Well, it’s been a while since we went Bimblin’ Round Belgium in our campervan, and after writing the last post about our visit to the national cycling museum in Roeselare, Alannah has had trouble pinning me down to make my contribution towards another post. Such is the Cycling Widow’s lot in the height of the cycling season!
In any case, this will be a long-awaited blog for many, and this time we’re checking out the Tour of Flanders cycle race, known in Dutch as the Ronde van Vlaanderen and in French as the Tour de Flandres. (We hope it’ll be worth the wait, as there’s a little treat for readers a bit further on…)
SPEEDY SPORT SPOTTING
The Tour begins in Bruges and ends in Oudenaarde. We heard that one of the Flemish ‘hobbies’ is to see how many times you can see the Tour riders along the route… Hence, many pick a spot from which to watch the race, then once they’ve seen the riders go by, they speed off in their cars to another spot and do it all over again.
Whilst this might be fun for ‘youngsters’, the older folk amongst us might consider this a bit hazardous. So it’s possible that this has influenced the new & controversial decision to change the course this year. Now Tour riders do the same loop three times at the end of the race, which means spectators are more likely to stay in the same spot. These loops also include some of the most gruelling, steep & bumpy cobbled streets (called pavés).
IN THE WRONG LANE
Thinking Oudenaarde would be the best and most exciting spot to view the Sunday race, we headed there on the Friday. After all, if we got there a few days early, surely we could recce the course before things got too busy and find a decent spot to camp out, right? How wrong could we be!?
Turning up on the outskirts of Oudenaarde, we were amazed to see how many cyclists were already out on their bikes, eagerly pedalling along the route that would soon be covered by their cycling heroes. Motorhomes had already begun to take up spots on the side of the fast-moving main road… And as we turned into a side street, hoping to make our way to the Kwaremont – one of the famous pavés – our plans were scuppered as cyclists gradually swamped our campervan, and cars began coming along the narrow lane in the opposite direction.
TWILIGHT ZONE PARKING
Eventually we managed to reverse through the mire of cyclists and followed a sign for parking down another side street. Now, most municipal parking signs point to car parks that are only a stone’s throw away. Not here! We ended up driving for a good few miles down what turned into a bumpy dirt track. Had we entered the Twilight Zone of Belgium???
An hour or so later, our suspension was thankfully still intact, but we’d had enough and decided the ‘vibe’ at Oudenaarde was a bit too frenetic anyway. We stayed overnight in an ‘aire’ (municipal parking place with facilities) in Harelbeke hoping to get some rest, and only managed to do so once our ‘noisy neighbours’ had quietened down. Unfortunately, the aire was situated right next to the local football ground and they had a night-time game scheduled, with loud music & floodlights to boot.
The next day, we drove to Roeselare. This is not only the home of the Wielermuseum (the topic of the last Steve’s Cycle Shorts) but one of the towns through which the Tour passes. From our visit to the museum, it was clear just how important cycling has been to the Belgian culture. The first Tour was held in 1913, and in the last ten years, 7 in 10 winners have been Belgian.
One of the staff members at the museum told us about the old French term Flandrien, used to describe riders (Flemish or not!) who are able to put up with all manner of hardship on the bike. So, are you a Flandrien?
After checking out the museum, we recced the town with a view to finding a decent vantage point from which to watch the race the following day, plus parking place close by.
Now, for the rest of the story, we’ve got a little treat for you… a Tour of Flanders video which we’ve put on YouTube – with words, pictures & music. So click on the link and enjoy!
As the barriers were being cleared away after the race, a photographer from the local newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad, came round taking photos of the spectators… These are viewable online on their website, so if you like, click to view ours.
In conclusion, I thought the whole event was well organised & efficiently run. At the end of the Tour, we understand there are beer-fuelled celebrations in the enormous marquees we saw in Oudenaarde, but somehow, we didn’t feel like we’d missed out on anything by watching the race in the lovely little town of Roeselare.
We hope you enjoyed the above video presentation, and there are a couple of other Campervan Capers videos on Alannah’s new Foley’s Forum Videos YouTube channel for you to check out if you haven’t already seen them.
At some point when Alannah can pin me down again, we’ll be putting together another Steve’s Cycle Shorts story based in Cirencester, where I recently did a 100-mile time trial. So stay tuned or subscribe to the blog if you don’t want to miss my two-wheeled escapades.
Campervan Capers 2 is also in the process of being formatted ready for publication and will be available shortly as a handy, free eBook in various formats – for eReaders or to print.
As always, all info about Alannah’s writing & photography is on the Foley’s Forum website, where there’s plenty of stuff that’s free to view.
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