We all dream of days like this: A bright blue Belgian sky, green rolling hills, epic climbs, and a guide who knows this place like the back of his hand. Welcome to a day in the Ardennes with Peter Easton and Velo Classic Tours.
This day dawned warm and sunny…almost too warm and sunny. Before it was over, we’d conquered more than 100km, in temps that rose as high as 83 degrees. Wait…wait…springtime in Belgium is supposed to be dank and damp. This felt more like California beach weather. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not complaining. But if you ever doubted that global warming is a real deal, you should see how beautiful Belgium is this spring. The locals are a bit flipped-out by all this hot weather.
Even the cows know Pete Easton. But these bovine are a tough audience…every year, they watch the Liege-Bastogne-Liege pros roll by on these same roads.
For most of the day, we followed the route of Sunday’s L-B-L, including three of the climbs that make the oldest of the spring classics such a…well, classic!
The first big climb of the day is the Cote de la Roche, just a stone’s throw from one of the epic battles of World War II. Our first battle of day was considerably milder.
2.9km, average grade 5.9%…no problem.
The pro peloton considers this to be little more than a speed bump along the road to Bastogne. But there bigger, tougher climbs to come.
Right smack-dab in the middle of the town of St. Roch is a German Army tank, captured from the Nazis in 1945. That doesn’t scare us, but this does…
Yup…the sign says 14%. Get ready to suffer.
Officially, the Cote de St. Roche winds through town for 1km with an average grade of 11.2%. But my GPS readout said it kicked up to a steady 17-18% for most of this climb.
Imagine Bettini and Basso, Vino and Valverde on this same climb. They’re all scheduled to race on Sunday, but they’ll go up the St. Roche at a pace about three times faster than ours. It was all we could do to keep our bikes moving up the hill. Just imagine trying to race on this same tortuous grade. It’s almost beyond comprehension.
Our only salvation this day…we knew that just a few kms down the road, lunch would be waiting for us.
Pete’s wife Lisa drove the van up the road, and met us in the town of Steinbach. The food and drinks were a welcome sight after busting our butts on the St. Roche.
While the rest of us were swapping stories from our past cycling adventures, Pete caught a few well-deserved moments of shut eye. He knew what was up ahead (plus he was up at 5:00AM to drive The PEZ to the airport and pickup the rest of us joining the Liege Weekend).
You get lulled into a false sense of serenity biking through this part of the world. The pastoral panoramas of centuries-old chateaus, framed by old-growth forests, and bisected by two-lane blacktops can make even the most arduous day in the saddle seem like a gift from above.
Another day, another beautiful Belgian mansion.
In the town of Tavigny, they’re warning people about an upcoming all-day ride on these same roads.
Hmmm…six hours on the bike, on these hills…OK. 24 hours? No way.
The last climb of the day doesn’t sound all that bad. The Cote de Wanne is just 2.2km, with an average grade of 7.7%
But…the summit of the Cote de Wanne comes at about the 100km mark of the day’s ride. It pretty much blew us all apart. We officially renamed it the “Cote de Waaaaaah!)
The good news…from the top of the Cote de Wanne down to our hotel in Stavelot is just 6km, mostly downhill. After navigating the cobbled streets of the town, we come to a full-stop about some six hours, and 66 miles, from where we started in the morning.
We find our way to the hotel, and waiting for each of us in our rooms…the most refreshing bottle of Gerolsteiner water that we’ve ever seen. The perfect way to forget the 86 degrees and thousands of feet of hills that we’ve just endured. OK, maybe a Belgian beer would be better…but that will have to wait for later.
Tomorrow…another classic day of testing the course of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Velo Classic Tours. And they tell me it’s going to get a whole lot tougher. Bigger, tougher, longer climbs…and former German stud pro rider Marcel Wust will be joining us for day two.
I can’t wait.
PEZCYCLING is traveling with Velo Classic Tours through the Ardennes Classics – and you should too.