CS Grupetto

We are a little bit different to most clubs in that we\'re primarily a group of friends who socialise off the bike, but we happen to share a common interest in cycling and cyclesport. We are based in Putney and have regular weekend rides out to Windsor and the Surrey Hills, as well as occasional trips elsewhere.

We have a wide variety of cycling interests amongst club members, from track riding to road racing, and sportives to bike polo. Several of our members have their race licences, and we\'re represented in every category including Elite

We regularly travel further afield to enjoy some of the classic races – this year quite a few of us have ridden the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix sportives, and then watched the pros follow our tyre tracks. We also try and get to see the Ghent and Berlin six day track events.

At the core of the club ethos is a desire to enjoy good rides with good friends.



For me the spring classics are the most exciting races of the season. Run as one day stage races, they leave no second chances to a rider having an off day. It’s a case of risking everything, using racing guile as much as raw strength to get ahead and above all suffering to the extreme.

The beauty of the Ardennes classics, coming at the end of the 6 weeks classics season, is that the three races all take place in an 8 day window.  We left home on Friday morning taking the Eurotunnel to Calais and making or way by car across northern Europe.  First stop was in Ghent, taking the opportunity to break up the journey by visiting one of the earlier spring classic destinations.  The town centre is more or less fully pedestrianised and, as you might expect from an old Belgian town, cobbled!  No riding today, just sitting out by the canal, in the warmth of the mid-April sunshine enjoying the first of many Belgian wheat beers.  Being famous, amongst other things for its beer, the tipple of choice has to be one of the various Trappist beers.  Brewed by monks in one of 8 Trappist monasteries they are dark and strong… you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good night.


Moving swiftly on to the departure location for the first Ardenne classic, the Amstel Gold Race, we head for Maastricht.  The square is buzzing the night before the race with team cars lined up in front of the grand town hall where riders and press have come together ahead of the race.  We chomp down some more frites and of course a few more Trappist beers (can remember how many … but enough) in one of the many cafes that line the edges of the main square, enjoying the growing excitement for the morning depart.


At 10am on Sunday morning the carnival is in full flow, riders are buzzing around warming up their legs, team cars poised behind the official race vehicles of the commisaires, fans are crowing close to the start line searching for the best views of the riders, marquees have popped up in the square selling all manner of cycling merchandise and tat for those who want something that says, I was there.  A complete transformation from the night before, the Europeans know how to organise a bike race!

Once the peloton has moved on all of the race infrastructure is packed down and the town is back to normal in no time.  We jump on the train from Maastricht to Valkenburg for a spot of lunch before make our way up the Cauberg to establish our base for the afternoon.  Walking up the climb is hard enough, you can only imagine how tough it is racing up at full tilt.  The first couple of times the race comes through, the break and peloton are riding comfortably, however each lap out and back to the climb gets shorter, only adding to the tension and excitement as the racing gets steadily faster.  When the lead group arrives for the final time the race explodes … Sammy Sanchez puts in the first attack at the bottom of the climb, with team mate Gilbert poised for action sitting in the wheel of the pursuers.  When they hit the steepest point of the climb Gilbert sneaks up the inside of the bend and executes a tired and tested attack that has proved successful for him before on this climb, soon putting distance between him and the rest.  Standing so close to the bunch you can see the pain etched on the faces of those who have been doing the work earlier in the day, delivering the likes of Gilbert onto the Cauberg at the front.  You didn’t need a TV screen to know who won! The extremely ‘merry’ Belgian crowd who have travelled in support of their countrymen, have been following it all on the radio are are already singing songs about Gilbert, proclaiming him as the 3 time winner of the Amstel Gold Race.


The next morning it’s our turn, though we won’t be riding the full 251.8km route.  Riding out of Maastricht is a revelation, virtually all roads are painted with cycle lanes, including separate cycle paths integrated into the major roundabouts.  We’ve chosen a route that takes in a handful of the main climbs from the classic route, a mini version, but in keeping with the Ardennes classic style our route is still undulating from the start and we are climbing within the first 10km.  The first notable climb reached is the Loorberg, a 3km test at 6% that winds up through the trees, allowing for a stretch of the legs.  After a short descent down into the open fields it’s not long before the next official climb at Camerig.  Slightly longer at 3.5km the gradient is steady, bringing us onto a ridge that offers fantastic views over the valley into Belgium.  Taking a short cut at the top we head back towards Valkenburg, scheduling in a quick climb of the Kruisberg which is certainly the toughest climb so far touching 20% at its steepest … welcome to the Ardennes!  Another easy 10km brings us back to Valkenburg 24 hours after the professionals.  Sweeping left onto the Cauberg it’s impossible not to stand on the pedals and give it everything to see just how fast you can get up the climb versus the pros.  It only lasts 2.5 minutes but that’s enough when a large section of the climb is 15-20%.  Thankfully the rest of ride is downhill back to hotel where further varieties of monk(ey) beer are waiting to replenish those burned calories.

