It’s no secret that I’ve been living in Belgium since January of 2009. I’ve documented a good bit of my perspective of Belgian cycling culture in my Wash Your Fiets column in each issue of the magazine. It’s a small country, but cycling is huge. It’s that simple.
The Tour de France is basically a household name when it comes to bicycle racing. But the Spring Classic bike races, most of which are Belgian (or very close to Belgium) events, are just as legendary—often more brutal on the racers and romanticized from every corner of the cycling world. They’re all one-day events, but they draw masses of spectators to come cheer, drink beer and watch the racers come by, if only for a few seconds.
I was lucky enough to hit just about all the Spring Classics this year: Gent-Wevelgem; Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders); Paris-Roubaix; La Fleche Wallonne; Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but skipped the Amstel Gold up in the Netherlands.
If you’re into these races, you’ve watched them on television (hopefully), seen the racer’s eyes cross as they do the climbs and know all the results and winners. I’ll skip all that stuff, and will give you a handful of…alternative…photos documenting my experiences in April.
Gent-Wevelgem: My sister, brother-in-law and I decided to watch this race from the Kemmelberg. It’s one of the few steep hills in this race, and the racers come past this point twice. It was dry today, so the racers didn’t have to deal with slippery cobble stones, but at least one or two riders had to dismount near us and walk the rest of the way up the climb. They also weren’t into my offers of Leffe. (Thanks to my sister Samantha for this pic.)
Ronde van Vlaanderen: The Tour of Flanders is my personal favorite Spring Classic. It’s the closest to where we live, and I’ve ridden a lot of the course…including the official Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportiv. Held the day before the race, 25,000 ‘recreational’ cyclists get to ride the exact same route as the race. I did 160 kilometers of it this year, in typical Belgian weather: cold, rain, suffer and wind. Yes, I’m convinced “suffer” is considered Belgian weather. While I can’t exactly say it was incredibly fun, it was an awesome experience, and I’ll be there next year. This is a photo of me after the finish…and I still had five miles to ride back to the car.
Ronde van Vlaanderen: I live in the Flanders region of Belgium. You’ll see thousands of yellow and black “Lion of Flanders” flags flying at this race, and most other big bike races in Europe. A lot of those flags are a slightly different than the official Flanders flag, and are actually the flags of a not-so-friendly political movement in the region. Regardless, I thought it’d be fun to get my own Flanders flag to wave at these races. And I wanted mine to be bigger. Thus, I commissioned a 5′ by 8′ Ned Flanders to take around to these races. Here we are on the Koppenberg at the Tour of Flanders. Despite my fears, the flag was popular everywhere, and wasn’t forcibly shoved into my body by some surly drunken local.
Paris-Roubaix: The Hell of the North. I’ve heard all the stories of how rough the cobbles are here. I’ve seen the photos, and watched the television as the racers basically lost their marbles riding over this stuff. How bad could it be, right? Well…bad. You really don’t know how insanely rough it is to ride over the cobbles here until you actually do it. I had no idea. And, no…the photo doesn’t do it justice. And then watching these guys ride this stuff about three times as fast as I hit them? Impressive.
La Fleche Wallonne: I didn’t get a lot of photos at this race, but I did get a snapshot of the podium. This race is a summit finish, which means these guys pop their eyes out of their heads as they fight a brutal climb to the finish. It was also fun to watch Alberto Contador take the lead and then blow it right at the end, all within about three minutes.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: There are Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere. Even near the butt of Chris Horner as he climbs through Houffalize. He probably thought I was cheering for him, but I was screaming for The Terrible Towel. For the record: I don’t know the guy with The Towel. He didn’t even speak English.Tweet Print