"Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride" Eddy Merckx

I am a Flandrien

6,500 foreigners from over 30 different countries take part in the Tour of Flanders for cycling tourists

“Cycling tourism on the rise”, “Ever more foreign cycling tourists on our roads” and “A new sort of tourism in Flanders: cycling tourism”. You will have surely seen headlines such as these over the past few months. All well and good, of course, but what does this look like in actual fact? Do so many international cycling tourists really come to Flanders to ride up and down our bergs in the company of thousands like-minded souls?

“Make no mistake, cycling tourism really is growing furiously,” says Chris Vannoppen of Golazo, a sports marketing consultancy. “We currently already have over 6,400 foreign participants signed up for our Tour of Flanders for cycling tourists, which is 1,500 more than at the same time last year. Roughly speaking, we can say that almost 1 in 2 participants are from abroad,” he continues.

A visit of the circuit for the Tour of Flanders for cycling tourists shows that Chris Vannoppen is absolutely right. The first two people whom we almost literally bump into are Chris and Evan, two Americans who have flown thousands of kilometres to “fly” across the Flemish countryside – albeit a little more slowly.
“We’ve been getting ready for months,” says Chris. “Not only at the physical level but also as regards our language skills.” To prove his point Chris shows his mastery of the Dutch terms for a pump, a saddle and a drinking bottle. I try to get them to say the name of the street, Karnemelkbeekstraat, but then realise that I’m probably asking a bit too much. Chris and Evan aren’t the only Americans in the race, because the USA takes 7th place on the list of participants’ country of origin. “Not surprisingly, the number 1 spot is occupied by that definition of a cycling country, the Netherlands,” organisers Golazo tell us. “Closely followed by the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.”

It really is a colourful and international crowd that we see completing the course, pumping those pedals and working those muscles. I’m very happy to see two Dutch women, Gerrie and Judith, give me a spontaneous smile as I say a few encouraging words. I listen, captivated, to the stories of breakdowns told by two Scotsmen, Mark and Neill, at the repair station and have to laugh at the burly talk of a bunch of young Dutchmen. “Yesterday evening we were in the pub enjoying your Belgian beers and now we’re taking in a few more of your slopes,” they tell me in a slightly boastful tone.

No, I think that on balance I prefer the Italian couple from Como, Erninia and her husband Ricardo, who complete the circuit at their leisure. “We’re really crazy about the Tour of Flanders,” they tell me. “For us it’s a great honour to be able to ride the same circuit the day before the professionals,” Erninia adds.
As they cycle up the Oude Kwaremont they also tell me, out of breath, that they would love it if Fabian Cancellara were to win the actual Tour. And as luck would have it, their wish came true the next day!

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