Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo was a tough challenge but add a 70 km/hr easterly breeze into the mix and it’s a whole new ball game!
Bright sunshine and cool temperatures greeted us at the start line. We had ridden in from Kortrijk and joined the riders getting registered for this year’s edition of this amazing cyclo. I was riding the 135 kms route while Andrew had elected to battle the winds for longer by riding the 221 kms route. Registration was simple and before long we were on our way.
Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo is under way
The challenges for the day were nine climbs including the cobbled Kemmelberg (max 23%), other cobbled climbs, cobbled roads and plugstreets (compacted gravel roads made famous in WW1).
The route was a little different from last year heading out to Ypres with a tailwind or cross tailwind. The flat and gently rolling country passed under the wheels very quickly and once through the Menen Gate, Ypres delivered our first experience of cobbles for 2017. They’re pretty small so not difficult to negotiate.
The climbing begins!
The Mont Des Cats at 58 kms is straight forward, twisting and kicking up towards the top but being the first climb of the day it’s easily despatched. The climbs come in quick succession every few kilometres, all I an effort to soften you up for the final climb, the Kemmelberg.
Mont Kokereel (62 kms), Vert Mont (64 kms), Mont Noir (66 kms), Blanchisserie (71 kms), Ravensberg (77 kms), Gildestraat (84 kms), Baneberg (85 kms) and then the iconic Kemmelberg (91 kms).
The iconic Kemmelberg
The Kemmelberg is approached from Loker to the west and gradually rises on a paved road towards the cobbles. Many of the ‘bergs’ begin with a lesser gradient before gradually steepening towards the top. The Kemmelberg is no different except it adds a cobbles to the final and steepest section. Begin the cobbled section on the left for the smoothest path and then switch to the right about two-thirds of the way up. Before long the monument appears on your right and you know you have completed the Kemmelberg in fine style before descending and facing the next challenge of plugstreets!
Plugstreets – a new experience
Named after a village nearby wood, Ploegsteert became Plugstreet by those serving in WW1 and somehow the name now also refers to roads of compacted gravel that connect various local roads. The dry conditions made the experience of riding plugstreets comparatively easy and after the climbs they added another dimension to the Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo. Three sectors quickly passed with the last one being completed after about 110 kms.
All that was left was the final 25 kms to the finish and by now the easterly headwind was approaching 70 kms/hr. Making headway became difficult riding a 50 x 21 gear and working at zone 4. Every opportunity to find and ride in a group was gratefully received but progress was slow alongside and endless canal that was carefully positioned to ensure the full force of the headwind dented our enthusiasm.
Eventually Menen appeared and then the route continued alongside the canal still with the wind battering us as groups became fragmented and dissipated. The effort had to be relentless and then, suddenly, we were within buildings on the outskirts of Wevelgem. The pace picked up in the shelter, the finish gantry appeared in the distance and the final push to the line completed.
In the bright, warm sunshine excited finishers, wearied by the efforts of the day relaxed and enjoyed a well-earned beer while we found out favourite bar for the compulsory beer, wine, frites and mayonnaise before riding back to Kortrijk.
Gent-Wevelgem ride times
221 kms, 1,700 m, Andrew Thompson – 7 hrs 25 mins
135 kms, 1,230 m, Jez Meades – 5 hrs 24 mins
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