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Velo Classic Tours 2005: Ardennes Wrap-Up

Cycling in Europe, unless you’re a professional, is best enjoyed for the experience. It’s about the countryside, the atmosphere, the food, the drink, the languages and the people. If you’re really lucky, you get to go with someone who has the inside scoop on getting the best of all of those things.

In late April, I jetted out to Holland to hook up with the Velo Classic Tours crew as they took on the Ardennes Classics – a fabulous chance to witness some of cycling’s most beautiful races in one of the most underrated parts of Europe.

Velo Classic Tours advertise themselves with the strapline “Serious cycling, sublime culture, exemplary service”. It’s a lot to live up to, but things were looking good from the minute I stepped out of Maastricht railway station to see the Velo Classic Tours battle bus roll up bang on time!

Your gut instincts can tell a lot straight away, and the lively, fire-cracker banter from head honcho Peter Easton gave me good vibes for the week ahead – this guy knows his stuff when it comes to the Classics. Tales of riding with Scott Sunderland the previous week on the muddy Roubaix cobbles and setting up the award-winning UCI World-Class Cycling Week trip had me primed for the week ahead.

Peter Easton’s extensive knowledge of riding in Belgium sets his tours apart.

The trip was packed with highlights, and each day was a whole new adventure – here are a few snippets:

Day 1: Amstel Gold Cyclosportif
The fit guys headed off to tackle the Amstel Gold Cyclosportif event. Ever loyal to the cause, your reporter stayed in bed to get a fuller understanding of just how great the Hotel De Pauwenhof in Maastricht truly is! Nice work on Pete’s behalf on finding it. Big thanks to Nick who runs it, and Jeroen who helped out with sending photos back to Pez.

Day 1 “Frites Moment” – Star-spotting in Maastricht. Just what were Manolo Saiz and Patrick Lefevere discussing so intently, a Beloki-for-Boonen swap deal?

Day 2: Amstel Gold RACE
The merits of the hotel are fully realized as I step out the front door and walk 90 seconds to the start area of the Amstel Gold Race! Lots of mingling with the Dutch fans and taking pics of the stars for the good folks in the PEZ readership.

Meeting other cycling nutters like the two Riches (Davies & Bastone) is an un-advertised bonus. Mr. Davies works for a company that actually makes EPO for medical use – based on his team kit, it’s unlikely we’ll see ‘em sponsoring a pro team any time soon.

Pete rallied the troops – Rich Bastone (Pete’s other half in the funniest New York comedy double-act off Broadway), Richard Davies, the brothers MacPhee (Don and Robert), Doug Dyer (a repeat customer) and Jeffrey Kraft, and it was into the bus to head up to Valkenburg to catch the race, not once, but three times.

Day 2 “Frites Moment” – Meeting the man, the legend, Phil Anderson!

Day 3: WE RIDE!
My first day out on the road, from Maastricht down to Durbuy – about 60 miles of great roads with beautiful forests just getting their spring leaves. I was desperately trying to hang on Rich Bastone’s wheel – there ain’t no shame in drafting so blatantly. If it was allegedly good enough for Joop Zoetemelk, then it’s good enough for me.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite Zoetemelk, so I settled for letting go and admiring the scenery. A great roadside lunch, but I just don’t know how Americans can handle Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches??? Liberty Seguros and Saunier-Duval cruised by us on an easy 35 clicks per hour training loosener, followed by Euskaltel.

Day 3 “Frites Moment” – The finest beef served to man in the Les Sangliers des Ardennes hotel! If you’re like gourmet food, this alone made the trip worthwhile.

Pete plays the fan with Oenone Wood – hey that could be you she’s making look so good… .

Day 4: Ride Fleche-Wallone Loop
While everyone else opted for the bus to the start, Rich Bastone rode the full 77 miles of the planned Fleche-Wallone loop – hardcore! It was an awesome day, following the FW course, topped off by great scenery, mild temperatures and burning legs.

Day 4 “Frites Moment” – A tie between making it up the Muur de Huy in 39×25 – No walking, baby! – and seeing the Bigla women’s team training (NOTE: PEZ Mgmt apologizes for Gord’s lack of photos here… sheesh.)

Day 5: Fleche-Wallone Race Day
Fleche-Wallone race day, and it was just cool rolling into Huy, and seeing the start of the Womens’ World Cup race – those ladies just hammered from flag to finish. Pete’s dreams came true with a photo beside Oenone Wood. My mission in life is to figure out which lady graced the Fleche race poster I “liberated” from a local bar.

Day 5 “Frites Moment” – Local knowledge! I followed a Belgian kid through the maze of security fences to wind up backstage at the winners’ tent. And there they were, Di Luca, Kirchen and Rebellin!

Day 6: More Riding!
Back on the bikes from Durbuy to Spa, home of Belgian motor sport. Again, more awesome scenery, with Pete piloting us expertly over some of LBL‚s roads and climbs. Gorgeous chateaux, fields carpeted with spring flowers – rural Belgium at its best.

Yup – just another country chateau in the Ardennes.

Day 6 “Frites Moment” – More exquisite food! Belgian sorbet may not be famous, but it sure tastes great!

Day 7: Liege-Bastogne-Liege RIDE
Out on the road to ride the Stockeau and other famous climbs of L-B-L, we were able to hang out at a monument to the great Eddy Merckx, while watching T-Mobile and Illes Balears training. Pete had us where all the action would unfold on race-day and continued the anecdotes about the great L-B-Ls of the past.

Day 7 “Frites Moment” – Feet up at a roadside cafй (but not eating frites) as CSC rolled by. Aaah, the touriste-journo lifestyle!

Training on bikes like this is what makes the Belgians so tough.

Day 8: Ride La Redoute
Our last day on the bikes, and it was a shorter trip than previously, because we were hitting the beast that is La Redoute. We gate crashed a local timed ride, organized by the Phillipe Gilbert Fan Club – sorry guys – but it was worth it to say I’d done it.

Day 8 “Frites Moment” – Just frites actually, and plateloads of them, as a personal reward for surviving La Redoute. Oh yeah, and the crepes, and the cakes, and the beers and more cakes, some chocolate, etc etc.

Fleche On The Muur: How’s this – close enough to the action for ya?

Day 7: Liege-Bastogne-Liege RACE
With Pete navigating, we got to see Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 4 places! From the start, the Cotes de Roche, the Cotes de Saint-Roche and the Cotes des Rosiers, we were a hell of a lot closer to the action than you can get with other bike tours.

Day 9 “Frites Moment” – Being right there‚ on the Rosiers when Vinokourov dynamited the race! Being at dinner, listening to the guys trying to score themselves a job with Pete.

And with that, things drew to a close back in Maastricht. And Pete was up at 4:30am next day to get us to our departure points. Serious cycling, sublime culture, exemplary service – yep, that sums it up just about perfectly.

For lots more on the Velo Classic Tours program including trips to the Dauphine Libere; The Tour de France mountain stages; the Basque Country; the Dolomites; Tuscany; and the UCI Centre in Switzerland, check out the Velo Classic Tours website for more info, or call 212.779.9599.

– Ask For:
Peter Easton, Director
Velo Classic Tours
15 E 32nd St 5th Flr
New York, NY 10016
[email protected]

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