SPRING CLASSICS BIKES...
BELGIUM…BEER & BREWERY

WHO Our fearless leader, Robert ‘Brewbob’ Lindsay, head brewer and MD of six°north

WHAT One man’s cycling (and beer sampling) escapade to ride around 13 breweries, at the 0° roots of where six°north born. Oh...and doing two of the Spring Classics (Paris-Roubaix & LBL 100) plus a Collabrew with Alvinne, one of Belgium’s funkiest breweries!

WHY Well...with an equal passion for both brewing and cycling, plus an affinity with Belgium, this has been on the top of Brewbob’s bucket list for some time!

WHEN Starting on the 11th of April, Brewbob and his band of merry pushbikers shall be taking on the Paris-Roubaix road race. A grueling 140km sportive over some nasty cobbles! Then Brewbob takes to the lowlands himself, visiting a myriad of Belgium’s finest breweries to make some new friends and find some new beer to take home. His final sportive, the LBL100 (Liege-Bastogne-Liege) Centenary is on the 25th of April.

WHERE Belgium of course! Brewbob will be two-wheel cruising over a total of 1000km whilst he’s there, taking in the sights, smells and beers…the origins of six°north

WHAT NEXT Along with the collabrew from Alvinne, Brewbob will be cherry picking some of Belgium’s finest brews to import to Scotland. Many of these will not have seen on British shores and will give all us 6DNorthers something to get really excited about! Added to this we’ve no doubt that Brewbob’s dogged tenacity will attract some reciprocal collabrews from a few of Belgium’s finest. With visits to Scotland in the late summer to brew some concoctions at the six°north brewery! We’ll keep you posted!

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One man’s cycling and beer sampling escapade to the 0° roots of where six°north was born.

Oh...and doing two of the Spring Classics plus a collabrew with Alvinne, one of Belgium’s funkiest breweries!

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Liège–Bastogne–Liège

Liège–Bastogne–Liège, often called “La Doyenne” (“the oldest”), is one of the five ‘Monuments’ of the European professional road cycling calendar. It is run in the Ardennes region of Belgium, from Liège to Bastogne and back covering a total distance of 276 kilometres.

The race began in 1892 to publicise the newspaper L'Expresse. It is because the paper was published in French that the route stayed in the southern, French-speaking half of Belgium. Its equivalent in the Dutch-speaking north is the Tour of Flanders.

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Ronde van Vlaanderen

Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders or to give it it’s nick name “Vlaanderens mooiste” (“Flanders' finest”) is the most important race on the Belgian calendar and one of the single-day monuments in cycling, that alone can make the winner's career a success.

The elite race currently starts in Bruges and finishes in Meerbeke covering a total distance of 239 kilometres. The route is characterised by a series of short, sharp, cobbled climbs, 18 in total!

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Paris–Roubaix

Paris–Roubaix is one of cycling's oldest races, it has been called the “l’enfer du Nord” (“Hell of the North”) and is known for its many cobbled sectors.

Until 1967 it started in Paris and ended in Roubaix; since 1968 the start has been in Compiègne (about 85 kilometres north-east from Paris centre), the finish is still in Roubaix, covering a total distance of 253.5 kilometres.

Since 1977, the winner of Paris–Roubaix has received a sett (cobble stone) as part of their prize. The terrain has led to the development of specialised frames, wheels and tyres. Punctures and other mechanical problems are common and often influence the result.

Paris–Roubaix Paris–Roubaix cobels
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St Bernardus Brewery

Trappistenweg 23, 8978 Watou, Belgium

In the late 19th century anti-clericalism in France forced the Catsberg Abbey Community to move to the village of Watou in West Flanders, Belgium. The Refuge Notre Dame de St.Bernard was established, originally producing cheese to finance abbey activities.

In 1945, the Trappist monastery St. Sixtus decided it would stop the sale of its beer and an agreement was reached whereby the monks would brew only beer for their own consumption but sell it to the public at the gates of the monastery and to a few taverns connected to the monastery.

Deconinck brewed and sold the Trappist beers under license before a new contract was agreed in 1962. In 1992, that agreement came to an end because the Trappist Monasteries decided that Trappist beer could only be brewed inside the walls of a monastery. Since 1992 the beers brewed in Watou have been sold under the brand name St Bernardus.

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De Ranke Brewery

Rue du Petit-Tourcoing 1, 7711 Mouscron, Belgium

The De Ranke brewery was founded by two good friends, Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos.

Their story is a classic in Belgium, where the very best craft brewing usually begins as a passionately pursued hobby, not an occupation. For Nino and Guido, brewing was literally a weekend obsession, with the Deca Brewery in West Flanders turned over to them for a few hours on Friday and Saturday.

After 11 years of brewing at Deca a totally new brewery was started in Dottignies where the De Ranke brewers, make what many consider the best specialty beers of Belgium.

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d'oude maalderij Brewery

Zwevezeelsestraat 4, 8851 Ardooie, Belgium

Brewfirm D'Oude Maalderij (the old malthouse or D.O.M. brewery) was founded in 2011 in Koolskamp, Belgium. The first test-brews were made in a tiny 20L brewkettle in a place where grains had been malted for decades. 4 friends, beer lovers and tasters crafted new recipes, day and night like obscure alchemists.

Today, in a sincere and honest way, D.O.M. brewery continues to practice the ancient and respectable craft of beer brewing, although 3 of the 4 brothers got carried away by other passions.

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Brewers Verzet (Brouwers Verzet bvba)

Grote Leiestraat 117, 8570 Anzegem, Belgium

These brewers aim at brewing honest and obstinate beers for the connoisseur who loves personality and character. They are continually developing and optimising their own recipes.

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Brewery (Brouwerij) Toye

Rekkemsestraat, 8510 Kortrijk, Belgium

Biology graduate Geert Toye from Marke began brewing beer at eighteen, fifteen years later he has his own brewery in an old flax barn in Rekkemsestraat, which he built himself!

His beer, named Goedendag (after the weapon used during the Battle of the Spurs), has taken over a decade to perfect. The result is a light lager, similar to Duvel and Omer, but with a slightly fruity taste and at 8% is a fairly serious weapon in itself.

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Alvinne Brewery

Oostrozebekestraat 114, 8770 Ingelmunster, Belgium

The name of the brewery derives from a female spirit of local folk tales, who can be seen depicted on the brewery's logo and labels.

The brewery creates a wide range of beers, including versions of 'traditional' Belgian styles such as Strong Golden Ales, Abbey-style beers and Saison, as well as original creations that cross stylistic boundaries and beers inspired by styles from outside their home country.

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Brasserie de la Senne

Chaussée de Gand 565, 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Belgium

The beers of Brasserie de la Senne are produced by two passionate brewers from Brussels, Yvan De Baets and Bernard Leboucq.

