Thursday drove from Huy and arrived at La Redoute climb around lunchtime. The first third of the climb has been designated as a motorhome parking area, the rest of the climb is barriered off at both ends and has been kept traffic free since we arrived. We positioned the van just down from the Phillippe Gilbert fan club marquee and set about having some lunch. A couple of teams came by training so Kay got her camera at the ready just in case! She was rewarded shortly after by seeing a team of black clad cyclists appearing further down the climb, I grabbed my Dave’s riders in the Sky flag and stood outside waving it whilst giving a hearty cheer, this seemed to amuse the boys and put smiles on their faces, all except Bradley, however as he passed by he did give me some acknowledgement! Later that evening there was a tap on the van door and it was a Swiss couple that we had met in Huy, they have decided not to come onto the actual climb to watch the race but are staying down in the town along with many other motorhomes as it is much quieter. They came in for a drink and we passed a pleasant couple of hours talking cycling (just for a change), naturally they are big Cancellara fans and over the years he has got to know them quite well.
Friday, a white frost on the grass this morning when we looked out, we had realised it was cold in the night but with the heater on the van was quite cosy so it was a bit of a shock when we stepped out. However, the sun was out in a cloudless sky so it soon warmed up, enough for us to get the bikes out and go for a 4 hour ride in the Ardennes.
Saturday, we were awoken to the sound of car doors closing, voices and cycle cleats on the ground, on looking out I could see that the road adjacent to La Redoute climb had been turned into a big car park and all around were cyclists attaching numbers to their bikes – it was the Phillippe Gilbert Sportive which was starting from the fan club marquee just up the road. Having decided to have a quiet day we walked to the top of the climb and found a circular walk back through some nice rural countryside, once we had reached the van again there were many sportive riders finishing their ride and as there had been about 4 different distances this continued all afternoon until early evening.
We took a stroll along the line of campers after our evening meal and once again bumped into a family of Belgians who we had met at races before, Steven & Pascale and their 2 children. This is the second year they have been to watch Liege, apparently last year was not so restrictive for the motorhomes, so once again it seems as though it is getting more difficult. They also told us that last year they were flying the Flandrian flag and were told by the local Mayor that unless they removed it they would have to leave, obviously a clear demonstration of how divided the country of Belgium is.
Sunday, race day. Oh what a night – the Phillippe Gilbert fan club had a party that went on until 3 a.m. with extremely loud music and when they finally left the marquee they found a new amusement – blowing their car horns just in case some motorhomers were still asleep! Bleary eyes all around. The morning was spent people watching with various English speakers stopping for a chat. A young Irishman jumped over the barrier from the adjacent road to ask what was going on with all the campers and people, he was on his way to Spa to see the car racing circuit and so we explained to him that he was in the midst of one of the greatest cycling classics in the calendar. He decided to stay and wait for the race – maybe another convert? Also throughout the morning we were treated to the spectacle of a classic car rally on the adjacent road, this all added to the atmosphere.
As the morning drew to a close the crowds were building and the Belgians around the marquee were indulging in their second favourite sport of beer drinking and frites. We lit the BBq and had an early lunch as we had decided to walk from the van to a steeper part of the climb to watch the race. After about an hour the pre race caravan came through, not a patch on the Tour but they were throwing out a lot of sweets! Before we knew it the helicopters heralded the arrival of the race, a lone Bbox rider ahead of the peleton, which surprisingly was still one big bunch in spite of being about half way up the climb. The size of the bunch and the narrowness of the road, combined with the speed of the riders resulted in Kay being very disappointed in the quality and number of photos she was able to take. After the riders had passed we rushed down to the van to pick up the race on the Sky plus box.
I found the race very strange, and must admit was disappointed with the final outcome – I personally think that cycling’s past is better left in the past.
On reflection this has been a very good Classics trip, we have enjoyed meeting lots of people all with the common interest of cycling. It was also great to make contact with the Sky team and to receive their appreciation of our efforts in support of them.
This experience of blogging has been our first and for silver surfers has at times been a little stressful – however, we hope that people have enjoyed our experiences and it may encourage others in the future.