Tour of Flanders bike route: yellow loop

yellow loop

 

“Well, don’t underestimate the Blue Loop. You might think that it’s ok because it’s only 78km. But it has the Kwaremont, the Paterberg and the Koppenberg all within a very short distance. You don’t want to do that. And we really wouldn’t advise you to go on the Red one. It takes you all the way to Geraardsbergen, where you have to climb the famous Wall. Did you bring your mountain gear? What you really want do is go out and try the Yellow Loop. Sure it’s 103 km, but it’s generally flat with just a few cobblestone sections in between.”

That is the advise we give our visitors when we notice that they are not the well trained 300km a week riding bike enthusiasts. However, the final word is up to them. All three signposted cycling loops start and end at the front door of the Tour of Flanders Centre.

 

Yellow loop a piece of cake?

So in these Corona times my colleague Sander (Marketing) and myself decided to go out and test the theory. Is the Yellow Loop really the piece of cake we make it out to be? Or is there something more to it? Sander is the type of cycling addict most of us are. He goes out on his bike a few times a week and I would describe him as a Flandrien. It is a state of mind. He doesn’t give up. He keeps on hitting those pedals to make his bike fly over any surface nature is throwing at him. As for myself, I recently bought a Specialized gravel bike and love cycling the same way I loved my granny. Sincere, but from a certain distance.
Now, the three loops were created by the province of East-Flanders. They made the maps, the made the signposts and they maintain everything. And let us say: they are doing a fantastic job at it. The thing is, you can not put every single climb or every single cobblestone on a map.

 

Climbs and cobblestones all the way

That is something we discovered after only a few kilometers. A nasty small climb called the

Petegemberg

Petegemberg

𝙋𝙚𝙩𝙚𝙜𝙚𝙢𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (530m length, avg. 7,6%, max. 11%) was our first challenge on this so called piece of cake. As it came as a total surprise, it made us wonder what else would come our way. It was there that I decided never ever again to sell this loop as an easy one.

The first real climb was 𝙉𝙤𝙠𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (350m length, avg. 6%, max. 7%). This short cobblestoned climb is the main scene for the UCI ProSeries race Nokere Koerse. We found it to be fairly easy, but after checking section times on Strava, we weren’t too convinced that everyone was staying on the cobblestones. So for those of you who like to cut corners, there is fairly large pavement that you can use to conquer this climb. Who are we to judge.

Huisepontweg

Huisepontweg

Next on the list are 𝙃𝙪𝙞𝙨𝙚𝙥𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙬𝙚𝙜, 𝙇𝙚𝙙𝙚𝙬𝙚𝙜 and 𝘿𝙤𝙤𝙧𝙣. A combined 3.2km of different cobblestone sections. None of them are really challenging, but we saw it as a good

taste of what was to come. And you can see them as a practice track. Because there have been entire books written about riding on cobblestones, but the essential thing is that you have to let the bike do the work. All that you heard is true. Don’t sink your fingers into the steering wheel. Just gently let your hands rest on it in any way you feel most comfortable with. A bit like I would hug my granny.

                               

A practice track, you said? Yes. Because after 𝘿𝙚𝙣 𝘼𝙨𝙩 (450m length, avg. 5%, max. 11%) we got to ride the famous 𝙋𝙖𝙙𝙙𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙖𝙩. This 2.4km long cobblestone section is renowned for its yearly appearances in the Tour of Flanders. It will hardly decide who is going to win, but it will separate boys from men. When we rode it, the street was in fairly good condition and although being quite challenging, we found it to be doable. In hindsight. Because people warned us that we should save a little something for the last 20km of the loop. More on that to come.

Paddestraat

Paddestraat

Did I mention that the Yellow Loop is sometimes unforgiving? There are hardly 300m between the end of the Paddestraat and the beginning of the 𝙇𝙞𝙥𝙥𝙚𝙣𝙝𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙖𝙩. A further 1.3km of cobblestones. With the first part slightly climbing. But after this, it’s a straightforward ride to the town of Zottegem, which is just over halfway. Mind you that there will be a dangerous crossing between Buke and the N462. Other than that, this loop is a very safe ride.