They work in a small brewery honouring the traditional ways of brewing beer; unfiltered, unpasteurized, free of any additives, using only the finest raw materials of the highest quality. Their dedication to uncompromised quality is definitely one of the outstanding characteristics of the brewery.

The beers, with their complex flavour and well-distinguished personalities, are true beers of character, made in Brussels.

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Dupont Brewery

Rue Basse 5, 7904, Belgium

An independent brewery, run by the family Dupont, still brewing the traditional way, and specialised in producing beers re-fermented in the bottle.

The current brewery, founded in 1950, is located on a working farm which dates back to 1759 and has significant brewing history.

Historically, their best-selling beer was the Moinette Blonde. However, the popularization of the Saison Dupont by their American importer in the 1980s has led to great international popularity for this beer, which provides a link to the historic farmhouse ales of the region.

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Brewery of Brunehaut

Rue des Panneries 17, 7623 Rongy, Belgium

In 1890 the Allard family founded the Brunehaut brewery in Guignies. It became known in the region for brewing beers like "La Druide" and "Brunehaut 8°".

In 1991 the company took on a new challenge and moved into modern buildings while maintaining its traditional character and the quality of its products, qualified as "grand crus" by connoisseurs. An alliance of Modernity and Tradition! These are the company's motto, a real creed for the brewers at Brunehaut Brewery.

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Leite Brewery

De Leiteweg 32, 8020 Ruddervoorde, Belgium

In 1997, Luc Vermeersch, founder of De Leite brewery has already experimented with a small brewing installation in a garden house.

Together with his friend Etienne Van poucke he attended a one year brewing course, in the process meeting his other brewing partner, Paul Vanneste.

This trio has been intensively engaged in the new De Leite brewery from 2008 onwards.

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The Musketeers Brewery

Antwerpse Steenweg, 9041 Oostakker, Belgium

Centuries ago, young men traveled the countryside singing and telling stories for people to enjoy and to keep traditions alive – they were called "Troubadours".

With their Troubadour beers The Musketeers Brewery want to keep the production and development of specialty beers alive – and like their legendary namesakes, explore the world step by step bringing pleasure and entertainment to all.

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Fantôme Brewery

Rue Préal 8, 6997 Soy, Belgium

Founded in 1988, Brasserie Fantôme has gained international attention and a cult following among lovers of craft beers.

Owned and run by Dany Prignon, Fantôme is known for its unique variations on the Saison style of farmhouse ale, often involving the use of herbs, spices or fruit juice.

Within the craft beer community, Fantome saisons are considered highly desirable and have developed a significant audience in the United States and United Kingdom.

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Brasserie de Jandrain-Jandrenouille

34 (ou 32), rue de la Féculerie, 1350 Jandrain-Jandrenouille

The brewery was founded in 2006 by Alexandre Dumont Chassart and Stéphane Meulemans who had studied together at the Catholic University of Louvain.

The brewery is located the eighteenth century Hesbignonne far. Thier first beer Saison IV was launched in June 2007

At present, Alexandre Dumont Chassart continues the project solo and is working to increase the capacity of the brewery and the development of new products.

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Day 1

Part 1

The Plan, the Trip and the start of ‘The Hell of The North’!

I'd always wanted to experience the perverse pleasure of riding three of the worlds most revered cycling events during April in my adopted second home of Belgian…but how can you justified taking three weeks off to her in doors!!! Then the ‘front light’ shone brightly, I rushed home to present my inspiration…

BrewBob: "You know I’ve always fancied doing these cycling events in Belgium but can't justify the time off"
Mrs BrewBob: "WHY?"
BrewBob: "Well I was thinking, why not make it a work trip filling in the weekends with the odd mile or two on my trusted hobby horse…I'd visit Belgian brewers, asses their products and place orders…even better I could foster alliances and jointly manufacture goods for sale both in Scotland and Belgium. I would need to stick in their minds…why not cycle between all the brewers (Belgians are cycling mad!), potentially on time, very much dependant on the wind!!!
Mrs BrewBob: short silence… "so just to make sure I'm getting this right… you’re going on a cycling holiday for three weeks visiting over 13 breweries, tasting too many beers in a day to ride a bike straight, brewing beer with other like minded selfish idiots whilst staying in "man caves" and then attempting to complete some of Europe's most challenging cycle sportives ????
BrewBob: "now come on that's twisting my words a bit too far!!…but pretty much, yeah"

Planning soon started by entering The Tour of Flanders, Paris - Roubaix and Liege Bastogne Liege 100. The training schedule written and research began on which breweries to collaborate with… I was so excited!

With all brewery rendezvous confirmed and the small matter of our own brewery move scheduled… it was time to press the button and book the flights and accommodation… I'd get my 1st long ride in on Saturday morning and book everything that afternoon, exactly six weeks before the Tour of Flanders…

You know some days you just should not get out of bed… Well this beautiful crisp spring morning was one of those…
I drove to meet my hand picked training partners in Aberdeen, all older, heavier and as adverse to hills as I currently was, not having ridden much since Ride the North last year!!!

Bike out, hands shook and shoes on…only thing was my shoes were still in my bag at home…change of plan…raced back to Stonehaven…bike out again and shoes on this time! This time leaving the house determined to get to the top of the Slug Road before they did… we both arrived at the Cairn Mon Earn at the same time. What beautiful views on a cold crisp sun drenched Deeside…it does not get any better!

Bad luck it seems, does come in threes…

I had mused this as we descended the Slug Road back to Stonehaven via Swanley… On the way to meet them, (apart from forgetting my shoes) I'd bit my lip, which is never nice (No.1), then my water bottle jumped out of the cage and disintegrated on the asphalt (No.2).
The run through Swanley was beautiful…and being my stomping ground of old, the bike practically found it's own way. Having missed the ride out from Aberdeen, my keenness to stay with the guys was fervorous! So I hit the ride hard, up the Slug Road to Glithno, over the Netherley and then tracing their pedals out the South Deeside Road to home.

(No.3)…
Descending quickly…into the big ring to accelerate over the ink bottle bridge for the forth coming climb…
Black ice and I'm down…

Normally its sore, a bit of road rash but you carry on whilst trying to cover your embarrassment and blaming the road conditions or that new set of tyres. Not this time…I don't remember anything until I say I'm just going to head back home… my left arm was not right and I don't think there is a saying 'fourth time lucky’.

I don't remember much of the ride back but soon I was home, changed and told I had to go to hospital…the helmet was split open, the bruising on my head suggested why I remembered very little and soon a split in my wrist was confirmed to match the helmet.

So in a day that would have been better served in bed, instead of out on the bike living the dream was looking decidedly more like a nightmare…

Subsequently training had been reduced to one hour, three times a week on the gyms exercise bike (my mind just cant do static bikes), there was no way I'd make The Tour of Flanders or the Roubaix! To cut the long story short, everything was put on hold…except for the brewery move as we had decommissioned it the day before.

