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Marianne's Excellent Spring Classics Adventure II
 
By Marianne Werz O'Brien
Date: 4/16/2004
Marianne's Excellent Spring Classics Adventure II
 

Part One: Marianne's Excellent Spring Classics Adventure I

The Monday after Flanders, our trip agenda said we would visit the Eddie Merckx factory (more on meeting the great man himself in a later article!) and then “There will be an afternoon bike ride for those with bikes.”  Nicely understated.

What our tour leader, Graham Baxter, neglected to mention was that the afternoon bike ride would be led by reigning dual British National Champion (Road and CycloCross) Roger Hammond of Mr.Bookmaker.com and Tom Barras of the Cyclingnews.com team. Sweet!


Roger chilling at home.

When we arrived at Roger’s house, Tom Barras was just returning from a hard training ride. Roger, on the other hand was still lounging about comfortably, recovering from his efforts in the Tour of Flanders. In his diary he describes the end of Flanders thus:

“I got to the bottom of the Muur, still suffering. The attacks came thick and fast, there were no accelerations left in my legs so I had just had to follow. The group split and I was in the second half. We chased over the top and rejoined a group at the foot of the last climb, the Bosberg. From the top it was all downhill so all I had to do was hang on and hope it came together over the top. I couldn't believe how painful my legs were on the climb.”

(I am so relieved to hear a PRO say the Muur is painful! Vindication for all my suffering there!)

Roger said we would take an easy spin of about 25 miles total, just down to his favourite pastry shop and back. Now, one thing I must warn you about pro cyclists... Their idea of an “easy” spin is very likely your idea of a solid driving pace! I know it was mine.

In our tourist group there were 4 cyclists (me and the three Chris's) plus Graham, our tour leader. We all changed into our gear and our merry little peloton set off!

The thing that amazed me about riding with the pros was that their speed was dead steady at all times – a constant 20 mph whether uphill or down, headwind or not. My speed tends to vary depending on conditions but theirs never did. Another thing – they never coast, they keep spinning.

Tom Barras, sweetheart that he is, would periodically turn his head sideways to casually glance at the scenery and such – NOT! In reality he was checking to see if the girl was still hanging on. A couple times when I was a bit further back, Tom moseyed on up to Roger to chat, and lo! The speed eased up a couple miles per hour so I could catch back on!

After one long climb where they waited for me at the top, Roger thanked me for giving him a chance to rest! Did these boys' mothers raise them right, or what?

Mr.Bookmaker.com rider Jeremy Hunt (British National Champion in 2001 and runner-up in 2003) joined us at the pastry shop for coffee, as did Cyclingnews.com rider Hilton Clarke!

Hilton rode with Net Zero and is immortalized in the Hard Road documentary! (Even so, he has never seen the finished product so the DP will be sending him a copy.) He also rode for Schroeder Iron for a couple years, and remembers the DP’s own Jaime Nichols from those days.

Over coffee Roger was asked how long it had taken him to learn Flemish. He said that initially he really didn’t have to learn it as his roommate, Magnus Backstedt, spoke fluently.  Over the years of immersion in the country, Roger picked up Flemish, in large part learning from Magnus.

After snacks, Graham and Tom departed to speed back to the house so that Graham could pick up our non-cycling tourists in the van. Roger, the three Chris’s and I took a more leisurely ride back.

Just as we started out of town, Belgium’s infamous “liquid sunshine” began in earnest. We took refuge under an overhang til the worst passed, and then biked off. 

We were less than 4 miles from Rogers’ home when I took a spectacular spill. I went down, but hard. I still cannot tell you exactly what happened – I was crossing a cobbled verge back up to the smooth path and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.

The right side of my handlebars is massively scuffed, yet I landed soundly on my LEFT side. Go figure? I was a bit stunned, as I just do not fall down; the thought of falling has always terrified me. But you know – it really wasn’t that bad!

I got to have the TRUE Belgian cobble experience! Complete with road rash on my knee and elbow and lots of bruises! LOL! I popped back up, remounted, and off my hubby and I sped, to try to catch the group.

When we regained them, poor Roger was horrified to learn that I had fallen! Back at his house, as Tom fixed us coffee, Roger brought me an absolute armful of band-aids and antiseptics, etc!

 
Tom being the good host!

When I was patched up and rejoined the group, Roger was regaling them with tales of setting “land speed” records in the mountains as a boy.

One adventure he recounted was sliding out on a hairpin turn avoiding a car, and slamming into a tree – thinking to himself how few trees there are up there and was he unlucky or what, managing to hit one.

Then he sat up and saw that the tree was at the edge of a sheer drop. Not so unlucky after all, eh?

Roger brought in one of his wheels to show us. The tire can go down between the cobbles, causing him to ride on the rim sometimes and this particular rim was riddled with bumps and dimples!

