Normally at the end of gruelling UCI WorldTour season, riders take some time off, but not Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal. They decided to ride their bikes back to Belgium following the Il Lombardia, one of the Monuments of professional cycling. Over the course of six days, the duo rode approximately 1000 kilometres, starting in Como, Italy, heading through the Swiss Alps and Vosges in France, through Luxembourg and a quick detour into Germany, before finishing in De Gendt's hometown of Semmerzake.
They rode their Ridley team bikes, with added handlebar, saddle and top tube bags, and titled their ride #TheFinalBreakaway, posting photos and stories on social media from the ride and their evenings at hotels, eating pizza and drinking beer.
So, after training and racing thousands of kilometres over the previous nine months, why would two pros choose to ride some more?
"I wanted to do this to experience riding my bike in a different way," explained De Gendt. "We are used to riding for training, getting in shape, doing intervals, training camps and racing. So always with the goal of getting better. Now we could just use our legs and bikes to get somewhere. At any pace, with any effort, with as many stops as we liked. Just disconnect from what we are used to and try something new, and come back to the essence of why we started cycling in the first place. Because we love riding our bikes."
The route wasn't direct, but that wasn't the point, according to de Gendt: "We took the roads that took us through nice regions with beautiful views. It is 1000 kilometres and we wanted to stay off the big roads where possible. Como to Semmerzake can be 100 kilometres less, but then you wouldn't have a nice route. We started in Como and went over the San Gottardo and back down to Flüelen [Switzerland]. Day 2 went through Aarau to Basel and finished in Saint-Louis [France], and Day 3 was over the Grand Ballon [1325 metres] and across the Vosges to finish in Luneville [France]."
"On Day 4 our route was to Gonderange [Luxembourg] in a fairly straight stage. Day 5 went along the German border and then into Belgium to Chevron [Belgium]. Day 6 was just the shortest way possible to Semmerzake."
And was it worth it? The answer is an emphatic YES from Thomas De Gendt: "It was really nice to be able to enjoy riding our bikes without stress and as a transportation tool. We took all we could carry in our bike bags with us and we rode from hotel to hotel. We stopped when we were hungry or saw a nice view. We washed our clothes by hand and needed to make sure they were dry the next morning; that was our only worry. The experience itself was really nice and I can only say to anyone who is thinking about doing this: 'Stop thinking and start planning. It was the most fun I have had on a bike'