Obviously, for the amount of coin I'm investing in order to travel to Belgium — to fully immerse myself in, some would argue, the most difficult bicycle race in the world — I'm fairly familiar with the Tour of Flanders.
But I wanted to know more about this historic one-day spring classic, one of the five Monuments. How it remains relevant in our changing world, having had its first edition back in 1913. How it totally consumes the attention of a whole nation on race day. And how it, along with cycling in general, is such a principle ingredient within the Flemish culture.
I found what I was looking for from a well-written book by British journalist Edward Pickering. It is titled "The Ronde: Inside the Tour of Flanders, the World's Toughest Bike Race" (Simon & Schuster, 2018).
Pickering's excellent portrait of this annual event focuses on the 2011 race, from which he weaves the narrative of that day into a wider analysis of the Ronde. Each chapter highlights a particular "berg" — a term for short, steep hills — giving an eyewitness account of the key locations. Throughout the work's 282 pages, there are dozens of interviews with the racers — past and present — as well as members of the public. Each giving their take on what makes the Tour of Flanders so unique and special.
Here are two examples from the book that help describe how and why the Ronde is so engaging:
— "Everybody went to see it. Everybody who loved sport was going to watch the race and talk about it; you go and have a beer in a bar before they (the cyclists) arrive, then you go back home and watch the television for the final, but you have to go and see it; you have to feel it. It's tradition, probably sort of a religion and it's folkloric."
— "In France, we only know the Tour de France, but for the Flemish, cycling is part of their culture. Life stops on the day of the Ronde. People talk about it for a week before and a week afterwards, even people who aren't interested in cycling."
For me, one of the more interesting parts of the book was when Pickering recounted his participation in the Tour of Flanders citizens' race, which I also will be doing during my time in Belgium. He shared these words: "In 2010, I rode the Tour of Flanders sportive, which takes place the day before the race. It's one of the most democratic and inclusive events I've ever experienced, with all humanity represented on two wheels on the roads of Flanders: normal people can ride a 30-kilometer route, headbangers, overachievers, and A-type personalities can ride the full 270 kilometers ... all based on the route of the race." He also talked about sharing the road with 30,000 others. That should be fun!
Anyway, my reading of "The Ronde" certainly gives me a better understanding and feel for what lies ahead during my cycling vacation with Trek Travel. It's kind of neat that what's told within its pages ... I will be experiencing firsthand in a very short time. Stay safe!