Mur de Huy

Mur de Huy

The Journal of Competitive Cycling -

Monday, April 28, 2008

April 23 - Fleche Wallonne

Wednesday morning arrived, I checked out of the hotel, went to the train station and headed towards Charleroi and the beginning of the Fleche Wallonne.

Upon arriving, I was able to find the staging area for the race and it was very cool to see all of the teams buses parked along the road with the bikes lined up and ready for battle. Many of the riders were hanging around and signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans or simply chilling out on the bus.

Here are some of my favorite pre-race pics, including Alejandro Valverde's saddle, David Millar, Erik Zabel, Carlos Sastre and a few others:

After the start of the race I headed back to the train station for the 45 minute ride to Huy and the finishing climbs.

As could be expected, the scene at the Mur de Huy was electric, there were people scattered all over this tiny little road through a neighborhood, that if it weren't for the Fleche Wallonne, would be completely unknown to all but it's residents.

I made my way up the climb and staked out a location to watch the riders pass. For the first pass I picked the spot I had rested the day day before as it gave a view of two parts of the climb. Once again, the helicopters overhead provided an indication of the arrival of the riders and the fans began to buzz.

For the first pass was uneventful and the second pass saw a lead group of about 20 with a 2 minute lead. Waiting for the third and final pass saw the skies begin to darken, a significant drop in the temperature and rain fall. Also had a nice surprise as the finish of the women's Fleche Wallone came by. You want to talk about some serious pain on the faces of riders, they looked cooked. The final results for the women saw Marianne Vos, the world champion just ahead of Nicole Cooke followed by Judith Arndt rounding out the podium.

About an hour later it was time for the big boys and the fireworks to ensue. I settled into my spot and awaited the telltale sound of helicopters. About an hour later it was there and through the rain, the lead lights of the moto cameras came around the bend followed very closely by Cadel Evans, David Rebellin, Damiano Cuenego, Kim Kirchen and a few others. As they went by my location Cadel surged ahead of the group but was shortly caught and passed by Kirchen who took the win.

One of the cool things was my brief appearance on television as the lead group went by, as evidenced by this screen shot from

All in all an amazing trip and a great time.

Thanks for reading

April 21 and 22 - Maastricht, Valkenberg & Huy

Monday, April 21
I woke up on Monday morning and felt refreshed and ready to go. I began the morning with a stroll trough the city of Maastricht in search of some breakfast and the local VVV (tourist information). The city was simply buzzing with people on bikes everywhere I looked, going to and from the train station to the university, the town shops and businesses, and seemingly just passing through. Bikes had to outnumber cars about 20 - 1.

The city itself is quite old world, and many of the buildings were over 500 years old. The river Muese splits the city in half and makes for some pretty nice images.

After getting a map and figuring out a rough route I headed back to the hotel to set out on my ride from Maastricht to Valkenberg to tackle the Cauberg.

I was able to piece together a few bike routes, some side streets, some country roads, and a brief illegal 3km on the autobahn (A79), to get to Valkenberg. Once there I traced the final 15-20k of the Amstel Gold Race up to the climb of the Cauberg. The length of the climb is around 1450 m, with a grade of 12% and I was actually surprised that I was able to complete it with out an excessive amount of effort. I was tired and was going quite slow, but I made it up and over nonetheless.

Following the climb I did the descent down the back side and then gradually made my way back to Maastricht in search of a shower and food, with a few brief stops along the way to take some photos, of course.

Tuesday, April 22
Tuesday morning brought about the big challenge of the trip, a journey to Huy and an attempt at the Mur de Huy (Fleche Wallonne). I loaded my bike and myself on the train in Maastricht and headed towards Huy, via Liege. I arrived in Huy around 11am and began to ride along the Muese taking in the scenery ranging from huge Belgian castles to power plants.