After the third trip back to the fracture clinic I was informed I could have my cast off two days before the Roubaix and its infamous Pavé…

BrewBob: "ah… but doctor I'm away on business around then for three weeks and I'll not be in the country"

Dr: “ok Mr Lindsay we will have you in a week earlier and provide a support for the wrist…its 70% repaired so if you’re careful all will be fine”

Keeping a straight face, I legged it for the door as fast as I could, got home and booked my flight.

So the Spring Classic dream begins…with a short journey over the water from Scotland to Brussels with three trusted velo comrades to ride not the 1st but the 2nd of 2015…‘The Hell of The North’

Arriving in Lille we took the keys to the apartment…up three flights of the steepest and narrowest stairs you have ever seen…there was literally nothing left in the area after I had to wait so long to book.

Unpacked and out on the bikes for a quick 50k…I punctured in the 1st 500m (No.4?)…my new best velo comrade offered to change my tube…wrist and fingers "surprisingly" still not up to it.

My 3 friends had joined me for what was supposed to be the 2nd event, this way we could at least ravel out together and share the fun of that first night on holiday…in Belgium pretty much anything goes when it comes to beer and one way or another after the puncture was fixed, we ended up 25km outside Lille in a rather traditional Brasserie…

After a number of rather good (read strong) beers and the ‘pick me up’ of choice for the weekend, Riccard, we embarked on what seemed a very short trip back to the centre of Lille…two spills, many red lights and various other traffic violations later…

Next morning after breakfast and much hilarity over the previous days escapades we made our way to Roubaix…seeing the sign reminded me of that Christmas morning, child like excitement, I had when going to watch my 1st Tour mountain stage. Walking round the velodrome was fantastic and a little surreal. The temperatures were hitting the early to mid 20's (why did I leave Europe?), we were soon registered and our Roubaix 2015 tshirts were already on our backs.

It was bed early on Friday night with a 7.30 start planned in Roubaix….up bright and early…no-one could be bothered with the sausage and beans we had planned to see us through the 150km of cobbled hell! Bikes down the 1:1.5 decent that were our stairs and off to the cars…car 2 does not start…pack it anyway and we will bump start it down a hill…oh yes we are in the flattest area of Europe…at last the arm works to my advantage…”come on guys push harder”…at last a third time lucky and she's off.

We arrived in Roubaix as the clouds build and the chilly 8°C is a stark contrast to yesterday’s bliss… the wind starts to rise and the heavens open as we set off…

An unusually low key start…no mass street crowding like the Etap series…but just as many participants! We form a small group of 9….the 4 Velo comrades (VC’s), another Brit and four French riders. Our mini peloton sticks together, picking up several others on the way until the first feed stop at 27km…we all ride through having eaten well the night before and our pockets filled with goodies!

The rain finally stopped as we approached one of the few rises on the route. The group had grown to about 20 by now and the pace had slowed a little…riders started to pull off seemingly in distress. Now I know they are not used to the hills out of Stonehaven (they bear down on you wherever you go!) but really this was a tiddler!

Feeling exhilarated by the apparent ability in our legs, the only two velo comrades left in the group forged ahead. A lovely wooded section was entered, then a sharp right hand turn and suddenly all was clear…the group knew what was ahead…the "Arenberg"…the single most frightening thing I've seen in a long time!

The grey, wet, slimy narrow path of convex Pavé lay ahead for 2.4km….Roman road esq…I could barely look up… the bike lurched from side to side as if bumping up kerbs built as if they were the zig zaged top of a walled fortress! The wrist was sore but functioning before the start….I could now get out of the saddle on the hoods and ride for a short distance.

A fractured wrist and little training had not been good preparation but nothing could have prepared you for the battering you were about to receive… by the end I was terrified of falling off and breaking the wrist again… anything could happen but not that. I guessed I would be able to put up with the pain…the nagging doubts the repair work my body had carried out would be undone…surely it was only a matter of time….but I could not come off…

Day 1

Part 2

So we had elected for the middle of the three distances the Roubaix organisers offered 150k/90m…. the distance itself challenging enough… but no hills just 17 sections of Pavé and a final tour of the velodrome.

We had made good progress to the 45km mark where we met the Arenberg. My Velo comrades and I had agreed not to stay together so we all got the best out of ourselves and the event. VC1 (velo comrade) had disappeared into the sun rise at 27k, VC2 not having ridden in a group before was a couple of km behind and ‘the Arenberg’ had swallowed VC3's chainring bolts and he was holding them aloft like spare wheels for the pros, in a vain attempt of getting some assistance.

VC3 was not best pleased when introduced to the Arenberg and was muttering various expletives, while in tandem enquiring to how much pain I was in… I dare not look up or behind to VC3 but I'm sure by the sound in his voice he had a smile on his face! When I could not find the words… "don't ask", I mutter like a wounded dog… VC3 shouts "it's broken", VC3 is now really taking the piss and I could only muster…"I hope not".

It's not until the finish when VC3 arrives, I find out he was informing me of the Arenberg’s desire for chainring bolt snacks, not a dig at my tender wrist!

VC3 was unlucky… not having done enough training and in no way ready for what Pavé had to throw at him, he had obviously loosened the bolts intentionally in the futile hope of a lift home from the broom wagon.

After walking for 6km and shrugging off any offers of help, the emergency services arrived … a quick call and voila… chainring bolts turn up… fitted speedily and soon after VC3 was being manhandled back on his bike with squeals of protest… “no please… no more Pavé!, I want to go home, please no, no!” This of course is the rough translation from the French mechanic at the velodrome after… it may be exaggerated but his gesture for tears could not be misunderstood.

So bravely !!!! VC's soldier on.

We had been warned the Arenberg’s Pavé were to be the most feared… so I limped on trying to find a way to grip the bars satisfactorily… dipping into the odd hole in the road to check my grip out, fantasising for what must be well pointed Pavé around the corner!

OK, the rest of the sections are not as vicious, but I assure you this is only relative. At this stage I'm staying honest to the challenge… I must ride the Pavé, don't go on the short sections of dust and grass verge at the side… keep to the spirit…it’s no pain no gain and all that bull shit!

Then 3 sections of the 17 completed… I'm getting tired of the pain, questioning resolve and just wandering why… but you can’t give in can you!… you start to look around for cable snips, broken glass or even alan keys to remove your chainring bolts… but no you can’t quite do it. There is no fun in quitting.

So you have 17 sections of Pavé, 33km in total during the final 100k of the 150k… its only 1 out of every 3km… you start to count them down and dream of longer asphalt sections between each one… but no it seems they are relentless… each section starts and finishes with over head banners and you look to the distance willing the finishing banner into site… it never seems to appear.

Sometimes they were crueler than others… you would come off a section into a village where they had forgotten the finishing banner… only to travel 500m and find out it wasn’t really finished!