Next on the menu are the 𝙑𝙡𝙖𝙢𝙢𝙚 (700m length downhill, avg. 5%, max. 10%) and the 𝙃𝙤𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙚 (1.2km length downhill, avg. 3%, max. 10%) so if you want to up your average speed on Strava, these two downhill sections are a welcome change of scenery. Were it not that I conveniently forgot to mention the appearance of the 𝙆𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙙𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙨 in between. This 2.2km climb has a comfortable average of 3% but a steepest point of 10%. Luckily all those 3 sections have not a single cobblestone in them. But still, if you’re as badly trained as I am every muscle starts to hurt.

 

Afraid of the Molenberg

And then came the 𝙈𝙤𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (460m length, avg. 7%, max. 14%). Well, this was the first and only section of the Yellow Loop where Sander and I decided to each go our own way. Here’s the deal. He’s a marketing guy. They get to blow things out of proportion. He warned me. I was afraid. Even more afraid than when my granny wanted to kiss the 6 year old version of myself with her hairy mustache.

 

Ho ho holy cobblestones…

So while he was jumping up the cobblestoned back of this famous little monster, I took an early turn to the right and went up the 𝘾𝙖𝙞𝙡𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (800m length, avg. 4%, max. 7%) instead. Because of the lack of cobblestones. Still a little challenge, but what my dear colleague failed to tell me was that the Caildenberg crosses with the Molenberg, so I still had to do about 150m of cobblestone climbing. Apart from this treacherous lying, we make a great team!

This was later followed by the 𝙅𝙖𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙟, a 1km long cobblestoned street. A fair section, but nothing compared with what was about to follow. 𝙆𝙚𝙧𝙠𝙜𝙖𝙩𝙚. 2.5km of cobblestones of which the start is

Jagerij

Jagerij

devious, to say the least. The first 500m are easy pavé compared with what is to come. It is pure suffering. The street is degrading at an unforgiving rate. Torture all the way. You can feel all 206 bones in your body shaking and screaming. Agony. And just when you think a T-section is the end of all your suffering, you get to turn right to the worst piece of road in the Yellow Loop. It was there that I made a promise to myself. Starting from today I will track down whoever designed this loop and I will make him swallow a cobblestone. Or a Kwaremont beer if he turns out to be a decent guy.

 

 

Muscles thrown to the wolves on the Wolvenberg  

After this horror, came the downhill cobblestone section of 𝙑𝙤𝙡𝙠𝙚𝙜𝙚𝙢𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (1km length, avg. 5%, max. 12%). A straight, yet challenging descent. Still it was fun to throw yourself downhill.
And the final climb of the day was the 𝙒𝙤𝙡𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (800m length, avg. 4%, max. 17%). This asphalt road was, in combination with Kerkgate, what we were warned about. “Save a little something for the last 20km”. A steepest section of 17% after 90km of shaking on cobblestones is painful. We all know that feeling when you think your muscles are going to explode. Well mine did. I lost them there. If anyone finds them, please return them to Markt 43 in 9700 Oudenaarde. A finders fee will be rewarded.

But what we knew was that after this hideous little climb, all that was left to do were two cobblestone sections. De 𝙍𝙪𝙞𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙖𝙩 with a length of 800m was painful and going downhill on the 𝙆𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙜 (600 m length, avg. 6%, max. 8%) was in a masochistic way somewhat rewarding.

After 5 hours, we were pleased to see the beautiful gothic town hall of 𝙊𝙪𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙖𝙖𝙧𝙙𝙚. Bathing in the shimmering light of the evening sun. It is a sight my colleague and I see every day. But never before did it look that beautiful.

 

The final verdict

Now for the verdict. Is this Yellow Loop the flat and easy one? Is it the piece of cake we make it out to be? No. Most definitely not. We must confess that it is equally hard as its Red and Blue brother and sister. But in its own way. Sure, it doesn’t have the Muur or the Paterberg. You won’t be able to brag that you survived the Koppenberg. No, this Yellow Loop is hard because it gives you another taste of the Flemish Ardennes. It is the succession of different types of sections that makes it a real challenge.

 

Enjoy the ride and stay safe,

Tom