Wheelers in Liège 2016

On the 23rd April 2016, a brave (some say foolish) group of Kingston Wheelers headed to Belgium to undertake the ride of their life. 270-odd kilometres in the Ardennes Forest. This is their story, as recounted by Phil Barella.

 

This was my third time riding Liège and the worst weather to start the day with. Our bunch of 10 included people that love the hills and people like me who have seen better days! On Friday afternoon we did a recce of the famous La Redoute climb, a favourite of mine despite it being pretty brutal. The skinny folk sped off up ahead but I knew I couldn’t keep up with them so was happy with passing two local club riders up the hill! We regrouped at the top and then proceeded back down to our residence for some carb loading, Belgian beers and a pasta dinner cooked by Alex, Harry and Luca.

It seems like we all had the usual sleepless night before a sportive, with a nasty wake up at 5am to pretty steady rain. When we arrived to the start I thought if I tried to paced myself I’d finish within an hour of the guys as I didn’t want to hold them up, but it sounds like they all decided to beat each other up all the way along the ride. The cold weather and the fact that two others were doing the middle distance changed my mind, Poor Luca was left in no man’s land as three of us did the left turn of shame… to the middle route. The middle distance was still pretty hard, but really nothing worse than one of our harder club rides. Because I was fresher than usual I beat some PB’s uphill and also was second fastest on the last bit in Wheelers colours (stuck behind traffic, as Barry out-descended the locals on cobbled roads!) We arrived back to the finish for a well earned beer and hot dog (actually two of each) then went back and waited to hear the news of how the others faired.  

It sounds like Joe and Ollie ripped everything to shreds, Harry, and Alex being blown out the back but pacing themselves and nearly catching up! It seems that Tim was the canniest, making a late break for the finish line whilst the others were in the red. Luca got back after spending a lot of time on his own in what must have been the hardest one man 270+km time trial ever. What doesn’t make you stronger…. 

After everyone got back, we went to a local restaurant in Comblain au Pont and had a steak dinner washed down with more Leffe, then went back home to finish the beers at home whilst listening to a very expensive Spotify playlist (Harry hadn;t connected to wi-fi). The following morning we woke up to see huge snow flakes, outside the house. For some reason none of us wanted to brave that and the cold so we all departed earlier than planned and got back to the UK a bit earlier. The pro’s looked like they were really suffering, which is always nice… and Wout Poels won the race to take Sky’s first ever monument. The usual suspects got caught out on the cobbled climb.

View from the fastest Wheeler, Tim Bunnell:

From my point of view it was a classic “tortoise and the hare” day, where a combination of good eating strategy, quick descending and listening to Phil’s sage advice of “keeping it below 80% on the climbs” helped keep me in touch with younger and faster clubmates.

When I caught up with Alex, Harry, Ollie and Joe in Bastogne they seemed to be treating it as crit race, with the attacks coming in every kilometre or so. So not surprisingly there were some pretty tired faces by the time we got to Saint-Nicolas!

Quick footnote - in fact Joe, Ollie and I almost let Harry back into the race by taking a 2km wrong turn in Ans . If you look on Strava it was nip and tuck.