In just over 3 days I'll be tackling the first of the major European cyclosportives - the Tour of Flanders. It's not talked about quite as much as L'Etape du Tour, or La Marmotte, but it's definitely up there as far as amateur cycling events go. And with over 15,000 competitors it promises to be a real cycling jamboree ! Or at least that's what I imagine.
It'll be my first visit to this "classic" event, so don't know exactly what to expect. Previous cycling events of this type I've done took place during the height of summer in some really scenic alpine area - in France or Italy. The drab exposed plains of Northern Belgium in April doesn't quite have the same ring ! Also the use of the word "classic" in this sense means riding against a strong, cold, head-wind through driving rain, over steep cobbled roads (bergs) all day long, or until you reach a point of despair !
I may only be doing 140km, but I will still be covering the famous "bergs" - all 18 of them !
Anyway, my biggest task at the moment is getting to my hotel in Aalst. We are not going with any fancy tour companies or taking the car. It'll just be the Eurostar to Brussels, followed by another local train.
I've got my bike bag and panniers - hopefully everything will be compact enough to fit onto the luggage racks of the train, and officials won't be telling me to send the bike as a registered package. I will just need to get to Waterloo early to bag the best luggage spot ahead of the rest of the other Easter weekenders.
So why do this when I could be relaxing in London, or planning a getaway to much sunnier climes ? Well, it's the challenge I suppose. The chance to ride in a famous cycling event, while testing out my fitness. The ambiance is good, with riders from all over Europe (and beyond) taking part. The day after the cyclosportive, on the Sunday you get the chance to watch the pros show us how it's done (or not - as the case may be). And of course the excuse to sample good quality mussels and chips with one of their 57 varieties of quality beers !
On with packing ......