Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tour and the Giro, don’t mind a World Champs if it’s a good one, and can happily sit and watch the other great one day classic races, but for me, my true loves are the upcoming Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
I’ve been lucky enough too to ride both epic courses, back in 2014, and to attend both events that same year. What a blast!
Flanders, or the Ronde van Vlaanderen as it is known in the local language, first ran in 1913 and takes part in an area that saw the some of the heaviest fighting of the two World Wars. It is a race that is as central to the Flandrian consciousness as any religious or historical feature of the culture – if not more. In fact, it is just that – religious in the sense of the esteem it is held and historical in the depth of the suffering it demands from its winners.
We are not talking about a race here. This is a trial.
The names of the hills that make up the event mean nothing to anyone not living in Belgium nor to anyone that is not a cycling fan. The Mollenberg, the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and the Valkenberg, they are to anyone outside our two-wheeled cult nothing less than non-descript geololgical formations depicted on a map – but to us? These are the sites of great battles, of gargantuan tussles between men and the angry specters of the Other World. The great Bernard Hinault had this to say after one edition of the race:
“I told the organisers it wasn’t a race but a war game. It’s hard to explain what the Koppenberg means to a racing cyclist. Instead of being a race, it’s a lottery. Only the first five or six riders have any chance: the rest fall off or scramble up as best they can. What on earth have we done to send us to hell?”
Can’t wait. And I’m sure you can’t either, but whet your appetite with this great little video showing the Ronde from past to present.