Naesen rides 365km around East Flanders after coronavirus ends spring Classics campaign

AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen at the 2020 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana
AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen at the 2020 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

While riders in France and Spain are not allowed to train on the roads due to the coronavirus lockdown and Italian professionals have now agreed to also stay indoors as a sign of respect for their compatriots fighting the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, Belgium's Oliver Naesen of AG2R La Mondiale and his regular training partner Maxim Pirard have clocked up a marathon 365km ride around Flanders.

All the Spring Classics have been postponed or cancelled with most teams telling their riders to ease off training but Naesen wanted to go for one big ride. 

"I actually really needed it. If you look at your mobile phone or watch TV, you only hear or see things about the coronavirus. That's not nice," he told Sporza.

"We cycled for 12 hours and paused for about 40 minutes. We have been at a bakery 3 times to eat donuts. The intensity was really low, we rode and chatted, we never accelerated after a bend."

Naesen and Pirard left home in Teralfene, just west of Brussels, at 5:30 am in the dark and finished at 6:00pm; with Strava data showing they completed a long loop of Flanders, following the regional border of East Flanders. The pair averaged 30.4km/h, with Naesen averaging 182 watts. Pirard was a stagiaire with Bahrain-Merida in 2018 and is the current world Gran Fondo champion.

“All energy comes from your body fat, you don't have to eat much. I wasn't hungry yesterday, even last night. During the training I ate 3 Berlin ball donuts and some gels. I consumed 8,000 calories, so the mirror test is still okay,” Naesen explained.

"Did I sleep well? Fantastic," Naesen told Sporza (opens in new tab) on Thursday morning. "Like a stone. I even fell asleep in the couch last night. It was a blissful night."

"My legs definitely feel great. It makes no difference. This was not a crazy achievement. For a long time it was a relaxed ride to empty your head. I wouldn't recommend it to my parents, but colleagues can definitely try this out."

"Every day is like a Sunday now, you have to exercise with the them of having fun."

Naesen has emerged as one of Belgium's best Classics riders in recent years. Her finished second to Julian Alaphilippe at last year's Milan-San Remo, was third at Gent-Wevelgem and seventh at the Tour of Flanders.

"It is so strange. Normally this is the period of super focus, and now the fire has gone out. I'm in winter mode, I see myself fattening day after day. When I heard that the classics were canceled, I immediately decided: Okay, it's now time for some deep-frying.' But I'm 29. This is really not the time for that. I'm in my strongest years." 

OLiver Naesen's big ride in Flanders

(Image credit: Strava)

• Epic day! Thx @olivernaesen for the company, awesome ride 🤟💪 Stats: 365km 12h 30.5avg speed MAXIM PIRARD (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by @maximpirard on Mar 18, 2020 at 12:45pm PDT

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.