“When it’s hurting you, that’s when you can make a difference”
– Eddy Merckx
It’s 4:45 AM and my alarm is buzzing … I wake up after a terrible sleep in my hotel in Oostende. The wind had been howling the whole night and it got me a bit scared about riding this brevet 600. I eat some of the breakfast I prepared the day before and put on my cycling gear. With the Paris – Brest – Paris qualification in my head, it was a good motivation to start. With all the predicted headwind for today’s loop, I made a plan of trying to stay in a large group and let the strong riders ride up front … Spoiler alert: it didn’t go that way.
Yorick and I left for the start at 5:30 AM and there were already a lot of randonneurs at the start. A lot of known faces (hello Hendrik, Guy, Luc, …) and some unfamiliar faces. Most of them had only one goal: qualify for Paris – Brest. After doing some administration and Julien giving a pre-ride briefing Guy, Yorick and I left for the first 300k loop. In Bruges, we got a bit lost because of the GPS track that also had the return route so we got picked up by the bunch. Riding in this large group was really exhausting. Because of the storm last night (and still going strong) there were a lot of branches on the ground. Sometimes we even had to stop and climb over fallen trees. At one point branches were even flying in the air. I had no fun. None.
The first control was in Breskens and was really welcoming. I had 2 eclairs and a coffee and that got me fueled again. We were now in a smaller group but the guys in front were seasoned randonneurs and were pushing really hard. With the crosswinds, an echelon formed but they were just going to fast for me. I let myself drop together with Hendrik and rode on a more sensible pace. When passing the village for the second control I thought the gas station was outside the village but after half an hour or so I realized I just missed it. When I looked behind me I also saw that I lost Hendrik. He later told me he had a really rough time that section of the ride. So there I was … On my own for the next 200km. Battling a 5 Beaufort headwind.
Because I missed the second control I had no more water. Luckily in Sint-Gillis-Waas, I found a shop that was open. With my bottles topped and a coke I was good to go. I had marked Dendermonde on my schedule as a control where I would eat some hot food. Still, on my own, it was a long and hard ride to Dendermonde. I thought of going to Mc Donalds in Dendermonde (I had used it before when cycling) but it was too crowded and I decided on riding to the city center. I spotted a Domino’s pizzeria where I even could park my bike inside. I quickly ordered a pizza and 2 cokes and sat down. It actually felt a bit lonely sitting there alone, but I took the time to chat with my wife and cycling friends a bit. The pizza was served quickly and I got to recharge my phone and GPS also. I felt really good and was happy that the sun was out when leaving Dendermonde.
Sadly it wasn’t for long. Although I was now cycling along the Schelde river and with its bends and turns, I had some protection from the wind it started raining … It started with a few drops but it was soon hosing down. As I thought it was just a short rain shower I didn’t care for getting my rain jacket out. But it kept on raining and I got cold. Luckily the sun started shining after the rain and in no time I was in Ghent. The city center was quite busy and it wasn’t much fun riding there. I remember the grueling stretch of canals after Ghent from our Duo Diagonaal adventure and it was as gruelling as it was then. The wind was picking up again and I was getting really slow. As I was getting hungry I was really happy to reach Bruges. Sadly on the route, I didn’t find anything to eat and I didn’t feel like riding into the city center. I pushed on to Oostende. Finally arriving in Oostende I quickly found a chip shop and had some dinner. It was nearly 8 PM now and when I cycled towards the hotel I caught up with Hendrik. He wasn’t sleeping in Oostende but had to ride to Dunquerke. I was so happy to be in the hotel. A quick shower, cleaning my clothes and preparing everything for the morning I was in bed at 8:45 PM. I quickly messaged Yorick that I’de be leaving at 4 AM and went to bed.
It’s 3:15 AM and my alarm is buzzing … I wake up after a really good sleep but when I get out of bed my left knee feels a bit sore. I eat some of my overnight oats and pack the bike for another 300km. I wonder if Yorick is also getting up and joining me. I close the door of my room and as I wait for the lift Yorick opens his door: “I’m almost ready”. It’s 4:15 AM when we set off for our second loop …
It was a little bit chilly outside but with my Endura puff jacket, it was really cozy. The first 2 hours were hard for me. My stomach was acting up and I really felt sick. I felt like throwing up and really craved a cola. It felt like we were going fast our pace was rather slow. The sun was rising and we were in France. I couldn’t be happier. Cycling in the north of France is just amazing and I was finally feeling better. In no time the first control of the day showed up: Bourbourg. And even better: there was a bakery open that had fresh croissants and coke. When we were sitting on a bench eating our breakfast Guy showed up. He was sitting in a café just around the corner but we were just leaving. He asked that we wouldn’t ride to fast so he could catch up … We didn’t see him for over 150km.
We were now riding towards the coast and the scenery was nothing but amazing. I really enjoyed it and I saw that Yorick was also enjoying himself. We were full of energy and within no time the next control, Wissant, was there. We stopped at the café where I stopped on a previous brevet and had a coffee and a coke. When we were sitting on the terras a large group of randonneurs arrived. We didn’t wait for them and set off for a beautiful ride towards Boulogne-sur-Mer. The côte d’opale is amazing to ride your bike and it’s not flat! Boulogne-sur-Mer was just 30km from the previous control and it was time to eat something again. The route didn’t take us to the city center but after googling we found a Courte Paille just 700m from the route. Some decent hot food and drinks are perfect to fill the energy levels.
When we left Boulogne the weather was really nice and I really enjoyed myself. The only thing that was worrying me was my left knee. On the climbs, it was getting a bit painful. Sadly I didn’t carry any ibuprofen with me this time, I just had to toughen up I guess ;-). The km’s now were passing quickly and before we knew it the next to last control in Watten showed up. When we parked our bikes I noticed a diaria brown (sorry, cognac ;-)) Jeagher bike but didn’t saw the rider. I knew this was Guy’s bike. It was so good to see him again and I think he was also happy to see us again. We filled up our bottles and drank a coke and the three of us set off for the final stretch of 100km.
With the climb out of Watten, the hardest climbs were behind us and we were now riding on pleasant rolling hills. It was the best 100km of the entire ride, riding with the three of us. We did however still got into a hose down just before the final control but we couldn’t care less and kept on pushing. When we arrived at the last control I saw they had some hot food. That was what I needed for the final stretch of 30km. After eating a nice croque monsieur we were off. In no time we were at the finish and giving our cards back to Julien. What. A. Ride.
By riding this brevet 600 I got my Paris – Brest – Paris qualification. It was also a good test for me. The previous brevet 600 I rode in one go without sleeping. The short sleep was really good, the only thing that you have to keep in mind when having a sleep is time. In the end, I finished with 1 hour and 30 minutes to spare and I found that a bit stressful (my previous brevet 600 I had 11 hours to spare when finished …).
- Total time (official): 38:33
- Moving time (GPS): 25:45
- Avg. speed: 24 km/h
- Elevation: 1920 m