It's a war of attrition, counting down hoping for easier sections, looking for smooth parts, wondering how some can ride bumps so effortlessly and quickly… but eventually everyone starts to slow …. more and more riders are covered in Pavé Rash having come of as their grip loosens with fatigue.

I have not fallen off yet and I'm seven sections in… half way never seems to be coming… my food stash and liquid seems to be diminishing by the second… I begin to curse not forcing the beans and sausages down my throat this morning… and then the proverbial heavy dunt as I enter sector 12… back tyre flat… fcuk!

Hungry, grumpy, sore and worst of all VC3 and 4 might catch up (not knowing VC3 had a mechanical at this point)!

Can’t get quick release open… can’t reach into back pocket for tube, leavers, compressed air… can’t operate the tyre leavers… can’t get the tyre back on… defiantly can’t ask for help !!!!! Fcuk this bloody wrist… finally it’s on and pressurised… even more hungry now… break all the rules and fling the punctured tube… relieved VC3 and 4 have not arrived to laugh at me yet!

Hunger really begins to kick in and it’s not even 80k yet… the next feed stop is at 105km…

Hours later, or at least that's how it seems, my bonking body lurches off the final cobbled section prior to the feed station… there is a tent with juice and waffles in front… I stop… I'm stared at… "3km pour boisson" my heart sinks and as I ride off I hear a little chuckle behind… I promise its not funny … but I can’t go back and point out my lack of glucose in fluent French let alone Ecosse…

The longest 3km on the planet finally comes to an end… bike dropped… 3 waffles é isotonic drinks, some fruit, comfort break (ouch), one more waffle, full water bottles and 4 gels… only 45km to the finish… 6 hours was the target but the puncture had put paid to that with the hunger and a small matter of cobbles finished any hope off.

As with everything it came to an end eventually… the Pavé over and 10km to the velodrome for what seemed the first time, a tail wind!… the group grew again, we entered Roubaix, the sun almost came out and we entered the velodrome… again no huge razzmatazz like an etap event at the finish … just entering, and completing one of the classics says enough … nothing else is required… every participant understands without having to say anything.

We collect our medals, return our timing chip, find the nearest bar to re-group all 4 VC's… hugs and a beer later… bikes back in the car… sharing our misfortunes. Home, shower and out for a late lunch… must reward ourselves… what better than Pavé au Poivre Vert !!!!! … now lets see how the Pros do it tomorrow.

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Day 2

That's how to do it!

What… I don't understand… I'm not sore all over… nor are any of the other VC's… must be vibration therapy!

We think of going to the Arenberg to watch the pros but worry about the narrow section in the woods… not getting a view, parked and having to stand around for 4 hours waiting.

In the end we choose to head to my puncture section of Pavé… VC1 has kindly offered to drive so we have a late breakfast beer in Orchies and then walk from the town centre to section 12, aptly called Orchies.

We look for a place and spot a tent half way up the section… ah maybe a beer … yes and food and can you believe it a huge screen showing the whole event … beer and food tokens purchased, junior race cheered past then back to watch the Pros come closer!

We jump out when they hit section 13 and then the helicopters, event cars etc all pile on thorough, giving a plume of dust… there is a strong break about 2 minutes ahead of what is left of the peloton … Bradley is still in there.

We rush back into the tent and get a seat … soon the tent is filled with hundreds of supporters cheering their national heroes on … First the French cheer, then the Flemish and couple of Brits are booed for fun … there might even be a German or two … the break is finally brought back with only a few km to spare … one rider goes to of the front, Brad attacks but to no avail … Dagenkolb chased the break alone, did all the work in the last few km and still had the energy to win the sprint in the velodrome.

Orchies velo club organised everything at the tent so very very well, food, beer, large screen, tables, chairs, table service and a great atmosphere … wow … we researched that one well … the perfect event hospitality.

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Day 3

Rest day

We all deserve one … the next fortnight will be busy !!!!!!

Said goodbye to my velo comrades as they head back to Scotland … I'm sad but I get to base myself in Ypres with great Flemish friends and their young family.

I'll wash the bike and my cloths and make ready the schedule for the week ahead and sit down with a couple of beers … DeStruise, Rochefort, Westmalle, De la Senne … its a hard life.

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Day 4

Brewery De Rank - Where it all happened for me

So day four started a little easier than others so far….nothing too strenuous… coffee, breakfast and a few emails (see I’m still working Mrs Brewbob!).

Only thing is my navigation skills don’t seem to be cutting the mustard… but thankfully not completely to my detriment… just means I get to cycle round more of this beautiful scenery.

After leaving my good friends in Ypres, the aim for today was to go back to where it all began for me… Brouwerij De Ranke. It goes back around 15 years to when I visited the brewery and was introduced to drinking these quality beers. This was when I first met Nino, owner and head brewer, who then opened my mind with XX Bitter!

This is where six°north stemmed from… the beer… the brewery… the passion for Belgium…

It’s not entirely easy to put into words… but the beers and the time spent there have had a lot of influence on me… so much so that we modelled our own HopClassic around the style of XX-Bitter!

Enough of the sentimental BS… I met Nino again and we had some beers…

With my trusty hobby horse parked up against a pallet of beer and the post box, I found the main man to chat about some ideas… no sooner had I sat down, Nino had a couple of bottles and was off getting glasses. Goodies had today were the big brother of XX Bitter, ‘XXX Bitter’ and the annual ‘Hop Harvest’, a Belgian IPA style brewed with freshly harvested hops….like our Green Hop of last year.

Down to business… I had a thought a while ago to do a collaboration with De Ranke… unfortunately we couldn’t organise it for this trip but I think we’ve come up with a plan… the easiest way to put it is that Nino is up to his arse in it… brewing beer round the clock to fulfill his customers… but we put our heads together and came up with an idea that wouldn’t take up any capacity.

Nino’s Noir de Dottignies is a big, bold and dark beer made from six different malts… we’re going to get a heap of it and stick it in Malt Whisky barrels to age… collaboration sorted, back to the beer! All we need to do now is chum up some local distilleries!

Post De Ranke visit… the simple task of the second stint of cycling… another 60km pack to my friends in Ypres… route planning for tomorrow to see d’Oude Maalderij and Brouwers Verzet… looking forward to a night in the ‘MAN CAVE’ and Collabrew at Alvinne… and yup you guessed it… a few more beers… when in Belgium!

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Day 5

The madman and the mancave

Day 5 started off with a slightly uneasy feeling that the 116km round trip, coupled with visits to 3 breweries on the way, may have been a bit of a stretch on the bike (assuming I was going to do some tasting!)… how right I was!

Leaving my good friends in Ypres, I set off in the morning to the little village of Koolskamp which should have been roughly 42km away… it was a shade difficult to navigate….think I need to update my gps system (ahem, Mrs Brewbob… Chrstmas pressie). That said i managed to get lost about 3 times and do an extra 40km in the process.

