Spiritual Home of Cycling
„Belgium – Spiritual Home of Cycling“
it says on my VAN VLAANDEREN cycling kit from Belgian sportswear company Bioracer.
„Spiritual Home of Cycling“, come on! Why Belgium? Who invented the bicycle 200 years ago? The Germans! However, would Germany claim being the spiritual home of cycling? Probably not, although we currently see some great German cyclists in the pro circus like Marcel Kittel, Tony Martin, André Greipel, Simon Geschke or John Degenkolb, just to name a few.
There are countries with more cycling DNA such as Italy and France, the Netherlands maybe … but Belgium,? This tiny country with only 11 million people?
Well, let’s have a look.
Belgium is birthplace of one of the greatest road cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx but also of Rik van Steenbergen, the three time world champion from 1949, 1956 and 1957.
Since 1927 we count in total 26 elite/pro male road cycling world champions from Belgium, 19 from Italy and „only“ 8 from France.
Belgien is second best nation in the Tour de France, with 18 victories out of 104. France scores double with 36 victories. However, if you put Tour de France victories in relation to the overall population of the countries, it is 611 thousand Belgians on one Tour de France victory but 1.86 million French!
If you also know that tiny Belgium hosts two of the five most famous road racing one day spring classics, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you may agree that Belgium really is the spiritual home of cycling.
Cycling – the national sport
Cycling is erverywhere in Belgium, no matter where you are. I was rather suprised – and my family kind of annoyed – that the Tourist Info and Flandrian Shop around the corner of Grand Place in Brussels had vintage bikes (among others one of the world champion Rik van Steenbergen) and original woolen jerseys at display and loads of cycling souveniers to sell. Luckily I have a patient family.
Many Belgians adopt dropbar cycling at a very young age – always!
… and continue with dropbars for a long time after they being retired from active sports.
Have you ever seen a farmer cycling on a dropbar bike on his way feeding the animals in your country? Very unusual in Germany, common in Belgium.
Cycling and cobbles belong together in Belgium. In the countryside of the Ardennes you can still find many paved roads, not like modern pavement, but with rough traditional cobble stones which you can concour with your road bike if you are brave enough.
Climbs like the 2.2 km long Oude Kwaremont (foto above) with its 6.6% incline, the fully cobbled 600 meters of the Koppenberg with 22%, the Paterberg or the steep Muur are world famous attractions of the Tour de Flanders, the 265 km spring classic that finishs in Oudenaarde.
If you are in Oudenaarde you should not miss to visit the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen, which has among others, a nice cycling pub and gives home to the museum of the Tour de Flanders.
One of the museum’s main attractions is a cobbles simulator which is a must. Only the rear wheel of the bike is bumping over Belgian cobbles. Imagine the front wheel would do the same and you are also in a steep climb.
Cycling and Belgian Beer
Belgium is also famos for its beer. In Bruges we found a pub with more 1000 differnt Belgian brews. Most are strong with 6 or 7 % alcohol, others are stronger and tripple brews can tilt you with 10 % and above.
One of the thousend is a beer dedicated to cobbles, cycling and the Tour de Flanders.
But Kwaremont beer is a different story. Stay tuned!
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About the author:
|Claude, 52, is a marketing manager from Germany, addicted to cycling. In his free time Claude runs a popular German language cycling blog. He enjoys long distance cycling on his Litespeed T5.