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Fabulous Flanders — part 4

Trip Highlights

As I've already indicated, the big draw for me in traveling to Belgium was having the opportunity to immerse myself in one of the greatest single-day bicycle races — the Tour of Flanders. And in no way was I disappointed; the experience was beyond measure.

However, there were three other highlights that truly elevated my whole five-day cycling vacation, increasing the "wow" factor to an even loftier level. I'm totally convinced that these particular occasions were additional examples of why Trek Travel earns top marks for its guest services and hospitality.

My bike plate for We Ride Flanders event.

— Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo (We Ride Flanders Citizen Ride)

Along with viewing the Tour of Flanders, I also participated in it. Well, sort of. One day prior to the big show — the men's and women's professional races — the We Ride Flanders event bombarded the cycling scene in the Flemish region. It gave everyday pedalers, like myself, the chance to ride portions of the actual route — the narrow, countryside roads, plus the cobbled climbs of Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, and others, along with crossing the genuine finish line.

More than 15,000 cyclists — of all abilities — showed up for this festive affair. Despite the fact that it was raining! Because it was on the eve of the Monument race, the barricades and sponsors' banners were already in place. In addition, hundreds of spectators were milling about — mostly checking out the famous history-rich hills. As we mere mortals struggled against the steep inclines on our bicycles, these friendly strangers shouted out encouragement, clapping and even taking photos of us. I truly felt like I was taking part in the real race.

Despite being completely soaked at the end, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And once again, our Trek Travel guides came to the fore, making arrangements that allowed us to clean up and change, then capping the memorable day with a well-deserved meal. And Belgian beer!

Vintage team car inside the museum.

— Tour of Flanders Centre and Museum

This remarkable place of history in Oudenaarde, Belgium, is a must-see spot for any cyclist. Heck, I believe even those who are less enthused by two-wheeled machines would find it worth a visit.

It totally conveys the story of this legendary race, first held in 1913. Permanent and temporary exhibits include photographs, autographed jerseys, vintage and present-day bicycles, team cars, winners' trophies, and so much more. Another great feature — by way of computer simulation — gives a visitor the opportunity to jump on a saddle and brave the slopes and cobbles. Almost like the real thing!

Also on the premises are a shop, offering anything to do with cycling, and a cafe, which was packed on the day of our visit. If one lived locally, it would be a great place to meet up before or after a ride. I could have spent hours at the museum, but a huge surprise awaited our group.

At team hotel in Bruges, Belgium.

— Team meet-and-greet

After departing Oudenaarde, we headed to Bruges for an unforgettable experience. As it turned out, a real "pinch me" moment. Our two guides — somehow — had made it possible for us to actually meet members of the Lidl-Trek professional cycling teams. This wasn't even part of the original pre-trip itinerary.

At the team hotel, which was their headquarters for the Spring Classics, we were able to absorb the whole operation. The colorful staff vehicles, mechanics working on bikes, trucks crammed with parts, and we toured the men's luxury-equipped bus. Next, each of us were presented with some team swag, which included a cycling cap signed by the men and women cyclists. But, wait, the excitement didn't end there.

We were then shepherded into a room for a social hour, soon joined by Lidl-Trek sports directors and a few of the pro riders; among them being Mads Pedersen, whose impressive palmares (list of victories) includes stages in all three Grand Tours. An enthusiastic question-and-answer session was followed up with a group photo. Our special day concluded with an excellent dinner at the team hotel.

Needless to say, we were all over the moon by what had taken place in Bruges. The trip back to Ghent was relatively quiet. Many of us, I believe, were just reflecting on another high point of a cycling vacation that would be very hard to duplicate. Trek Travel amazed us once again!

NEXT WEEK: Fabulous Flanders — part 5 ... The Belgium Experience

Our group photographed with members of the Lidl-Trek pro cycling teams. (Photo courtesy of Trek Travel)

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