Eventually I arrived to meet Jef of d’Oude Maalderij brewery (http://www.doudemaalderij.com)… finding the place wasn’t the issue….there’s only one cross roads in Koolskamp and Jef had previously informed us he lived on it! Bowling in about an hour late… I was greeted by Jef with a cold beer and a big smile.

Simply put….the man is mad!

Within the hour I lost getting there, we had tasted the entire range of Jef’s beers… principally the Qantelaar Brune, Redenaar Blonde and Hop the Brewer (you’ve got to see the label!)… along with a few barrel aged bottles. Jef then seduced me with his 1000 bottle strong collection of beers….some going back over 20 years.

I had an instant liking for the guy and found over the next hour or so why….we both have similar histories in respect to our introduction to beer… our learning, exposure and passions are equally as peculiar.

After the tasting, we got down to chatting about business….having met Jef at the BAB 2015 Beer festival in Brugges we’d struck up an email relationship and put it on the cards to do a Collabrew… we turned our attention to style… Jef’s madness came to the fore…

“Let’s brew an Amber” - Jef “I don’t like Amber beer” - me “Let’s brew and Amber!” - Jef “ok” - me

His madness and tenacity, plus the urgency to challenge my viewpoint made it compelling… the plan is now for Jef to come to Scotland, use our yeast, his madness and both of our love for beer!

Time was getting on now….I had more visits to do….Jef had deliveries….so I went with him! It was decided that because of the fact I had done a few extra km’s (and had a few tastings) it would be best that we go forth on 4 wheels as opposed to 2….so Jef was going to take me on his deliveries and then on to Verzet.

I was told we were going to the best beer shop in Belgium….and all I can say is wow!….the Bierhalle Deconinck in Vichte was amazing….wall to wall, floor to ceiling top class beers….definitely worth the trip if you’re in the area….coincidently where Alvinne (http://www.alvinne.be) host their beer festival (http://acbf.be/).

Now off to Brouwers Verzet (http://www.brouwersverzet.be/) in Anzegem….a quartet of young lads we also met at BAB 2015… where we were welcomed by Jens at cafe Verzet….again another few beers and a tasting… all in the name of research!

Initially Jens put their Oud Bruin in front of us… amazing!… then came a topper… we were handed a glass of their Oak Leaf Oud Bruin….the same base beer as before but aged in barrels for 6 months and with hand-picked local oak leaves in the beer!… this just took the biscuit… definitely taking some home… other beers were great too.

It was getting close to 7pm now and we were getting a bit peckish after a few beers… understandable… now with Jens in tow we made our merry way to see Glenn at Alvinne, where I’d be staying the night in the ManCave! Glenn had been patiently waiting and had done a good job keeping up with us whilst we weren’t there!

Another brewery another tasting….all in the name of reasearch (this is a business trip Mrs Brewbob, not a piss up). The decision was made to go to a local cafe which had been taken over a couple of weeks ago….unfortunately they didn’t have any food… our only sustenance must then just come from beer! A little later and it was time for Jef and Jens to nip home to their ladies… a massive thankyou to them both for having me and to Jef for saving my arse from cycling!

Time for Glenn and I to go back to the ManCave… not before Glenn insisted upon me trying a selection of Alvinne’s Barrel Aged beers….the highlight had to be Cuvee Sophie (an Amber sour, aged in Bordeaux wine casks)… stunning.

To the ManCave and to bed… I really don’t know why Mrs Brewbob complains about my snoring….Glenn too has been tarred by this shitty stick as his mrs complains too….don’t know what they’re on about….we both slept like babies!… what a day!

7am… uch… Davey and Mike wake us up to brew!

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Day 6

Collabrew day! - The maltman, yeastman & the barrelman

After we were rudely awoken from our slumber I had the Pleasure of meeting Davy (MaltMan) and Marc (YeastMan), the other brewers from Alvinne….Glenn being BarrelMan.

From the moment we Mashed in, it was time was quality control straight away… as with a lot of small brewers they don’t tend to have any laboratory equipment on site….no difference here… so it was down to us to ensure the product was up to standard using our taste!

This involved sampling a wide selection of brews straight from the fermentation vessels and the barrels… it’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

On with the brew… we’ve done something pretty different and also something that none of us had brewed before… we used Alvinnes’ house yeast which is seductively called ‘Morpheus’… the recipe itself we’re keeping under wraps… although to get the juices flowing it’s going to be released at the ‘Midsummer Beer Happening’ in June! www.midsummerbeerhappening.co.uk

As we’d not brewed this style before we all found it very rewarding and somewhat challenging… what was more challenging was the clean up….we used a big heap of unmalted wheat which caused the mash tun to clog up with a substance close to weetabix and jelly! As I’ve been travelling quite light in the wardrobe department there was only one solution… strip off and get in!

After the clean down and a few more tastings, Glenn insisted that he cycle with me to Kortrijk and show me the easy way back to Ypres….a short ride of 15km… yet he wouldn’t let me leave without having one more beer in a favoured bar of his….and low and behold it was one of Alvinnes’ beers!

Thankfully after the past couple of days I got a tailwind and early night back to Ypres and my good friends… dinner, a beer and bed… what a great brewday and one I’ll never forget…

Thank you Glenn, Davy & Marc

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Day 7

Brouwerij Liete & the chefs are coming!

Up and at ‘em early bells this morning having had a meeting rescheduled from next week to today… thanks could have done with a lie in! Leaving my pals behind in Ypres for the last time on this trip, I made my way back the 30 odd km to Kortrijk on the bike to catch up with Luc from Brouwerij Liete (http://www.deleite.be).

Liete was another brewery we tasted at the BAB 2015 festival and such a nice guy too. Luc has a small brewery located in Ruddervoorde… producing 9 beers and about 500hl per year. His view on beer is that it should be kept changing….but feels the market doesn’t want too much variety… he’s made a plan.

Luc wants to make what he calls ‘Escape beer’… beer to make you think I guess….he has named one of his beers ‘Fils a Papa’ or ‘Daddy’s Boy’ which every year he brews a different style for to keep things fresh… for me, Luc’s ‘Enfant Terriple’ (a tripel style if you didn’t get it) stood out along side his barrel aged products.

During the tasting we got on to talking about collabrews… Luc is interested… seems like we’re on a winner with this! So the plan is to take some of our yeast and theirs, do a mixed fermentation… throw in some dry-hopping and see what happens! Recipe is still TBC…

After a while I thought it best to get back on the hobby horse and get myself to Brussels… a rapid 40km… 45 minute train ride from Ghent and I’m sitting here with a beer in hand waiting for the chefs…and Mrs Brewbob…

Every year we like to treat the guys for working hard and most commonly it’s a trip to Belgium for inspiration… not only for beer but for food too. We had the brewers and bars away in February for the BAB festival… messy boys… but with the kitchen staff and Mrs Brewbob… more refinement needed… they’re palates need seducing… senses massaged… and obviously a few beers too!

