Last weekend, Liam and I headed up to hallowed cycling ground in Belgium and Northern France for the Fan Club ride and launch of the Trek Factory Racing professional cycling team. Trek Factory is a new American team based in Belgium that is made up of riders from 17 different nationalities. As Trek VP Joe Vadeboncoeur told us, “that is 17 different languages spoken on the team bus!” If you take out Jens Voigt, who is one of the oldest and most experienced riders in professional cycling, the new team will have the youngest average age in the peloton. Trek is a very exciting international brand and this is reflected in the young, dynamic, exciting team they have assembled.
As part of the new team, Trek Factory has formed a new Fan Club. The concept is much like how the fan club of a rock band functions. Members will have access to special events, greater access to the riders, team gear, a newsletter, etc… All these things are really great, but the true benefit of the club is that it allows fans to feel like they are truly part of the team.
|Liam with the Team Bus in Oudenaarde|
It will probably come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Liam and I were some of the first fans to sign up for the club. The sign up was free and still is – you can find the link here
. As part of the new club, we received an e-mail with a link for tickets to the opening Team Presentation and a special Fan Club ride. The ride was taking place in Oudenaarde, Belgium on a modified version of the Tour de Flanders course Friday morning and, that evening, the Team Presentation would take place in the Velodrome in Roubaix, France. When I first read this there were two things that popped in to my head. The first was one word – “EPIC.” The second was actually an after thought – “its January and the day could be very cold and miserable.”
Liam and I love riding in Belgium, especially on the Flanders course. Throw in the chance to do this with some riders from the new Trek Factory team, a Fan Club meet and greet with the riders in the afternoon, and a team launch in the famous Velodrome in Roubaix the same evening; and it became an opportunity that we couldn’t let slip away. We would take our chances with the weather.
The Ride Report:
Friday January 10, 2014 dawned clear and fairly warm with highs in the low 50’s. Liam, I and 200 other lucky Trek Factory Racing fans got to spend the morning hitting the famous cobble climbs of Flanders with several of the team’s professional riders. The ride was broken up into three groups that left 15 minutes apart. Two or three Trek Factory riders served as guides for each group for the cobbled 68k course. We decided to go in the third group because it would be a little warmer and more time for the cobbles to dry out a before gave them a go. There were perhaps 50 or 60 riders in our group. We were assembled in the main square in Oudenaarde ready to roll. To everyone’s surprise and pleasure up rolled Fabian Cancellara with Jens Voigt on his wheel – our “guides” for the day. I believe that everyone in our group got to ride and chat with the legends at some point during the two and half hour ride. It was awesome. Liam was in his element. He was on the cobbles riding with Spartacus and the Jensie (Mr. “Shut up Legs” himself).
|Liam and the Jensie - top of the Paterberg|
Make no mistake, the cobbled climbs of Flanders are tough. Not everyone in the group made the entire circuit, but even for the fans that couldn’t complete the whole course, they got a true taste of just how difficult racing over these roads can be. It is slippery, it is bumpy, it is steep, your legs scream and lungs desperately search for more oxygen. It is pure cycling – pure Classics. The notable sections we rode were the Oude Kwaremont (11% grade), The Paterberg (20%), Koppenberg (19%), Steenbeekdries (5%), grueling bumpy descent of 10% on the Stationsberg, the Taaienberg climb of 15%, and finally the Kruisberg at 9%. Liam was able to stay in the front of the group for all of the climbs. In fact, he actually got stronger as we went. We were given timing chips at the beginning of the ride and two of the segments were timed. Out of the 200 plus riders that took part in the event, Liam had the 34th best time on the Koppenberg and the 28th best time on the final Kruisberg climb. Over the years, we have had some pretty amazing experiences on a bike, but I have to say, this was right up there with the best.
|We even had our own Team Car|
|Refreshments out on course - Belgian waffles -- naturally|
After the ride we got changed, loaded up the van, and headed off towards the French/Belgian boarder. The Roubaix Velodrome is about 50 minutes from Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is more country rolling hills where as Roubaix is more flat and industrial. The Velodrome, which sits on the southern outskirts of the city, is sacred cycling ground. It is here that a victor is crowned each year in the Queen of the Classics – the grueling Paris-Roubaix race. And, it is here that the new Trek team hopes to be standing on top of the podium in just three months time. What an amazing venue for a team launch. I don’t think there has ever been anything quite like it. As they said they would, the Trek Factory Racing team is already raising the bar in professional cycling.
|Ladies and Gentleman - Trek Factory Racing 2014|
The Fan Club reception with the riders and the Team Launch were incredible. Liam, who is getting more involved in the production of the blog, was able to conduct a few interviews. The whole presentation, with the riders rolling out around the velodrome and down onto the stage in their new kits on the new team bikes, was visually striking. It was inspiring to be there and to feel like we were a part of the team. It is hard to capture the essence of an event of this size and scope in a short video, but I hope we manage to convey a piece of that magic in our attempt.
It is going to be a good year. It is already up and rolling and off to a great start.
Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!
This is Bill and Liam out.
Bonus Video - Liam's first media event Interviews!