The following day we travel to Spa which serves as a perfect base for reaching the next two races. Situated in the heart of the Ardennes our hotel is surrounded by forrest and only a few minutes ride away from the historic town.  The next classic is La Fleche Wallonne (The Walloon Arrow), which follows a similar diet of rolling countryside interspersed with steep climbs, the more notorious of which is the Mur De Huy (the wall of Huy). Much like the race a few days prior there is calm in the group on the initial ascent of ‘the wall’, but all hell breaks loose when it comes down to the final effort.  Sometimes spectating at a bike race can be an anti climax with the race passing by in a flash, that’s not the case here.  The climb is so harsh that even at the top level of racing team leaders are wrestling with their bikes to claw their way to the top of this climb.  Even after the winner has crossed the line and the crowds are descending from the hillside, there are dropped domestiques battling their way up through the melee, dodging fans who help with a little push and cheer.


When it’s our turn again the next morning I’ll admit I wasn’t over enthusiastic about the final climb of the day, which was to be the Mur de Huy.  Today’s ride is a lot shorter than the last, an excuse to get a ride in and be warmed up for the final climb.  Meandering through the countryside, passing ripe fields of bright yellow oilseed rape the skies are overcast making for a muggy ride.  A couple of hours after leaving Huy we are back and approaching the foot of the wall.  Learning nothing from the last ride, again I hammed on the pedals at the first sight of ‘huy, huy, huy …’ spray painted up the road.  Initially the climb isn’t too bad, but as you take the second bend, a left hand hairpin where the gradient sharply steps up to over 25% you know this is where the real test begins.  After that point gradient does not relent until the final 100m as you exit the trees.  It was just before this marker where I tasted blood at the back of my throat, 3.5 minutes into the climb and right on the limit I don’t think I’ve ever has to push myself that hard.  You’re not given a choice… either dig in or get off, you’re not going fast enough to stay upright unless you accept the suffering and keep on pushing the pedals.

With the Mur de Huy ticked off, I categorically state that I don’t need to come back and do it again.  How anyone can do that 4 times in one ride … racing others on the way up is hard to comprehend.  That’s why I’m there though, the only way to fully appreciate what you’re watching when the pros fight it out on these climbs is to do it yourself and experience a degree of the suffering they put themselves through several times over.  Incredible.

After a day of resting in the spa we are registered to take part in the official Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive, the day before the classic.  The early stages of the parcours are relaxed, some climbing but nothing too serious.  It’s when you turn back towards Liege that they come thick and fast, the first notable steep ascent is that of the Cote de la Redoute. Again the average grade of 8% is deceiving, the early part of the climb is gentle but it’s when the slope creeps over 20% and just stays there that it really bites.  A short breather is required at the top before pressing on into a succession of short punchy climbs. The next major test is the Cote de la Roche aux Foucons, though not as consistently tough as the Redoute it definitely helps deliver more lactate into the legs.  A short descent over the top and there’s more climbing immediately, such is the shark tooth profile of the route, half of the climbs aren’t even marked on the route card but they’re definitely there.

Entering Liege again we ride through the old industrial part of the city and turn into the Cote de St Nicolas, famous in classics gone by for late winning attacks.  I make a slightly less dramatic late attack of my own, simply to get through the climb quicker, it’s not as challenging as the earlier climbs but coming so late in the roller-coaster route it’s feels tougher than it should.  That was the last categorised climb on the card and at the top people were congratulating each other for ‘finishing’, but I’ve done this before and know about something they don’t … the Cote d’Ans.  It’s a climb no harder than anything you’d ride on a Sunday club run but if you’re mind thinks you’ve already finished it can be a beast.  Without getting ahead of ourselves we take our time descending through the town and spin a comfortable gear up the final climb back to the sports club we had left hours before, completing the third of our mini classics and celebrating with another Trappist beer … well why not?

Sunday morning and the oldest of the classics in well under way, somewhere between Liege and Bastogne. At 283km and over 4,500m climbing they’ll be on the road for a while,  so we take our time waking the legs up and head for the Cote de la Redoute, with far less apprehension than the day before.  We’re not the first to arrive and the Belgian teenagers opposite our chosen spot clearly arrived a few hours ago to secure a space and start on the lagers, each finished crate now upturned and used as a platform to stand and cheer from.  Each amateur rider making their way up by bike gets a hearty cheer, a handy push and offers of beer to help ease the pain.  A Dutch stag party have acquired a flag pole which is now being used to encourage walkers to limbo their way up the hill… well just girls actually.  They even manage to ‘limbo’ a police car!  As we are well used to now, the caravan rolls through an hour ahead of the race jettisoning useless crap from it’s windows into the crowd.  The highlight during this part of our day at the races is when spectators decide it would be funny to start throwing the unwanted marketing give-aways back into the vehicles, we clearly join in and successfully manage to hit one driver with a red rubber ball advertising some local product or other.


Enough of that and the attention is back on the approaching race.  The break away has a slender lead as it reaches us but we see riders firing off the front of the peloton behind looking to establish a margin over the top. There’s been quite a selection in the bunch now, with only 50km to go the peloton is far slimmer than it was when it left that morning, a long line of riders squeeze their way through the crowds and cars following the race in, their jobs done for the day.  We follow the finish of the race on large screens positioned half way up the climb and once Gerrans finally leaves someones wheel to claim victory we jump in the car and make our way back to the channel.


After a long week of riding, watching pros, eating frites and drinking monk booze we’re shattered.  But that’s the beauty of the spring classics, each day is different and you know it’s going to be an exhausting week, that’s what you go for and it wouldn’t be the same any other way.