Get those thighs burning in Flanders, the heartland of cycling
Ask people to name a country famous for cycling and most will probably say France, based purely on a little race they have there every year. But a true cycling purist, won’t say that. They’ll say Belgium. And then they’ll say, “Flanders to be precise”.
This unassuming region has given birth to gods on two wheels. The likes of Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and arguably cycling’s greatest of all time, Eddy Merckx, are all true Flandriens. Or, in other words, hard as nails. Cyclists from these parts are gritty street fighters, fuelled on guts, determination and Belgian beer.
They need to be. Flanders’ roads are legendary, not through some kind of misplaced nostalgia, but because they are really tough to ride. They are winding, narrow and brutal, filled with broken stones that have spelt doom for wheeled vehicles over centuries. The hills are steep and nasty and, for no reason other than to test your mettle (and your metal), are cobbled, just waiting to be conquered by brave people in Lycra. Its annual races, such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Ghent-Wevelgem, squirm between farmers’ fields and ancient villages.
- Embrace the culture with a saddle-sore pilgrimage and ride the sport’s most hallowed ground -
Spring is the time to come and watch cycling in Flanders. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad starts things off, leading into weeks of unique races such as E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem. This all builds up to the holiest of Sundays, the Ronde van Vlaanderen – a test bed for any cyclist’s self-esteem.
But if you want to truly embrace the cycling culture of Flanders then there’s no better way than to embark on a saddle-sore pilgrimage and ride the sport’s most hallowed ground with your hands gripping tight to handlebars.
You’ll arrive with good intentions, discover they’re misplaced, but undoubtedly find the resolve to stay until you’ve experienced the exhilaration and exhaustion of the famous 'Four Ks' climbs: the fabled Koppenberg, everlasting Kwaremont, mythical Kapelmuur and ferocious Kemmelberg. After these, you’ll want a fifth K: a nice long kip.
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