If you’re still talking about it months after an event, you can’t help but conclude that it was a success. And that also applies to the Rapha Prestige Charleroi, which we drove with the editors. The Prestige are rides organized by Rapha around the world. I previously wrote about Rapha Prestige Charleroi and Björn already drove De Rapha Prestige Eifel.
With the editors on the road is of course a party in itself, but the event is not called a Prestige for nothing. So there is also a need to perform. If we take the route, it does indeed look challenging. About 180 km, and about 2500 hm. And all this on the typical roads around Charleroi. That will not just be a round around Charleroi. The night before the Prestige, the first forms of nerves started to show themselves in our cozy AirBnB stay. Partly due to some ‘inside info’ about the route, especially the road surface, the big question was what the right material would be for the ride.
Hendrik decided to put in a completely new wheelset after dinner, while I was only worrying about how I was going to get all my food for that day. And Björn, who made every possible effort to mount the lights on his bike. Since the next morning was very early day, the organization also asked to mount lights on your bicycle.
Charleroi and the Abbey
The start and finish location of this Prestige is the Abbey of Aulne in Thuin, adjacent to Charleroi. That starts off well and when we enter around 07:00 we see the large tanks with beer between the cyclists. We wisely decide to start with a cup of coffee, while the team captains receive the latest information in the briefing. After the briefing, the teams are sent out every 2 to 3 minutes. It’s our turn around 8.15 am, so we can wake up quietly and change clothes.
In the meantime it has slowly become a bit lighter outside, but the weather is gray and foggy. The thermometer reads 4 degrees and the forecast doesn’t promise much more than 11 degrees for the rest of the day. Wear three layers of clothing, long pants, gloves and overshoes. Except for Bjorn, who finds shorts sufficient for this temperature…
The biggest challenge; the road surface
Under the encouragement of the organization, the three of us set off. A team may consist of a maximum of four people, but Team Racefietsblog consists of three people for today. There is no easy way to start, because from the Abbey the road (or at least, something that should resemble it) goes straight up. And that immediately set the tone. It bounces and rattles and then it goes uphill for another 2.5 km. When we are then sent left into the forest, over a muddy mud path, I spontaneously have a morning mood. It would be a draft suitable for 28mm tires. If this is it today, it’s going to be a very long day I’m afraid.
Okay, it must of course be a challenge and if you are already dirty after 4 km, it does not matter what you will encounter the other 176 km. And so we dock on the route. Literally docking, because bulbs don’t work. nowhere. Kudos to the organization for putting together so many bad roads for this route. Finding bad road surfaces in Belgium is not immediately the biggest challenge, but cycling over it certainly is.
So ugly it becomes beautiful
The beauty of Belgium is the contrasts. The beautiful surroundings and the hills of the Ardennes opposite the gray industry that you see a lot around Charleroi. The route is a succession of hills and sometimes steep climbs of the Ardennes, interspersed with old dilapidated buildings and gray towns. Sometimes so ugly that it becomes beautiful again. Charleroi is just outside the Ardennes, but we can drive there in no time from the Abbey. And almost the entire route takes us through this region. So ugly that it becomes beautiful is perhaps the best description of this Prestige. 180 km and 2500 hm sounds like a tough but fun ride, but the road surface makes this trip unforgettable and heroic. Belgium at its best!
After about 100 km there is a break, where the well-known Rapha bus is waiting for us. Stretch your legs, drink an espresso and refill the water bottles. Plenty of food and drink, and wine gums! The Inside info about the route may have put us on our toes, because the equipment was in order. We haven’t had a single flat tire. That was certainly not the case for many other teams, who we regularly saw on the sidelines with flat tires. If I had known beforehand that the road surface was so bad, I might have taken the gravel bike. But to be fair, then the challenge of the route was not nearly as great. And is the Prestige, so a little suffering is part of it. Pain is for cyclists!
Special beer as a reward
After 183 km and 2486 hm I stop the Wahoo after 7 hours and 37 minutes, and we are back at the Abbey. Now that it is light, we only see the enormous ruins of the monastery that it once was. And where we started with coffee between the beer tanks, it is now time to taste the contents of those same beer tanks. A tasty and well-deserved blond specialty beer, brewed in the Abbey. While enjoying a snack and drink, the teams trickle in one by one and the (strong) stories quickly fly across the table. From a broken derailleur, to five flat tires and a break at the local neighborhood pub along the way. Prestige-worthy tales of a journey so ugly it’s too good to miss.
You can find our ride on Strava. On the Rapha Prestige page you can look back on previous Prestige and information will also be shared for the Prestiges of 2022. We will certainly be there again next year.
Enjoy the variation in surfaces below.