Published: 12th September, 2015
The Flanrou's organisers were inspired by the epic spring classics the Tour of Flanders and the Paris Roubaix and after its first edition it looks like they may have the beginnings of an Autumn classic. The event ran off last weekend – the first weekend in September. Starting at the Somerset Rebels speedway arena (and you thought that you could drift your bike!) groups set off for a completely new challenge – utterly uncharted territory, even for the locals.
I’ve got to admit to have been being very excited about this one, the videos made it look cool and branding indicated that this was clearly an endeavour into which the organisers were putting a lot of effort.
The ride was in a relaxed sportive format: set off when you want, couple of feed stops, “non-competitive” (yeah right!), route cards, gpx, signage… what makes it VERY DIFFERENT from any sportive that I’ve ever ridden before was the terrain. This part of Somerset is has been laid out like a grid by the actions of the peat workers over the last few centuries (there are even the remains of 4000 year old trackways built the original “Somer Settlers”). This grid consists of the “Rhynes” (drainage channels) and a network of roads (sort of) and droves (definitely not a road!). The route consisted of 96km of good, quiet, roads..deserted backroads, “14 Sectors” – the droves and the “bergs”. There had been a lot of debate about the ideal machine for the day, and the start showed that no consensus had formed. Many a hard-tail, cx bikes, gravel bikes and the odd full susser. Tyre choice was also very varied. I had gone for a full suss 29er (those droves are rough at speed) on 28mm tubeless road tyres (quick on the black-top).
I was two in minds as I rolled out with my mates from my usual Cheddar Cycles’ Sunday club run, was this a social or a was I going for it? After spinning along at a social(ish) pace for the first 10km we hit the first “berg”, as I pulled away from the pack I knew that there was no way that I was letting this one go!
This area is not mountainous so all of the climbs, up the ridges of dry ground that surround the levels were going to be short – but they are steep! At the top of the berg we turned straight onto the first sector of “shiz”, and I decided to see how long I go this hard.
The ride was absolutely fantastic, a 5-star route. The mixture of on- and off-road sections, open-skyed levels, rooted muddy tracks, 3km long gravel straights, broken tarmac and slick road was a challenge for every rider and their machine (my main pivot gave up). And then there were the Bergs! I love climbing, I seek out hills, reminisce on Mayhem courses of old when they really had climbs, but these little suckers killed me. I cannot believe what the series of 50m ramps, taken flat out, had done to my legs.
I had a great tussle with often team-mate Ollie Taylor, whom I caught half-way, and smugly thought that I could stick with to take the win, Roubaix velodrome style on the final lap of the speedway track. Unfortunately I had not figured for the toll that the bergs had taken on me and the effect that this would have on the final 3 of the 14 sectors. On these long rough, rutted tracks my legs fell off and I was left pushing where Ollie could pump his way through. As I entered the arena for my final lap of dirt I could see Ollie relaxing in the Sun, he’d pulled 5min from me in that last hour. Chapeau Ollie!
The event organisation was super, the Flanrou being part of a whole weekend of action that featured a Saturday of short course cx action in the arena with floodlit finals. Use of the clubhouse, bar, big screen (cycling), proper loos, camping, hot food, demo bikes, mechanical service…….. what more can you ask for? And as for the event it was a brilliant plan to make use of the area’s utterly unique characteristics to put together a tough ride that could be enjoyed as a social, a challenging workout on mixed terrain or a chance to thrash yourself as a head down competition! Nowhere else will there ever be an event like this. I’ve ridden a lot of Dyfi’s, Brecon Beasts, Margams, Newnhams, 24-hours, cx and xc – but this was proper hard and proper fun!