Together with Italy, Flanders is a place where the words Culture and Renaissance embody their specific meaning. Bruges is the Venice of the North and Flanders is Tuscany‘s northern counterpart.
So, from a historical perspective, the Tour of Flanders, aka De Ronde, has the same charm as the white gravel road race of the Strade Bianche, and for bicycle buffs, it is the epitome of the culture of cycling.
Visitors of Gothic gems such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp can’t help but be amazed by the sheer stretches of very busy on-road bicycle lanes –no matter what the season– that the Flemish care for with manic dedication.
This is probably why De Ronde is considered the “University” of cycling races. Apart from the Grammont Wall, the Koppenberg, and the Oude Kwaremont climbs, it is the fervid faith in cycling that makes the Tour of Flanders, along with the Paris–Roubaix, the most important classic in the world.
Yet, the organisers are also aware that Flanders plays a key role in Europe’s history. For some time now, Antwerp’s Grote Markt and Bruges’ equally spectacular Market Square have been taking turns at hosting the start of the race and each represents a stunning facet of Flemish Gothic. This is entirely similar to what starting in Siena’s Piazza del Campo or Florence’s Piazza del Duomo means for Italy.
Before setting off through the walls of the Flemish Ardennes, the course also touches on the similarly splendid city of Ghent, whose cathedrals house some of the world’s greatest works of art.
But the most important aspect of these places, when cycling is concerned, is that any keen bike traveller can easily reach every one of these marvellous art cities. It’s bicycle-friendly tourism made simple thanks to the cycling routes that run alongside roads and follow the course of the canals, with myriads of receptive facilities that can accommodate the needs of any leisure cyclist.
But when further west you enter the paradise that is the Walls, everything changes: at the blink of an eye, bicycle touring transforms into the essence of cycling at its purest. The Grammont Wall, the Koppenberg, and Oude Kwaremont are an invitation for self-challenge and defeat –a lesson learned from the Flemish– is putting your foot on the ground.
The people of Oudenaarde have great respect for those who dare face the 600 metres of the fully cobbled Koppenberg climb without stopping to take a breath. Once you reach the top, the peak of the undertaking, there is always a beer-house where you can celebrate conquering this or other legendary walls.
The race ends with the famous long finishing straight in Oudenaarde, which is also bordered by a bicycle path.
The banner at the finish line is dominated, in the background, by the lofty bell tower of the Saint Walburga Church, highlighting yet again that the Tour of Flanders is not just a race but the finest expression of both Art and the Culture of Cycling.
THE BIKE OF THIS ARTICLE
Wilier 0 SLR – Admiral Blue
Wilier 0 SLR is the first ultra-lightweight racing bike with disc brakes and fully integrated cables.
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