We got to talking about upcoming races; Roger would be riding Gent-Wevelgem next and Tom would be in GP Pino Cerami the day after. With Tom and Hilton racing in Pino Cerami our little tour group asked Graham if we could skip the bike ride that day and go see their race instead.

One of the most critical parts of any cycling vacation is selecting the right company to take it with. The fabulous thing about Graham Baxter Sporting Tours is their extreme flexibility. Sspecial extras like unannounced rides with the pros don’t hurt either!)

Flexibility? After having met Cyclingnews.com riders Tom Barras and Hilton Clarke, and learning that they would be racing that Thursday at the GP Pino Cerami, the group decided it would be fun to go cheer them on!

Graham never batted an eyelid. He got out the maps and determined it was quite doable on our way to Valenciennes, and viola! We got to see an extra race up close and personal! How cool is that?

Sporting Tours logo

The guys chatted with us for over an hour, discussing everything from race radios (be sure you know that your mike is OFF before complaining about team management to a friend in the peloton!), to eating during a race. The homemade stuff is always preferable, but in fact, frequently the pace is so high that all the guys can manage are the packets of gel or goo.

Other topics included the importance of choosing the right roommates. No snoring is a must, and so is finding someone with the same sleep habits. And whether one can earn enough racing to support themselves, especially when just starting out.

Tom is being partially sponsored by the Dave Rayner Fund. This is a group that provides assistance to young British cyclists, to help them get started in a career racing on the continent. Cofidis rider David Millar is a  “graduate” of the Dave Rayner Fund! We asked Tom about finances, and he said that between racing and working part time for Xpedia in the winter months, he has been able to break even.

Both Hilton and Tom come from racing families. Hilton’s dad made the Australian Olympic cycling team and Tom’s dad is three times British National Champion, Sid Barras.

After just over an hour of friendly conversation we finally left the boys in peace, to rest and prepare for their upcoming races.

Next up: A day at the races – Gent Wevelgem

Our Ride Companions' Palmares

Roger Hammond
DOB: 1/30/74

2004 Road
3rd GP Rudy Dhaennens
3rd Dwaars Door Belgie
6th Gent Wevelgem
3rd Paris-Roubais

2003 Road
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st stage 2 Uniqa Classic
1st GC Uniqa Classic

2003 CycloCross
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st National Trophy Series #4 

2002 Road
1st Groote 1 Mei-Prijs Hoboken
1st Tour of Beneden Maas

2002 CycloCross
1st Championship of Great Britain 

2001 Road
2nd GP Pino Cerami

2001 CycloCross
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st National Trophy Series #5 - Ibstock
1st National Trophy Series #4
1st National Trophy Series #5

2001 Kermesse
1st GP Gullegem
1st Viane
1st Vichte

2000 Road
1st stage 2 Jrs des Eperons D’or
1st GP Bodson
1st Archer GP

2000 CycloCross
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st National Trophy Series #2
1st National Trophy Series #3
1st National Trophy Series #4

2000 Kermesse
1st GP Stekene
1st GP Berlare

1999 Kermesse
1st Circuit des Dune et Polders

1992 CycloCross
1st Junior World Cup

Jeremy Hunt
DOB: 12/3/74

2003
1st Stage 2 Tour of Picardie
2nd Championship of Great Britain

2002
1st GP Ouest France-Plouay
3rd Championship of Great Britain

2001
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st Stage 2 Tour de la Somme
1st Stage 4 Circuit Franco-Belge

2000
1st Championship of Australia
1st Stage 2 Tour of the Mediteranean
1st Stage 2 Sea Otter Classic
1st Stage 13 Herald Sun Tour

1999
1st Stage 2 Bank Classic 

1998
1st Stage 3 Challenge of Majorque
1st Stage 10 Tour of Portugal
1st Stage 14 Tour of Portugal

1997
1st Championship of Great Britain
1st Stage 2 GP Portugal Telecom
1st Stage 1 Cirque de Sarthe
1st Stage 5 Tour of Aragon
1st Stage 1 Vuelta a la Rioja
1st Stage 3 GP Joaquim Agostihno
1st Circuit de Getxo
1st Stage 3 Tour de l’Avenir
1st Stage 9 Tour de l’Avenir
1st Stage 3 Bank Classic

Hilton Clarke
DOB: 11/7/79

2003
1st Stage 1 Tour of Egypt
1st Stage 2 Tour of Egypt
1st Stage 2 Herald Sun Tour

2002
1st Stage 1 Nature Valley GP
1st Stage 3 Tour of Sunraysia
1st Stage 6 Tour of Sunraysia
1st GC Tour of Sunraysia
1st Stage 5 Herald Sun Tour
1st Stage 9 Herald Sun Tour
1st Stage 7 Powernet Tour of Southland

2001
1st Stage 12 Superweek
1st Stage 15 Superweek

 
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