SONY A7R | 40mm Voigtlander Nokton 40mm Lens | ISO 160 | Exposure f4 @ 1/30 Second | © James Gray
For a long time I’d wanted to ride in a one day classic race, like the Milan-San Remo or Paris-Roubaix, but never imagined I actually would. Then in 2017 I was talked into riding the Tour of Flanders the following spring. So began some long-is days in the saddle in preparation for the race, which was going to total some 175km. On the morning of the race, looking at my fellow competitors, I figured I hadn’t prepared nearly enough and that this was surely going to be a long day to say the least.
Ahead of me was about 25 hills, including the world famous Koppenberg. A hill that has a great reputation in the world of Cycling. Famous because the average gradient is 11.6%, rising to a maximum gradient of 20%.
None of these hills are long, they are all short-ish, but sharp, and with wet cobbles and cyclists passing close by or stalling in front of you, it makes for a difficult, challenging climb. On some hills there was no way to cycle up as there were just too many people in front. Or on a couple of occasions the person in front had stalled and there was no way to pass. But there were a few hills that the road ahead was clear and I was able to get to the top without stopping, lungs nearly bursting though, with a great sense of achievement.
My bike was old, and like me knackered, but one saving grace was that it was a steel frame bike. Whilst that meant it was heavy, and going up some of the short sharp hills, I wished I was racing on a lightweight carbon bike, but the steel frame soaked up the cobble sections of which there were many.
I got round in the end, just over 6 hours and covered 175km. The rush of adrenaline crossing the line was something to be believed. It was a major sense of achievement and was flooded with happy feelings that I’d managed to get through in one piece and without either injury or mechanical failure.
SONY A7R | 40mm Voigtlander Nokton 40mm Lens | ISO 640 | Exposure f4 @ 1/125 Second | © James Gray
The pictures here are all from the following morning, when the professionals raced. The main field had some of the big names and the day was won by Niki Terpstra of Team Quick-Step Floors.