Got it all done today… cycling, work, tasting & friends… here’s to a great weekend with the team and hope you all enjoy yours!

Slainte

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Day 8 & 9

The chefs

From Friday night till Monday morning my responsibility had changed from cycling and breweries to looking after The Marine Hotel kitchen brigade! The weekend was planned to highlight the gastronomic culture that Belgium has to offer….in other words, ‘Cuisine a la biere’…along with visits to my favoured drinking establishments.

Friday night saw us visit ‘Le Bugatti’… a traditional Belgian restaurant with a cracking beer list…the restaurant itself doesn’t take bookings…rather you turn up and hope for the best. I’ve found that most of the best places to eat are similar to this and deliver a food offering which is very much traditional in style. Importantly, the Chefs were treated to the wonders that are Moeder Lambic…both new and old….and my favourite bar, Rue de Bie, the bar that never closes.

Saturday saw us up with the larks and a trip to Ghent….our lunch reservation was at Belga Queen (www.belgaqueen.be)…a stunning restaurant and in an equally stunning location. In between lunch and dinner we thought it rude not to visit a couple of bars….‘Trollekelder’ was the first stop…a pretty special bar with over 200 beers at all times….then the ‘Waterhuis Beer & Ginhouse’ definitely kept all parties concerned happy! For dinner, it wasn’t very far to go as ‘Chez Leotine’ is attached to the Waterhuis…much more of a Flemish restaurant with brilliant local cuisine, executed very well.

Sunday….we took the short trip to Bruges and lunch at the ‘Bierbrasserie Cambrinus’…somewhere we’d been in February and somewhere I thought we needed to eat. Then a little tour around some of the spots we’d found before - B2, De Gaar and Cafe Bruges Beertje (a bar which was championed by the famous beer writer, Michael Jackson). Next stop was another beer bar, ‘Rose Red Cafe’….and who should we find…but Jef from d’Oude Maalderij! A beer and a reminisce later and we needed to catch the train back to Brussels.

Brussels wasn’t complete without a visit to ‘Morte Subite’ bar and ‘Delirium Cafe’.…finished the night and the weekend off in style!

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Day 10

Brasserie de la senne and back on the bike

In the morning I said goodbye to the Kitchen team as they nipped of for a long lunch at ‘In't Spinnekopke’…another place to eat which cannot be missed when in Brussels.

Now back to beer…I mean work…today should have been a lot easier…23°C…beautiful cycling weather…shorts and t-shirt on…going to get a farmers tan…then…bollocks, I’ve got a flat back tire! It’s a puncture…I wrestle with it for a while with no joy…it seems there are no bike shops open on a monday! So taxi to the only one open….replace the inner tube and the tyre as both were goosed…and on my way again.

I quickly nipped across Belgium to visit Bernard at Brasserie De La Senne (www.brasseriedelasenne.be)…easily one of my favourite breweries in Belgium. De La Senne have grown rapidly over the last few years, with a production of around 6000hl and looking to increase by 25% soon. Like I said back to work….so we had a beer together…chatted about importing the beer to Scotland and making plans for the product. Bernard has also just bought a bar in Brussels (location disclosed) but I know it’ll be another stop for us next time. Big thanks to Bernard for having me and looking forward to the beers in Scotland.

Then it was back on the bike and down to Leuze-en-Hainaut this afternoon in preparation for a visit to ‘Brasserie Dupont’ in the morning. Very happy to say I had a tail wind all the 50km route and am now enjoying a beer in the sun.

Great weekend with the team and great start to the week.

Cheers

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Day 11

Almost France and Flanders Fields

Onwards today from ‘functional’, shall we say, accommodation in the south of Belgium which is pretty much France… my tour continued with a trip to Brasserie Dupont (www.brasserie-dupont.com) a brewery made famous in Belgian beer drinking circles in the 80’s by the USA’s unquenchable thirst for their Saison… it’s easily one of the best.

My appointment today was a little later in the morning and I also didn’t have to go very far to get there, good start, meeting with Gust from the brewery was a pleasure, another contact made at the BAB 2015 festival. Gust was a charismatic chap and it was a pleasure to be lead round what was an old but well functioning brewery.

Dupont’s brew house dates back a long way, the kettle and mash tun are both made of copper and still fired directly for heating, this hasn’t stopped them producing over 20,000hl annually and steadily growing year on year by 10%, these figures don’t mean a great deal, most important is the beer… and it’s great!

Something I didn’t expect was that 50% of Dupont’s total production is in 750ml bottles! Something we regularly stock in the bar and have done with our own Christmas beer Snowy. Maybe it’s a French thing – big bottles, champagne, wine… you know… nonetheless, great to see a brewery steeped in history and looking forward to getting more Dupont over to Scotland!

It was then off to see Brunehaut brewery (www.brunehaut.com) a casual 20km south so even closer to France.I probably cycled into it and back without knowing.I arrived early afternoon and was greeted by the owner Marc-Anthony.

The brewery itself is situated on 120 Hectares of farmland which is entirely organic – also another brewery with an interesting past, Brunehaut celebrated it’s centenary year in 1990, however went bust in 2006. Marc-Anthony took the brewery over in 2007 and has embraced the history and pushed for organic production.

Another old brewery and another copper brewhouse. I was like a kid in a sweetie shop, in fact this one used to belong to the Trappist monks of Chimay! It’s great to see new technology manipulated to work with these copper beauties.

Again some more ‘fun’ facts for you; 70% of Brunehaut’s production is export, they also produce a good range of Gluten Free beers, and with apples and strawberries farmed in abundance, they’ve just created a new fruit beer.

I couldn’t leave without adding an extra KG to my load in the form of a 750ml bottle… I really wasn’t worried about the extra weight considering it was a Brune style that had been aged for 2 years in a Benriach Whisky cask. I am partial to a nip or two of Benriach… updates on that later… it would be irresponsible of me to replace a water bottle for that whilst cycling!

Work was then over for the day but there was still the small matter of 40km to Oudenaarde… coupled with the fact I’m quite tired with all this cycling… one is not as fit as one should have been due to the bastard wrist! Anyway I dug in and what d’you know… a bloody headwind and sun in my face, on the plus side, I’ve a great farmers tan.

En route I was passing the Kwaremont & Koppenberg… parts of the Rhonde de Flanders tour I missed… I came over a touch sad actually. I’ve said before but doing these races has been on the bucket list for decades… sniff sniff… sod it next years’ holiday!

There was only one thing to do… have a beer! It would be rude of me not to have an Oud Bruin in the home of Oud Bruins.I couldn’t cycle past this particular bar littered with bikes outside and up the walls… fate lead me to a particularly tasty Petrus Oud Bruin today.

It was then on to Oudenaarde and my rest spot for tonight… couldn’t have been better suited for cyclists and a picture of one of my cycling heros on the wall… Freddie Maertens. They also had a bike garage… and beer too.