I put in about 70-75k rolling around Huy and surrounding areas before making my way to the dreaded climb of the Mur de Huy. The climb is about 1,300 m with an average grade of 9.3% and some sections around 26%. The route was already marked for the Fleche Wallonne (the following day) so I was able to track my progress. I followed the final 2km of the route with the climb beginning with around 1300m to go. From the 1K point I was able to make it to about 400m to go, right before the climb made a sharp left dead into the face of the 26% section. I came pretty close to simply falling over and actually had extreme difficulty walking up that section.

I am not sure the photos do it justice, but here they are:

At lastly, photographic evidence of my attempt

After making my way to the top and briefly remounting, I was met by a reporter and camera man and was able to struggle my way through an interview in French about my thoughts on the climb, how difficult it was, what the measurements were and about tomorrow's race in general. It was pretty cool, even though I couldn't breathe and was seeing stars.

On my way back down I found a nice bench and chilled out and enjoyed a snack and the scenery. I also got to see the Credit Agricole and Caisse d'Epargne teams doing recon, after seeing a few of the women's teams (British national) earlier in the day.

I made my way back to Liege and did some riding around the city and tried unsuccessfully to get towards Ans for the climb of the Cote de St. Nicolas (Liege-Bastonge-Liege), but couldn't get through the city, which was not a cycling friendly as the ones in Holland.

I finally made my way back to Maastricht, showered, packed my bike and headed out for some food

After dinner I headed back to the hotel, packed all of my stuff and got ready for the next morning's trip to Charleroi and Huy for the Fleche Wallonne.

April 20th - Amstel Gold Race

After grabbing about 2 hours of sleep in Amsterdam (the first 2 in about 30+ hours) I caught an early train and headed south to Maastricht. After a minor mishap in which I got off the train about 4 stops too soon I was able to get to my destination where I would set up base for the next few days. I arrived too early to check into my room but was able to leave my luggage and bike at the hotel before catching a train to Valkenberg and the Amstel Gold Race.

Once I arrived in Valkenberg the atmosphere was quite electric, all of the bars and restaurants around the base of the Cauberg were packed with people eating and drinking and watching the race progress as it made it's way there for the 3 climbs of the Cauberg.

I walked up and down the climb a few times to determine the best location to watch the race pass. I missed the first climb due to the train mix up but decided upon a spot around the 350m to go for the 2nd pass. As the helicopters began to appear overheard you could feel the buzz in the crowd and a few moments later the breakaway group arrived followed shortly by the peleton.

After the riders passed nearly everyone went either up or down the climb in search of more drink and food. I opted for a burger and some frites from one of the little pubs along the route. I was keeping clear of the beer because the stomach was not feeling too good that day.

After a short while (maybe and hour and a half) it was time to head back up and secure a spot to watch the final fireworks.

The final group was lead by Schlek, with Cuenego, Valverde and a few others close at hand. Shortly after passing my spot, Schlek attacked and wasn't able to hold off Cuenego who took the win, followed by Schlek and Valverde. It was quite cool to see it unfold right in front of you after watching it year after year on TV.

After the peleton came by I made my way to the top of the climb to try to catch the podium. I was not able to make it in time for the winners but did catch the presentation of the Pro Tour jersey to Cuenego.

I made my way back down the climb and headed to the train station to make my way back to Maastricht and the bed that awaited me for some good sleep for the first time in almost 3 days.

Of course the first action upon checking into the hotel room was to put my bike together and get ready for the riding the following day.....

April 19th - Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam bright and early on Saturday morning and was able to leave my luggage and bike at the airport before heading into the city to meet up with one of my friends from the UK who was still recovering from the previous night there. The early part of the day was quite nice taking in the city, the canals, and the Van Gogh museum. My general impression was that I have never in my life seen som many 6 foot tall blonde girls riding bikes. The scenery was quite pleasant.

After the museum the drinking part of the day began (and it would not end for another 12+ hours). It started nicely at a small cafe near the museum and them moved to an outdoor seating area near a town square and then finally into a series of bars, pubs and restaurants. With an ample supply of belgian beer.

For some unknown reason I ended up being spanked in one bar by both the bartender and a random woman from an adjoining party.

