Anyone who follows Steven de Jongh on social media will know that he still loves to ride, and he’s no stranger to riding in the dark thanks to his daily #DawnPatrol when away at races. Starting at 12:01AM on Friday 19th June, Steven embarked on his longest ride ever as part of The Longest Day challenge.
Along with a group of cycling enthusiasts, the original idea was for the group to ride from Maastricht visiting Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, and back to Maastricht. However, in line with the current Coronavirus situation, the revised plan was to have each person doing a solo or small group ride that was personal to them.
With an online tracker, you were able to see everybody tracing their own routes across northern Europe, each with their unique story. Steven decided to build his route around visiting many of the places where he took wins in his racing career, resulting in a 450-kilometer ride down memory lane, which he completed in a staggering 13 hours and 9 minutes. Be sure to check Steven’s impressive data from the ride towards the bottom of the page.
After giving him some time to recover, we asked Steven to tell us the story of his longest day.
A trip down memory lane – by Steven de Jongh
The first city I stopped in was Merksem, and there I won Schaal Sels three times in the early 2000s. One time was a sprint and another was from a small group. When you come to the city I could see where the finish was and recognize the place and I remembered, ‘That year I was sprinting on that side and it was hot’. These things that you remember, they’re funny.
Then I went underneath the Schelde and I came to Kruibeke-Bazel and there I won the Omloop van de Vlaamse Scheldeoorden in 2007. I don’t remember a lot from that race, I know that a Belgian guy was away, and we caught him in the final hundred meters, and I won the sprint. But, during my ride, it was so dark that I couldn’t find the exact finish line.
After that, I rode for a long time along the Schelde and there were thousands of rabbits crossing in the night, so I had to pay attention not to hit any. From 4:30 AM you could see the light coming up and the sun arrived about an hour later, it was really beautiful.
Then I came to Nokere, where I won in 2005 in a sprint from a big group. I distinctly remember from that race that about 10 days before I had told the mechanic the exact pressure I wanted in the tires. It was an uphill sprint over cobbles, so you needed to have grip. In the finish photo there’s nobody even in the wheel. I won by over a bike length. It’s always nice if you can win a sprint with a big advantage.
From there I went down to Desselgem and there I won GP Briek Schotte in 2007. In that race, there was a small breakaway that I was not in but then everything came back together. There were constant attacks and I joined every move. Eventually I rode away with a small group and I was able to win the sprint quite easily because there were no fast sprinters in that group.
I went down the water to Harelbeke and there I met one of the Bidon Guys, Boudewijn, and his friend. In 2003 I won the E3 Harelbeke in a sprint with Wesemann and Stijn Devolder, who was just starting his career. So, it was a strong breakaway group that year. Actually, I had been dropped on the last climb and then we came back on the big road. As I got back through the cars to the back of the group, I could see Devolder attacking. I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I was back in the group I jumped in the breakaway; we stayed away and I won the race. Winning like that makes this one quite easy to remember.
In Harelbeke I had my first big breakfast with Boudewijn and his wife to refuel and drink some coffee. Then I went to Kuurne where I won in 2004 in a small group sprint against Bettini and again in 2008 when I was away with Langeveld. In 2004, the race now called Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was canceled because of the icy roads making it too dangerous to start, so Kuurne was the opening race of the classics season. Together with Harelbeke, that’s one of my best wins.
After Kuurne I was going up to Koolskamp where I won my last official UCI race in 2009, the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen. Unfortunately, there were some roadworks there so I couldn’t get to the finish line. Then I headed to Lichtervelde where I won Houtland in 2007. There was a big breakaway which was whittled down because of the bad weather. In the final kilometers, I attacked and I arrived just in front of the group. It was good to be there again.
From Lichtervelde I had a long section of headwind towards De Panne. Now it’s a one-day race but De Panne used to be a three-day race. On the last day we always had a morning stage and a TT in the afternoon. I won the morning stage twice, in 2003 from a bunch sprint and 2006 when I attacked with a teammate, Roseler, and Corioni from Lampre.
In De Panne I had another breakfast, this time with Luc Meersman and Fast Freddie, who was there with his scooter. Freddie paced me on the scooter for a while because after all the headwind my legs were a bit sore. Then we went to Ruddervoorde, where I won the criterium in 2002 by beating McEwen in the sprint, so I was in pretty good form. It was just before the Tour and I was disappointed not to be selected. Beating McEwen was really nice because at the time he was one of the fastest guys.
From there, we went in the direction of Ghent and Edward Theuns joined me. We were behind the scooter for another 30km to Zelzate and on the way we passed another of the Bidon Guys, Ettiene, for some drinks. Then, in Zelzate my wife Renée met us to bring pancakes for my last food stop. Eddie and I went to Antwerp again and I visited the last place on my list, Putte Kapellen. At that race I had a 3rd and 2nd before I finally managed to win there in 2000.
The ride was made easier because I always had a goal ahead which made the time pass well. In the end having some company was very helpful as I had no time to feel sorry for myself in the last kilometers.
It was a really nice experience because it went so well. I think in a year or two I will do another one. Maybe I’ll do the Ride Across Wisconsin near the Trek HQ, it’s a 225-mile (362kms) ride.
- Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc
- SRAM Red eTap AXS 52 Single Chainring
- Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 clincher wheels
- Pirelli Cinturato tubeless tires
- Bontrager Ion front and Flare rear lights + spares
- Enervit sport drink mix