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Fabulous Flanders — part 3

Tour of Flanders

It's one of the five Monuments, the most prestigious single-day races in men's professional cycling. I've viewed it countless times on television, but now I was actually there in person for the first time. It was my primary reason for selecting this particular trip.

What I witnessed ignited all of my senses. The thunderous roaring of the crowds. The rhythmic sounds from team vehicles and official-looking motorbikes as their tires clapped against the cobbles. Drifting winds that brought delicious smells of food right to my nose. Quick eye movements to capture a glimpse of the streaking peloton, as world-class cyclists rushed by at speeds I'd never seen before.

Prime viewing spot for the Tour of Flanders.

It is said that the Tour of Flanders attracts 750,000 people every year. And I was lucky enough to be one of them. But what made the whole experience way beyond any of my expectations was because of one thing. Simply put, it all came down to the race-day services provided by Trek Travel and its two remarkable guides. The Wisconsin-based company, which has been in the touring business for more than twenty years, promised VIP treatment — and, boy, did they ever deliver.

I quickly realized it was going to be a unique event when we were presented with a glass of champagne upon our arrival at the day's venue. From that moment forward, I was thinking "this is going to be so cool and so special." Along with the bubbly, I was drinking in the entire atmosphere — the fact that I was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of like-minded folks buzzing with excitement over the opportunity to observe one of the greatest bicycle races in the world.

The hospitality showered upon us took place in temporary structures located on the summit of Oude Kwaremont, a strategic point in the Tour of Flanders. Everything was first-rate. The hors d'oeuvres. The meal. The desserts. The wine. The beer. If you went hungry or thirsty, you had only yourself to blame. The top-notch amenities continued when it came to watching the race.

Our "other" wheels for the week in Belgium.

Positioned, both inside and outdoors, were super-sized television monitors to follow the progress of the cyclists. Within a half-hour of their approach toward the Kwaremont, people began migrating to tiered standing areas — basically, the party moved outside. We were just feet from the actual race route. There was no mistaking when the real drama began to unfold.

It started out as waves of noise rolling up the hill, building to a fever-pitch as the titans of cycling came into view. Everyone straining to catch sight of their favorite participant. There they were, the stars of the show — Lidl-Trek's Mads Pedersen, Alpecin-Deceuninck's Mathieu van der Poel, the eventual winner, and the other 173 racers. The rush of the peloton seemed to generate its own wind, breezing by so fast — seemingly out of control, but not. Bringing up the rear were all the team cars, festooned with spare bikes, and the vehicles carrying various race officials. Indeed, a dream-like moment.

In total, the men circled by three times and, as an added bonus, we were treated to the women's race later in the day. It was the speed of all the competitors, especially over the cobbles, that was so impressive. Having ridden the Kwaremont myself the day before, honestly, I was mainly in survival mode. But the pros — both men and women — were absolutely flying.

It was a very long day. Arriving back at the hotel in Ghent, I was exhausted. But I had a big smile on my face, recalling in my mind the cycling spectacle I had just attended. The amazing effort put forth by Wouter and Wiebe, our two guides, and Trek Travel really made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can never thank them enough.

NEXT WEEK: Fabulous Flanders — part 4 ... Trip Highlights

Cheering on the titans of cycling in the Tour of Flanders in Belgium. (Photo courtesy of Trek Travel)

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