A local and heinous cobbled climb......top secret location
I need a diversion (as well as an excuse to continue this blog) now the cross season is over. My diversion last year was a trip to Flanders by way of a 40th Birthday recognition, as well as a more direct immersion in the cycling sub-culture that is the Spring Classics.
This year is no different, and to fill the void left by the abscence of cross races to watch or ride, I find myself returning to the medium that in many ways is closely allied to the challenging surfaces of cross - cobbles. Actually, I do not restrict the definition purely to cobbles, embracing not just cobbles but any road surface that is less than perfect - that is marked, pitted, potholed, gravelly,muddy, covered in organic matter etc. Basically anything that would frighten a time triallist silly, but presents the kind of challenge that Flandrian lanes, bergs, hellingen, Italian white gravel lanes a la Eroica, or Roubaix cobbles deliver in abundence.
The area in which I live is beautiful and conveniently hilly, with badly maintained, winter scarred roads. It also has a past firmly rooted in the Industrial Revolution and for a cyclist yearning for the true Belgian experience (that'll be me then), the presence of cobbles in many places makes it impossible not to draw parallels.
Hence the seeds of a Ronde van Oost Lancashire were born last year when I began to search out some of the steeper or more extensive cobbled streets to practice for the real thing in Flanders.
I began to think more about a route that pays homage to the real Ronde earlier this year - it requires multiple short sharp climbs, some tarmacced, some cobbled as well as some flatter faster sections of cobbles. The route of the Ronde van Vlaanderen itself is not necessarily an obvious nor classic one (and it varies slightly each year) - it ducks and dives around the area simply using the escarpments of the Flandrian hills to provide the challenge of the famous hellingen or hills. So too for my Ronde, using the rolling hills of this corner of Lancashire, some urbanised, some still very rural.
The Ronde profile is somewhat spiky after a pan flat start:
I've elected to avoid the flat start (there isn't any flat round here anyway) and get straight to the heart of the affair:
I begun riding and recceing sections of the route with cobble-sceptic friend Mark last weekend and will continue to tweak and refine it hopefully to give a memorable day out on a bike. There is still some debate for me whether to include a particular cobbled climb that I think is harder than the infamous Koppenberg! This unfortunately would take the route away from its heartland and towards a neighbouring county as well as adding distance so we shall see. The ultimate aim is to post the route here when it has been tweaked (over the next few weeks), with a downloadable Cue Sheet to allow others within striking distance to come and discover a little bit of Flanders in Northern England.