In the name of
pain and love
Strava Challenge Diary
Words: Miriam Terruzzi
Images: Wout Beel
Four days in the heart of Flanders under the wings of Tom Boonen, on the eve of the 100th World Championship.
The feeling of racing in Roubaix alongside Tom Boonen on the velodrome was like a dream come true. What happens when you put six cycling enthusiasts
together on a special adventure with Tom Boonen? You become friends for life! I had never ridden so hard on cobblestones in my entire life. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it an incredible experience? Double yes!
It happens on one morning in June, rollers, search for the challenge to face. Among the many proposals, Worth the Effort by La Passione: a 6-hour race in 14 days. The prize, a ticket for the hospitality of the 100th World Road Championship in Belgium preceded by two days with one of the biggest cycling stars of all time, Tom Boonen. An experience that just reading about it will excite you and push you towards the goal. There is no time to waste. It might sound like a completely made-up story, but it's what Stijn, Tom, Thijmen, Jerone and Bruno really experienced, not stones but cobblestones, beer, frites and people seriously in love with a sport totally out of the ordinary. Being in Belgium before, after and during the race is something, you will never forget.
"Having had the chance to win a Strava challenge in which thousands of other people participated in made me feel even more privileged to race with Tom Boonen on the cobblestones."
On the roads of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen
The Ronde and its roads have a special meaning for anyone with an intense relationship with two wheels. We stopped at Geraardsbergen to eat rice cakes and, from there, all of Belgium unfolds below us in the sweetness of the morning. That's cycling, the usual combination of peace and storm, fatigue mixed with pleasure. On the final straight of Oudenaarde you can feel that disconcerting sensation of having done a sort of round-the-world trip, after all this is what Flanders is for us, a small microcosm where we can find ourselves. The beer in Gent downtown tastes like the end of a run, when tiredness overtakes everything, but there is one last thing that remains and that is wonder. Like that of the city surrounded by its canals, while the first lights of the evening come on.
"People first...Tom, the support team and the other participants. We formed such a great group, enjoyed our time together, the rides, the drinks, and the jokes. As for the races...we rode the famous roads of Flanders and the iconic Roubaix cobblestones. We couldn't have asked for better places to race. In Leuven, we stood on the finish line during the World Championship, surrounded by thousands of cycling fans - the kind of excitement you can only experience there. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I will remember it forever."
Step into the legend
Everyone can picture what the Forest is like during the days of Paris-Roubaix. But everyone feels something different when they enter Arenberg for the first time, with no racing, no bikes, no nothing. Embraced by the silence we can only hear our hands screaming from the sores left by the sectors. This is one of the few places where cycling has left its mark forever, where you get chills even when you're not racing. Kind of like the velodrome line. Unique like few other places in the world and where Les amis de Paris Roubaix presented Tom with a gift: five cobblestone cubes with the dates of his victories written on them. On the fifth one there are no numbers, of course, but a heart. To show how a feeling can be worth more than a hundred victories here.
"Cycling on the cobbles of "Vlaanderens Mooiste" and Roubaix with the guidance of a multiple winner like Tom Boonen was a truly goosebump- inducing experience. Especially in the last few kilometers of the Paris-Roubaix - with the wet Carrefour de l'Arbre - were incredible. Being on Tom's wheel and seeing how he pedals on the cobblestones, the trajectories of the turns and the epic atmosphere you feel on arriving at the velodrome: it was an experience I won't forget anytime soon."
Rows of white tombstones guard the memories, at the cemetery of Tyne Cot, in the heart of Flanders. Here rest, in peace at long last, the British soldiers who died and were lost at Ypres Salient on the Western Front. On days like these, it's hard to believe that so much blood has been spilled over this land. That's what wars do, they destroy and try to make people forget about the destruction. But cycling has the power to fix everything in our memories, even the least vivid images manage to come back to light as if we had lived them yesterday.
"A truly unforgettable experience during which I made some great friends. Everyone got along well and bonded almost immediately. Pedaling on the cobblestones with - or rather behind - Tom Boonen was really something special that I will always remember."
The link between the Flemish people and racing is something that belongs to tradition, to blood, to DNA. The centenary of the World Championship in Belgium is an event that in itself is destined to remain in sporting history, beyond the competition itself. That's how we spend the last, memorable day in this land of passion, right above the finish line, with the chants of half the world in our ears and the feeling that the action there is the purest in the universe.
Sacrifice, instinct, and madness mingle in the last light, above the rainbow.
"Returning to the roads where I have raced for years has given me a wonderful feeling that I had not experienced before. No competition stress, just the beauty of riding and fully experiencing it. I have to say that I enjoyed the tension of the preparation and the race, but I really appreciated these days. The group of people I rode with were incredibly well matched, we had a great time and I hope they got a taste of the magic atmosphere of these iconic cycling locations."