Updated: Sep 10, 2019
"I would tell you about the things they put me through, The pain I've been subjected to" Depeche Mode - Walking in my Shoes 'Good morning Paul' said Belgium. 'Are you ready?'. We touched gloves and off we went again. Both Garmin and Google maps agreed last night it was 125km to Brussels and I think I can handle that. The first 20k was easy, but at 21km I hit a 750m 7% hill. When I got to the top there was a road deviation sign and I had to go back down again. Belgium raised its eyebrows in a smirk. Another 5 minutes down the road and I hit a much longer climb at 7%. It seems that having tried to land a killer blow yesterday, Belgium is going to go for a war of attrition and win on points today. I was thinking 'yeah, but I fought Wales and Wales hits harder'. And so it continued for 30km. Climb- descent, climb-descent. Another 600m of climbing before I reached the 45km mark. Short climbs, long climbs, climbs in quick succession. I never got out of the bottom cog. There is something quite dispiriting on days like these to looking down at the Garmin and knowing I still have another 5-6 hours of riding to go. Then at 47km it all stopped. A long shallow downhill to the town of Dinant ended the efforts. Except that in a war of attrition, it's not just the rider, but the bike taking a beating. The road to Dinant was terrible and the Infinito was bouncing all over the place. By the time I reached the town, the Infinito had developed that hamster wheel squeaking sound as I peddled. But relief was in sight. From Dinant it's 27km of river side riding to Namur and then 40km to Brussels. Except that it's not. Neither of those things turn out to be true. The river side pathway was cobbled. Seriously, what is this obsession the Belgians have with cobbles? Are they worried that someone might enjoy themselves? The cycling infrastructure in this contry is so bad Jeremy Clarkson would think cyclists were getting a raw deal. I stopped to see if there was an alternative to the river path. There was, but I was shocked to discover that Google maps now says there is still 84km to go. That can't be right I thought. I'd already done 75km. I double checked, but there it was in full colour. I needed a break.
There have been three types of break on the trip so far; A Breather - stopping at a junction to check the map or after a hill A Mini Break - grabbing a drink in a store A Full Break - stopping, helmet off, eating and drinking. Now I introduced a forth; A Tantrum - where I lie down on the ground and say 'For Fucks Sake' continuously for five minutes. There was only one logical conclusion - Belgium had moved it's capital 40km further north over night in order to win. The cheating cow. As there was literally no alternative I had to remount and ride on. A cleat come lose, 100m from a bike shop (what are the chances?) so I took the chance to replace them both, which the guy in the bike shop very nicely did for me while I sat on a chair his wife brought out the shop for to eat lunch. Exactly as would happen back home. And that's about the last significant thing I remember. The next 85km were a blur of small town and farm lanes, cobbles, so many cobbles, a desperate search for water that ended with me knocking on someones door and asking in pidgin French for help, a desperate search for a coke that ended in me pleading with a hotdog vendor who was setting up. And there were more hills: another 1200m of climbing today. And there were oh so many cobbles. Four hours went past that I cannot really remember at all. It's like a boxer taking a hard blow and blanking out the middle rounds. The last hour into Brussels was on the side of an A road with speeding traffic with me pushing to end the misery. I finished on 158.5km for the day or 99 miles. There's not a chance in hell I cared about the extra mile. Belgium did not play fair. But in the words of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull; "you never put me down Ray, you never put me down"
I am prompted to think that some readers might find this a niche reference (although why you haven’t seen Raging Bull is beyond me) but during the film Jake LaMotta fights Sugar Ray Robinson and takes a total beating, but try as he might, Robinson cannot knock LaMotta down. See it makes sense now. But seriously, watch the film.