Off to Oostakker near Ghent tomorrow to see The Musketeers (Troubadour beer)… just saw on the news that there are train strikes in Belgium… that may bugger up my journey to Liege tomorrow a little! …oh well… when in Belgium…

…have a beer!

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Day 12

A trip to see the Musketeers and on to LBL this weekend

Got up still a bit frazzled, but thoroughly enjoyed the accommodation last night, well looked after and littered with bike stuff. You’d think I’d want to get away from it! Another bastard head wind on the way to Oostakker to see The Musketeers (www.troubadourbieren.be) this was eased by a scenic ride along the Schelde River, very peaceful.

Getting to Ghent wasn’t an issue (when I got there) because of the train strikes, it seemed every bugger was on their bike, big groups all over. A fairly short cycling day at around 35km but I’m now pretty pooped.

The visit with The Musketeers was good. Meeting with Stefaan (no idea which one he’s supposed to be), tasted the beers and got their news. Troubadour beers are brewed at the large contract brewery, De Prof. with plans to increase production by 4 times and possibly open a new brewery.

Good little day but tired… off to the Ardenne…


…ADDENDUM… Un petite revision pour mon journal…

I thought I'd get Day 12’s entry in early – note to self – don't bother!

No trains running in Belgium is a little inconvenient… but I'll cope. Cycle to the nearest one way car hire and at least I can make my appointment with Fantome (www.fantome.be) tomorrow and not waste cash on the hotel already booked in the Ardennes, a bit hungry but I'll survive… service station wrap.

Traffic is hell on the motorway as nobody’s on the trains – every car in Belgium is out for the day! Get to Fu… I’ve forgotten the Fleche Wallonnia is on… it’s just finished in front of me so arriving at hotel for 18:00 is now going to be 19:00.

I Forgive you Sky!

Bursting for toilet… soon be at the hotel… pass it and park up… looks lovely even if the restaurant is shut!

Me “Allo,Une chambre pour Lindsay ce soir?”
Bloke “No… hotel complete”
Me “but here is my confirmation!!!”

Ahhh you no longer parles ecosse!!! (much swearing) I’m here trying to make your GDP better you know. I'm still bursting… driving will help… the Fleche Wallonia has all the rooms! Do I trust booking.com again!!!

No choice but to go 50km to Liège – traffic still as bad – arrive at 20.30pm having left Ghent two hours away at 14.45pm! Clothes washed yet again – forgot how difficult road muck was to get of with a bar of soap and quick hand movement, at least there’s a small veranda to dry on tonight… no soggy chamois in the morning.

So dearest Ardennes, I was musing on the way to you that I would not miss leaving the glass, pot holes, sign and then no sign, concrete cycle baths with a join every three meters dunt… dunt… dunt… and again… and again… cut tyres and four punctures in a week. You promised hills, great fields, live stock, great food and some space – looks like I will have to wait another night. I think Fantome tasting could be interesting, and not far to cycle after, let's hope the hotel let's me in!

Now a bit happier I’m on the veranda with a beer… humph!

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Day 13

DAY 13 - GHOSTIES & GREAT BEER

Today starts early ... sluggish after yesterdays escapades .... but so looking forward to one of the two breweries that opened my eyes to the world of magic some 16 years ago..... the enigma that is Fantome!

The sun is out but cold and I set off at 8 am .... only 6°C ... some ways off the prune like mid 20's of the Flemish Ardennes .... Today I finally meet a hill ... the legs that have been sluggish for days are finally awakened ... taking it steady apart from the climbs as I want to recover a little before Saturdays Sportive ... 160k of the Liège Bastogne Liege.

The road, views, competent signs and lack if traffic is a dream ... reinstalling my belief in the Belgian terroir.

Soon I find myself only a few KMs from Soy .... one of my holy grails .... there must be more than one !!!

I'm climbing and climbing and .... yes ... looking forward to the LBL if this is the type of terrain it will encompass ....

Not like me, but I've done little research ... enough to say that the Etap Royal ... boasting one of the toughest UK sportives, over mammoths such as the Lecht, ascending some 7000ft ... is a mere morsel ... the LBL has a staggering 8734ft to ascend .... ouch ... I'm not really ready for this.

Sweating profusely now as the air warms, I notice the sign ... a way marker for the LBL … it's now real ... strangely I'm looking forward to the challenge .... unlike the Roubaix.

I turn right and it's into Soy, the home of Fantome ... signs were good so I'd no need for the GPS today .... looking up and smelling I can see the steam rising from a dwelling ... it's too warm for a fire so it must be Fantome ... the velo almost directs itself and I'm there!

French speaking and as quirky as I love .... hello ... we are Brewing with this Brazilian guy today ... smell the spices ... taste ... look... have a beer ... let's go for lunch ... all within 15mins ... two hours later and a couple of beers down we return .....

More beer ... let's taste the Brazilian Stuff ... all weird and wonderful ... challenging, sensuous in ways you'd not imagine.

We bottle for the afternoon ... yes even the best who refuse to accept any kind of mechanisation in process have turned to a bottling line ... small but efficient ... I run back and forth earning my lunch and beer .... its the least I can do ...

Soon we must finish and go for a final handshake beer ... or is it two? It's now 7.30pm ... my chambre for the night beckons .... thank you to the trio of ghosts that are Fantomastic.... Bernard, Jean Bernard and Gisele ... it was truly and education in simplicity and fantastic results .... and to my new Brazilian acquaintances ... now I have an excuse for South America .... see you soon Morada, Adrae and Fernanda.

PS my room is fantastic ... a great day ... I could get used to this !!!

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Day 14

DAY 14 - BRASSERIE DE JANDRAIN JANDRENOUILLE

Up early again … lovely breakfast and a great stay at the hotel ... very short day ... only 10 miles to rail station ... saving my legs for the big day tomorrow!!!

Visited Alex at Brasserie de Jandrain Jandrenouille and had a great tasting … a smaller brewery … been around since 2002 … very much focussed on quality ... some very interesting beers and a beautiful location ... think we can do some work with a couple if there products …

Alex likes to focus on hops … his Wheat beer has none of the traditional Belgian spices … so they replace the flavour with hops. A good guy and obviously good at naming his beers … their Saison is ‘IV Saison’ … same as ours. Another stand-out beer for me was the Wheat beer ‘VI Wheat’.

Look out for Martin’s visit to Jandrain Jandrenouille on their US TV show !!!

That's work done!!! Feels strange ... off to register in Liège for the LBL ... and check into hotel.

Then stuff my stomach as full as possible !!!

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Day 15

LIEGE BASTOGNE LIEGE!!

I'd decided not to get up at stupid o'clock like at the Roubaix.

