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Welcome to the Tilff - Bastogne - Tilff

Like the Amstel Gold in April, the Tilff-Bastogne-Tillff is part of the Pro Cycling Tour and takes place in Belgium (however the pros do it a few weeks earlier than the amatuers and leave / return to Liege so it's called the Liege - Bastogne - Liege and is the longest of all the Spring Classics). This is the second year that Gibbo has done this event, the first being in 2007, where the unpredictable European Spring weather made for a very tough and uncomfortable ride. However, this year, the sun gods shined upon us and presented somewhere between 25 - 28 degrees for the entire day.

Gibbo and Matt (another keen Aussie cyclist) choose the parcours of 237kms (with the other choices being 137kms and 67kms) and at least 10 climbs of various levels lay ahead as many thousands of cyclists headed south from Tilff at 7:30am to the city of Bastogne, made famous during WWII in the Battle of the Bulge. The training had been done in the lead up to the event, albeit mostly on the flat roads of Holland, although Matt had been ill in the two weeks beforehand and also developed a problem with his upper leg (no need to go into details as it's sounded fairly ordinary) so wasn't feeling 100% come race day. Eight plus hours in the saddle was going to be a test regardless, but to his credit he started and finished the demanding course without complaint or excuses. Perhaps the five energy bars and a gel consumed during the ride did something to numb the pain?

Gibbo and Matt ready to start their 237km ride
Gibbo and Matt at the start of their 237km ride

The Ardennes are well known for short but punishing climbs. Anything between 4kms at 5% average through to 1.6kms at 21% max gradient (known as La Redoute) are what you encounter. Travelling south to Bastogne, the first climb of the day comes at the 18kms mark, Cote d'Oneux, and this is a tough one to start, reaching around 12% towards the end of the climb. Of course, the race organisers put a photographer there, so you are encouraged to look happy even though you feel like it's going to be a very long day in, and out, of the saddle. However, before reaching Bastogne at 90kms, there are only three climbs to contend with, so it was reasonable going on the flats and gradual inclines, much of which seemed to be a headwind. Matt thought he was feeling rather ordinary at 40kms, so tucked in behind Gibbo, who was feeling pretty good after two days rest and more food in him than on a Christmas Day!

Nicki with her Go Gibbo sign  Gibbo at the 150km mark

After a drink stop in Bastogne, it was time to start heading home, albeit the long way with 150kms still to ride. Matt seemed content to ride in any number of packs that had formed along the route, however these were a little slow / little boring / little dangerous for Gibbo, and he decided to test his legs and ride solo away from the pack that had formed out of Bastogne. The goal was to stay away as long as possible and beat the pack to where the designated meeting spot for Nicki and Debs was going to be. After dropping us off at the start earlier in the morning, the two girls returned home to do their own training by running for an hour on the roads around the cottage where we were staying. After that, it was down the freeway to see us (and supply any needed fuel) and encourage us to keep going. This was repeated (and welcomed!) about 3 hours later on La Redoute as both Matt and Gibbo struggled up the 21% climb, 220kms into the ride. Nice work girls (particularly the signs!). Gibbo stayed away for over an hour.

Gibbo going up La Radoute
Gibbo heading up La Redoute - 21% gradient climb

After putting down a much needed Coke, Matt bravely decided to continue and ride on. Clearly he was struggling due to illness / sore leg / depleted fitness, but it was such a great day, that it would have been rude not to keep going. However, he and Gibbo became separated and the next drink station and then each rode solo for another hour or so before meeting at the next break. It was then onto the finish (still a good few hours away) together for a well-earned beer. A number of tough climbs were still to come, including Cote de Wanne, Cote d'Amermont and Cote du Rosier, each of them getting you closer to Cote La Redoute (in their wisdom, the organisers post signs along the route telling riders how far to go before reaching La Redoute). It was tough, but enjoyable, going up this climb that kicks up to 21%, then flattens out for about 30m, before kicking up to 21% again. Many people struggle, and fail, to stay upright! It's all part of the atmosphere.

Arriving in Tilff, we found a nice spot of grass, took the shoes off and waited for the girls in the shade. Then it was back to the cottage for one of the best tasting bbqs that anyone could ask for. A great ride in great weather and look forward to the 2009 edition. Go to www.sport.be/cyclingtour/tilffbastognetillf/2008/eng

cottage we stayed in near Tilff  bbq area of the cottage   The lovely little cottage we stayed in near Tilff         The glorious BBQ area that got plenty of use

For information regarding cottages in the Ardennes go to:  www.ardennes-etape.com/index.php
         
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