So, what about this upcoming trip to Belgium? To a country I've never visited before.
The emphasis for me — in deciding when and where to go — centered around the idea of witnessing the unbridled excitement that surrounds a spring one-day cycling classic. And, in particular, one of the five Monuments.
I ended up selecting the Tour of Flanders for a variety of reasons. The history, having had its first edition in 1913. The cobbles, with many believing it's the world's toughest bicycle event. The race-day atmosphere, as the entire nation of Belgium becomes totally consumed by this two-wheeled spectacle. It's no exaggeration when one states that this is their Super Bowl.
While I certainly could have undertaken this adventure on my own, I firmly believed that utilizing an established touring outfit would bring the type of experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There were plenty of companies to pick from, but I've enlisted the services of Trek Travel. It has been crafting cycling vacations throughout the world since 2002. The quality of Trek products — and the fact that I own five bicycles from the Wisconsin-based business — made it an obvious choice.
During the Flanders Pro Race cycling tour, we will be based the entire time in Ghent, Belgium. Trek Travel takes care of everything, from hotel arrangements to event planning, to even providing a top-of-the-line Trek Domane road bike.
Here is Trek Travel's brief itinerary of the five-day trip:
— Day One: Trek Travel guides meet you at Hotel Harmony in Ghent at 10 a.m. They will introduce you to the features of your bike, ensuring a perfect fit prior to a casual 26-mile ride in the Ghent area. Tonight, meet your guides for dinner and learn about the week ahead.
— Day Two: Today is one of the biggest cycling events in Belgium. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo (Ride Flanders Citizen Ride) is a difficult and popular race that attracts thousands of participants. Now, you will be one of them! It’s an early-morning shuttle to the start in Oudenaarde. The 90-mile cycling route will test your mettle throughout the rolling countryside of West Flanders on the same roads where the pros will do battle the next day. Triumphant and tired, enjoy a well-deserved lunch in the center of Oudenaarde. After, we will head back to the comforts of our hotel to shower and relax. Tonight, you will have a chance to enjoy the evening at your leisure.
— Day Three: It’s all about the Tour of Flanders! This is Belgium and cycling is not just a sport, it’s an obsession! Enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of our VIP luxury viewing area right on the summit of the Oude Kwaremont, the hill where only the best riders can make a difference on the outcome. You will have a front-row seat, not once, not twice, but three times as the men's teams pass through and you can witness the sweat and determination on their faces. It's truly a live experience you don’t want to miss, especially because you also will have the privilege of watching the women's race, too. After the excitement of seeing the Tour of Flanders, enjoy your evening in Ghent.
— Day Four: We head south of Ghent to start a 53-mile ride on some of the famous cobbled climbs from earlier race editions, including the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen, the Kapelmuur, where cycling history was written. In Geraardsbergen, we'll stop in Bar Gidon, a famous cycling cafe owned by ex-professional Frederic Penne. It’s a perfect place to taste the unique regional cake, Mattentaarten, a Flemish specialty. We continue to Oudenaarde, the gateway to the Flemish Ardennes, where we'll visit the Tour of Flanders Centre and Museum. After our visit, we'll shuttle back to Ghent and dine together in one of our favorite restaurants in town.
— Day Five: Feel free to sleep in and ease into your day with breakfast or choose to enjoy a final 38-mile spin along the Scheldt canal. You'll say farewell to your guides at noon at the Hotel Harmony.
With my present-day bicycle rides taking place in very cold temperatures, daydreaming about my upcoming Belgium trip helps take the sting out of the brutal conditions. More details to follow, as my trip of a lifetime draws ever nearer. Stay safe!