When people ask me about my Salsa Warbird I generally tend to tell them its a cyclocross bike…it’s easier that way. How do you explain about gravel racing when you live in a country that doesn’t have any. The reality though is that it’s not just a gravel racing bike. Its merits lend themselves to so many surfaces.
When a group of friends decided that riding one of the road spring classic sportives in Belgium would be a great break, and that the classic decided on was the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), there was no doubt that I would be riding the Warbird. First because this close to Trans-Iowa every mile I could ride on it would help my cause, but secondly, as the course is littered with many sections of cobbles covering climbs, descents and the flat.
The RVV starts in Bruges and takes a fairly flat and fast route to the outskirts of Oudenaarde where at this point the fun starts. The route circuits the city taking in as many cobbled ‘bergs’ as possible; short, sharp climbs some seeing gradients of 22% and mostly cobbled.
Our ride preperation was not ideal. Our hostel room the night prior to the race was situated above a bar with a DJ on till 4am and with what seemed like most of Bruges taking advantage of the loud music and strong beers. Mind you, the music variety was good…it just would of been better without the prospect of 260km to ride the next day on what ended up being two hours of sleep.
At 7:30am we rolled down to the main square in Bruges. The weather was cold, hovering just above 1-degree celcius. As in most sportive-style rides the start was between certain times, so no mass start. We pedalled through the start and began our spring classic experience.
The pace was initially brisk hovering around 18mph as we bounced from group to group up the road catching the riders that started before us. We would just settle into a group that felt like about the right speed and then we would arrive at a feed station. Out of the feed station the pace would be up again as we again looked for the group that fit us the best.
As we hit the outskirts of Oudenaarde a quick look at the computer showed the first 80 miles had been an average of 17.5 mph, a reflection of this flatter section of the course. The second half of the course was far more ‘interesting’ as we started to tick off the climbs.
At the foot of every climb there was a sign board telling you the name of the climb, how long it was, the average and maximum gradient.
With a 46/36T chainset on the Warbird, my game was then how many of these I could climb in the big ring.
The first berg of note was the Koppenberg. If you know of the Spring Classics then you know the Koppenberg. I had ridden this climb twice before so I knew it was a leg stretcher. As we approached the climb from a lefthand bend you could just see the start of the gradient and the cobbles of the climb.
On this occasion (unlike my previous climbs up it) I got rode into by another struggling rider, ruining my 100% record early on in the day. Ah well, a few quick few steps and a cyclocross remount saw me ride to the top.
This then set the precendent for the rest of the ride. The bergs and cobbled sections came thick and fast. Disc brakes and 38mm tires were a Godsend as my progress seemed a lot less laborious than those on skinny tyres and superlight carbon bikes.
I ticked off nearly all the steep climbs using the 46T ring, until almost the last, which I knew would not be possible. At around 135 miles you hit the Paterberg with a max gradient of 20% which comes in the last half of the climb. At roughly only 350 meters long, its short and sharp, and I was glad of the 36T inner option on this one.
The final 15km or so again became relatively flat as we strung back out into a paceline of riders dreaming of being Boonen or Cancellara riding toward a career-defining win. 158 miles had been covered to the finish.
The ride had started and finished cold, at one point touching minus temperatures, but importantly had stayed dry. The hard work of the first 80 miles had really been worthwhile getting to experience the later part of the course. Many waffles were eaten, and that evening we drank strong beers.
Was this good training for Trans Iowa? Who knows? But it certainly was another great day on the bike and the take home message was certainly that a Warbird is not just for gravel, it’s for road, dirt, cobbles, and more.
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UK born and bred, Paul Errington came to riding bikes as a hobby, which soon evolved into an all-consuming passion. Riding fulfills a desire to challenge himself and explore adversity. An endurance bike rider above all else, the ever-progressive sport keeps him enthused. Every day on a bike is a good day. shoestring-racing.blogspot.com