- Posted by Ben Swift
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Team Sky rider Ben Swift blogs exclusively for cyclingweekly.co.uk
The Tour of Flanders is one of the biggest races in the world, and I had hoped to ride it one year. But I wasn't expecting it to be this year.
I got the call when I landed in Belgium for Three days of De Panne. I was pretty excited for what would be my first attempt at a cobbled classic and lucky to be riding De Panne, as it would give me a last minute lesson in the art of riding cobbles.
De Panne went well and my legs got better and more responsive as the race went on. Afterwards I had two easy days to recover which was spent riding up and down the canal by our hotel, and studying the route map for Flanders.
As the race drew closer the excitement in the team and the whole of Belgium was growing, it was amazing to see how many guys and gals there where already buzzing around trying to get a glimpse of their favourite riders out doing there final prep.
Finally it was the night before the race, my bag was ready, my numbers where pinned on and my tummy was as full as it could get, ready for the day ahead. It was early to bed and early to rise.
With an early breakfast done and dusted it was onto the bus with the beats going, everyone was in good spirits and excited to get going. Rocking up to the start was just how it had been described; 'a sea of people'.
You could see how excited people where for Belgium's biggest race and it was rubbing off on us riders. Riding to the sign on was an amazing experience, we had around a 1km ride to the sign on and it was lined with screaming spectators waving their Flemish flags.
Arriving at the sign on and rolling up the ramp will be an image that will stay with me for a while, thousands of cheering fans, cheering louder every time a Belgium rider road onto the stage.
My Job for the day was to cover the attacks at the start along with Kurt [Asle Arversen and Jez. After just under two hours of non stop attacking the break finally went with Jez in there. So that was phase of complete.
Now normally in a race the peloton would go easy for a fair few k's. But not this race, we took it easy for around half-an-hour before it was back into full flow. The next part of my job was to try and position the team and myself before the key moments.
This proved to be a hell of a lot harder then it sounds. It was carnage as every rider was trying to be at the front. You can see where the knowledge and the experience of this race comes in handy. After the first few important sections the race was already blown apart. I was in the third group but I could just sit back and relax and take it all in as we had 5 guys in the front.
The atmosphere was incredible just lines and lines of people the majority of them drunk, singing away. You feel the atmosphere lift as you approach the famous climbs, the smell of BBQ and alcohol hang in the air, and the fans just go crazy as you ride past. You get a rush and just want to smash it, then after a brief moment of relief your heading to the next climb.
256k long and not a moment of boredom, there is always something happening, that and the crowd make this race so special. I loved my first experience of Flanders and gained a huge amount of experience for the future.
Flanders is now firmly on my list of dream races to win, and I hope that one day I can become a contender.