Explosion in Liège
It is funny how the immediate reaction to hearing an inner tube explode is to go into denial.
I participated in La Philippe Gilbert sportive which mixes portions of Amstel Gold, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne, result of which is 162 km of undulating jolly starting with Côte de la Redoute just 3 km into the ride (you can’t design a ruder route if you tried). Since I missed the first two events, it seemed like a sensible thing to enter PG. Philippe Gilbert himself and two of his BMC teammates joined the ride, which made for a festive atmosphere at an unlikely time of day and with fittingly unlikely dress code, 8 am on a Sunday morning, wearing Lycra with loud colours and what look like over-sized menstrual pads. It was nice to see someone and his bike wearing world champion stripes after actually having earned them rather than having bought some replica from a shop. The real deal in the flesh. Pretty cool, I must say.
Approximately 100 km into the ride, near the bottom of a descent, I heard a loud pop. I have had slow punctures but never an explosion. Initially, I just assumed that the sound came from another rider’s bike, but a moment later, I found my rear wheel losing traction and felt the rim touch the tarmac. Oh, feck, it’s me… A portion of the Kevlar bead on the Schwalbe Durano tyre no longer had the rubber coating, slipped off the rim, and the inner tube exploded. I am guessing that the heat generated from frequent braking made the rubber coating disintegrate. I would not want this sort of thing to happen on a descent, but ironically, assuming that it was caused by excessive heat, it would happen only on a descent. It is frightening.
I had a sticker-like tyre boot on me, but I did not know whether it would work for this particular problem. Luckily, I was able to go another 55 km without incident. But then, when one thing goes wrong, another may follow: the valve core of the new tube kept coming loose as I disengaged the pump, as if I wasn’t frustrated enough. Whilst I considered my lack of options for abandoning in the middle of nowhere, I realised that I had another inner tube, which luckily managed to keep its valve core from screwing off.
I was faffing about with my rear wheel in front of the gates of this house for what seemed like eternity. Once I was done, I hoped that the occupants of the house might invite me in for a cuppa and some cake.
However, realising how remote that possibility is, I opted to have a mini picnic on my own in front of the gates. I tore open a muesli bar and drank water from my Dutch plastic bidon (not exactly Delftware cup and saucer, but hey…) whilst I watched the world go by, up the next climb.
Later, when I reached the junction at the bottom of Côte de Chambralles, there were 3 Flemish riders contemplating their options: cross the road and ride up Chambralles, which appeared as though it was going to the heavens at 90°, or be tempted by the road sign pointing to the left, saying 4 km back to Aywaille. They understandably opted for the latter as I think most people would have had enough at that point. Frankly, I never felt temptation come on so thick and fast as it did at than junction. However, I rode up Chambralles as I erroneously thought that it is the last one.
That is, only to be greeted by a big, red sign at the top announcing that the next climb, Côte de Niaster, the last one, is coming in 8.9 km. It is surprising how one’s energy can be drained in a flash. I just had to pause and catch my breath. The view, however, was enchanting. I knew fatigue was well and truly setting in as I took in the view and felt like yodeling, thinking I was alone. As I was about to open my mouth, I saw in the corner of my left eye another rider who had also stopped to catch his breath after seeing the sign for Niaster.
We looked at each other. He shook his head. I chortled. He turned around. I went forward. However, when I eventually came upon the sign pointing to the right for Niaster, I just kept going straight, into Aywaille. My right knee has had enough of the day, so I decided to leave Niaster for another day.
And the Lezyne tyre boot held up until I finished. I need a new tyre.