Alarm off at 7 ... woken already as others were clambering down the hotel stairs with their trusty steeds shouting Allez, Allez …

The breakfast I could not get yesterday at 7am! ... was laid out for self service. I made up a couple of ham rolls and a pan au chocolate ... hate the things but needs must. I'd also been consuming lots of water trying to make up for the dehydration during the lovely 25°C+ sun splitting sky for the last couple of weeks.

Needless to say I'd woken up to quite heavy rain with no hope of it clearing ... coincidentally the last time it rained was at the Roubaix .... that's just the way it is. Reevaluate clothing choice and on went with the long sleeved jacket.

Packed the car and left by 8am ... bliss to stay in the same place for two nights ... no need to pack my bags this morning.

Arrived a couple of km from the start and my reconnoitering yesterday proved good and I'd come off the motorway at the correct point for parking ... I joined the end of the abandoned vehicles ... six bars, two bottles and two tubes. I'm not going to bonk today ... eating from the get go.

Arrive at the start ... almost 10,000 entries so twice as much as the Roubaix ... a little bit more of a razamataz ... also starting later has more folk around you.

The roads and sky is full of water so you are wet soon .... starts out flat winding your way through the streets of Liège ... surprisingly/annoyingly stopping at every red light. As soon as you hit the city boundary, the climbing starts ... it goes on and on and on and on ... most sportives in Scotland, you know the climb and can judge the effort ... not here finally you settle down to ride as if you were on the flat ... reduces the speed but hopefully guarantees survival.

It's about 5°C ... good on the climbs but as soon as you start to descend in the wet, the legs get very very cold ... it's a long time since they went that worrying deep purple colour …

LBL basically consists of a lot of very long climbs, hard in their own right, with the categorised climbs which are long and steep often going straight up for ever with the odd bend just to hide the next part of the ascent dropped in ... followed by equally exhilarating ... dodgy in the wet and not all the riders have great skills descents.

I'm ok on the downs ... generally traveling faster than most and then on the short flat sections pre the next climb I tuck in and get towed along ... it's the hills that are killing me. First the legs need to warm up after the descents and then there's this other being hanging on around my midriff ... seriously I'd hoped some would have left me over the last couple of weeks ... seemingly not!

It's harder than I'd expected ... no research ... the climbs are longer .. I'd thought they would be shorter and more often ... but it's just climb - slow - descend - fast - tuck in with a group quick for some free km's.

Belgian sportives with a free star time means you are in mixed ability groups all they way round. Soon I'm learning that I'm quite strong on the flat and need to ease up if I'm to get any free miles ... so soft peddle for a short bit and a group gathers ... this is repeated all day.

First food stop is reached and this time I stop ...waffles are my friend... more isotonic drink please … IBC'S full of the stuff being stirred with great big paddles.

The first half of us going in quite slow due to Liège streets and the long initial climbs. It starts to rain heavier and soon the soles of my feet are wet .. 50km done and the legs hurt ... first of the timed climbs comes ... L'ancienne Barrier. Not quite the Lecht .... but close.... this is supposed to be Belgium!!! I'm not even going to consider the time ... fortunately my gearing is just enough and I bounce the front well on up the climb ... many are walking ... I won't ... even if I consider it for a moment.

Music meets you at the top of the climb and lots of participants wait for their velo comrades ... I have none as in the Roubaix ... it's a little different not having the prospect of sharing the day's events over a beer or two in the evening.

It's the same in differing degrees for the next 60km accompanied by beautiful scenery all the way ... I stop again for my isotonic/waffles combo and hit the Cote de la Redoute ... it's harder than ever ... I'd been gaining in confidence as the km's went on, others began to slow and I felt better on the climbs .... this one is really very hard though ... the campers are now in place for the pros tomorrow and as I pass the beer tent the front rim hits the ground ... that will explain it ... glass yet again ... off with tyre ... remove the glass and on with the tyre ... it's wet and I can't get the correct pressure with my injured wrist ... have to resort to leavers … it’s on ... C02 injected and she slowly deflates .... not as quick as me I can tell you!!!

OK, off again and this time I'll get it on with my hands regardless of the pain ... it's just not happening .... I can't stop anyone for help or ask any of those walking by ... its just not in the nature! ... on-”Col" out of the rain and low cloud appears a mirage .... yellow with black writing ... MAVIC neutral service ... like a pro I hold my wheel up .... the mechanic jumps out expecting to have to fix some great mechanical disaster!!! I try to explain I'm a wimp with an injured arm ... no Scottish he explained and proceeds to change the tube ... I'm pleased when eventually after much swearing he gets his tyre levers out ... standard issue yellow but much broader ... pop it's on... I cross my fingers as it's inflated ... the next miles are nervous as I wait for the slow puncture to click in.

Something must have been damaged during the change … Mr MAVIC had been trying to get rid of a high point in the tyre but had given up and sent me on my way ... on the way up the rest of coll I'd felt nothing .... but on the descent I'd started to rattle ... that, mixed with my front brake blocks almost to nothing ... I never use my front brake but it's been my good hand and breaking with it for a 1000km has rendered them rather thin!

At about this point the rain stops and things begin to warm up ... soon everyone dries out and the race to the finish begins ... six hours has come and gone with the mechanicals.

The last col is steep ... long almost never ending ... by now most are down to my pace or walking ... not sure which is quicker!!! Soon it's over ... a nice 15km run down to Liège ... ah but no ... a few more twists and a long, long climb through the town ... makes the slug seem a doddle ... right through the streets again ... long cobbled descent and on to the finish .... In true Belgian style a beer awaits ... collect my t-shirt and off home ... I'm heading out for a few reward beers asap ....showered and off out ... two beers a reward steak and that's me done ... off to bed knackered.

The LBL was tougher than the Roubaix ... the scenery is magnificent.

I was disappointed not to be picking up my pave bike model for completing all three ... but it was just not possible.

It does prove though that your will can make you do things you’re not equipped to do!!! I will be fitter and lighter in the future ....

What did I learn … Vittoria Pave tyres are no match for the Belgian roads ... I replaced the rear one a week ago with a continental and not even a single cut in it. Thanks Vittoria that was 6 punctures an average of one every 100 miles!!

Must now psych myself up for the Zythos beer fest tomorrow in Leuven (working again !) before heading home on Monday.

Thanks Belgium!

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Day 16

ZYTHOS BEER FESTIVAL

Leaving the Ardennes ... I have that last day holiday feeling where everything is over ..... but before going home to tomorrow I'm attending the Zythos beer fest in Leuven ... most of the new friends I've made over the last couple of weeks will be attending ... I'm looking forward to reminiscing and confirming many of the arrangements made.

It was a great day ... only tasting glasses of 100ml ... but it's hard to buy a beer!! Making contact with a couple of other brewers I'd missed or could not get to.

Highlight was meeting Jozef my old mentor and his grandson now study Brewing.

All done ... off for dinner and pack my bike into its flight bag.

That's it from me .... Cheers Robert

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