already previewed the race which starts in Antwerp and finishes in Oudenarde. We rode from Antwerp to Brussels and from Oudenarde to Ghent earlier in the week. Not all the cobbles and all the kilometers but at least some to get a feel for the whole race.
We packed the bikes yesterday so today is just a train ride without luggage, yeah, finally easy travel. On the train platform we saw two other Americans wondering if they were in the right place and we could accurately yes their travel questions, kind of fun.
Oudenarde was under construction Monday when we were here, not now, it looks clean and ready to host the events. We are way early, the finish here isn’t until about 4 P.M. and we are off the train by about 10:30. Just in time to see the start of the women’s 150k Tour which plans to finish on the same straight at about 3 P.M.
We aren’t sure where to go but following the crowd and asking a few questions gets us to the finish line deck area where there is a huge video screen plus music, food and beer vendors. Cycling fan heaven. We stake out a picnic table, closest to the course. Perfect time because most of the fans are still downtown. A few Belgium fans join us and at least one speaks fluent English so that goes well. The next group not so fluent but we still get along well. Doesn’t hurt that we are cheering for Tom Boonen and Phillipe Gilbert of the QuickStep Team.
The women’s race finishes with an American lady the winner, we can barely see over the crowd at the fences, I’m standing on the picnic table bench.
The deck is getting packed with people sitting everywhere between the tables, every place there is open. Gilbert is off the front with almost 50k to go in a solo break away. Boonen, has bike problems x 2 at the start of one of the cobble climbs so he is out of finishing pack after doing well close to the end. A small group with Von Avermat and Sagan and a few others are less than a minute down with time to catch Gilbert when Sagan clips a left side fence on a cobbled climb and takes himself and others down. The gap grows. The fans are going crazy. We are all counting the last 5 kilometers down hoping Gilbert can hold on and yes, he does with only about 30 seconds to spare he gets off his bike, lifts it above his head and walks across the finish. Von Avermat takes second in the sprint, another Quick Step rider gets third, a Cannondale rider fourth. What a great race!!!!
Time for a beer in the downtown area and then train back to Brussels to review tomorrows plans to go to Germany.
Chaos strikes as we review the plans and realize that we are scheduled to fly to Salzburg but where we are staying in Germany is not that Salzburg but a town are a 7 hour drive north in Germund and a resort that has Salzberg as part of its name. Crap, now what. All our local phones are running out of credits so trying to call and make alternative plans is getting tough. American Express to the rescue! I call their international travel help line and they are able to arrange a rental car we can get at the Brussels airport tomorrow, less than 9 hours from now, big enough to haul all our gear and make the 2 hour drive to the Eifel National Park area where we have lodging for 2 weeks. The price is actually reasonable and we get an upscale Mercedes diesel with GPS to drive with no issues crossing borders. Unlimited mileage as well. We are saved. We even can drive back as planned for Liege Bastogne and Paris Roubaix. Yes, the plans come together. Not ideal but actually maybe better than the original.