After dinner, we headed down to the red light district and pretty much hung out until we called it a night. Other things happened but I prefer not to think or talk about them. Suffice to say, I have done Amsterdam and have no need to go back.

It is off to Maastricht, Valkenberg and the Amstel Gold Race.......

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vacation time......

Well, my much anticipated trip to the Netherlands and Belgium is finally in sight and I am getting very psyched about it. The heavy dosage of the spring classics over the past few weeks has my very fired up to watch the big boys battle it out on the Cauberg during the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday (20th) and then again on the Mur de Huy during Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday (23rd).

Sprinkled in with the watching of the big boys are a few rides in and around Valkenburg (Cauberg), Liege, Huy (the 25% beast that is the Mur de Huy and possibly a day trip to the west to ride the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest and towards the Roubiax velodrome.

I am hoping that I will be able to catch some of the pro teams out and about doing their recovery/training/recon rides on Monday and Tuesday.

For the trip to be a success I am going to have to survive the very first day/night in Amsterdam with some friends coming over from the UK. Could get ugly.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A series of unfortunate events....

Well the much anticipated weekend of racing that officially kicked off the 2008 campaign for me ended in complete disappointment.

First out of the gate was the Tour of Walkersville on Saturday morining in beautiful Walkersville, MD. The weather forecast leading into the weekend called for relatively cold temps and consistent rain throughout the day so I got my mind prepared for those conditions. Turned out to be an absolutely gorgeus day, albeit windy as hell.

The 3/4 race had a somehwat ominous beginning when 3-4 people in front of me banged together during the neutral roll-out...IT IS A NEUTRAL ROLL-OUT PEOPLE!!!!.... Following that the race jumped immediately after entering the course (so much for the initial feeling out of a 40 mile road race). Heading into the wind on a slight uphill with rollers was a pretty decent wake up call, unfortunately I got stuck onthe right side of the road and managed to pinch my front tire between the side of the road and a drainage grate. The telltale psssst sound pretty much signlaed the end of my day before it even got going. I was fortunate in two regards following this incident 1) the nice lady that was marshalling the corner offered a tube and a pump so I was able to fix the tire and 2) the flat kept me out of the crash that followed not too long afterwards (taking down one of my teammates). After hopping back on I paired up with him and took a leisurely ride around the rest of the 8 mile course and enjoyed the scenery before calling it a day.

Day 2 of the weekend brought us the Tyson's Corner Crit, in not as beautiful Tyson's, VA. And the weather that was supposed to be with us at Walkersville managed to find it's way to Tyson's. It was rainy, windy, and just a bit cold (much like Tour of Flanders that was ongoing at the same time)....Following sign-in and warm-ups I made my way the start line with the rest of our team and awaited the opening whistle. Immediately following the "tweet" my first pedal stroke caused my chain to pop completely off and somehow get lodged between the small chain ring and the frame. To say that I was disgusted would have been quite an understatement because I ended up throwing my bike into the grass. Apparently it worked to unstick the chain and I was able to get it back on and was faced with the decision of simply strolling back to the car, warming up and calling it a day or trying to make a pointless effort to rejoin the field that was a good 2+ minutes gone. For some strange reason I opted for the latter and buried myself (as much as I can) to try to catch back on. I was never able to catch back on but did begin to pick up some off those that got spit out the back along the way. I made a few efforts to pull some teammates back into the mix before popping and riding out the end of the race. I didn't finish well (34th), but I did finish and was happy with that.

I would have thought that my bike was cursed given these events, but the fact that I used a different bike for each race puts that fear to rest.

I have decided that with upcoming vacations, and my 5 year old's busy schedule with hockey and t-ball, that I am taking the next 6 weeks off from racing and will attempt to build a second base for the end of the season races (June/July/August). We shall see how it goes.

Next up for me is a trip to Netherlands and Belgium for the Amstel Gold Race and the Fleche Wallonne and perhaps a few efforts up the Cauberg and Mur de Huy, possibly a trip across Belgium into France to give the Ardennes' Forest and Roubaix cobbles a go. Stay tuned for more