To quote Jean-Luc Godard, a story should have a beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. Previous readers will have noticed a distinct theme – enthusiastic amateur cyclist takes on a decent but definitely attainable challenge, fails to prepare bike or body, has an unfortunate toilet related incident, suffers a setback that surely heralds failure but somehow muddles through to the end. But not this time baby, oh no. And not only because I didn’t have cause to utter waar is het toilet alstublieft? once.
I really wasn’t having much fun. And I only had myself to blame. The wind was bitter, my shoulders slumped and I’d last seen my cycling companions a couple of hours previously. I also had no idea where I was or how far I had to go. But what I did know was that I had Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg still to come plus “a 10 mile slow tap” back to the campsite afterwards. Suddenly the gung ho bragging the night before about not carrying food and drink didn’t seem so clever. Clearly I’d cooked my own spleen, farted into a fan if you will.
I’d ridden the Ronde van Vlaanderen with Ruddock and The Mechanic in 2012 and, quite bizarrely, wanted to return. This time I was with a different group, keen and lean cyclists all who were thinking nothing of riding 10 miles to the start (easy enough) and then 10 miles home again at the end (dear god). Weighing myself before leaving home, I was just shy of 16 stone and with the defined musculature of Spam. Julian, who I was travelling with, was 11 stone and had written strategies for food, clothing and hydration. But I’m getting well ahead of myself so, embracing the spirit of La Nouvelle Vague, I’ll go back to the start.