Since the rider briefings began at 18:30 in the t Hemelrijk pub/restaurant just off the summit of the Muur, we began to collect there from late afternoon. It was a great time to catch up with old friends from last year and I was particularly pleased to find Chris White, with whom I had spent a fair bit of time last year.
I was sorry to find out that after so much training, he was carrying an injury that was very likely to stop him completing the race, but all credit to him for making the start and giving it his best shot.
Considering the restaurant was catering for around 250 + people over the course of the evening, they did an amazing job. We somehow got missed in the melee of orders but the huge bowl of pasta that eventually arrived 2 1/2 hours after it was ordered, was well worth the wait, arriving as it did at the perfect time for fueling up the legs for the road ahead.
Since I'd climbed the Muur twice that day already, it hardly seemed to make sense to cycle back down to the registration hall for a lie down. No-one was going to get much in the way of sleep now and relaxing and letting the time drift by felt like the best option. One way or another this was going to be a night of little sleep. Whether once the race started, you decided to stop early and get your head down, would be the first big call we had to make and I already knew which way I was going on that one.
At 23:45 we were called to the start line, where the Town Crier and the Mayor wished us safe travels. Torches were lit and held either side of the road as at the stroke of midnight we headed off on the parcour circuit of the town before again climbing the Muur for the last time.
Racing back up the last section of the hill, with the cheers and whoops of the crowd surrounding us was magical. I've never ridden a cycle race in my life outside of the TCR and the atmosphere and sense of excitement shared by competitors and followers as we dispersed from Geraardesbergen will stay with me for a long time.
The road from the chapel descended to the left, taking us back into the town. From the get go, I had planned my route to avoid some of the main roads as much in deference to Laura's concerns about safety, but also in an attempt to find the shortest route.
It was my first mistake and one that I spent the remainder of the race correcting. I overtook people early on only to meet up with them again as my now obviously tortuous route through slow bumpy country lanes slowed me down and added unwanted and wasteful climbs. I could see already that the secret to surviving 2560 miles would be down to navigation, navigation, navigation!