For our last big day in Flanders we chose the Red Route which, at nearly 120 km, was the longest and squigliest of the bunch. Kudos again to the sign people, who made sure we only got lost from our own lack of awareness.
Where the Blue Route was a non-stop, action-packed cobbled berg fest, the Red Route carried us along pretty country roads (some stupidly steep, I should add) between pleasant, affluent villages and towns. There is a seriously high ratio of BMWs and Benzes in Flanders.
And if you have ever heard the cliché that cycling is a religion in Belgium, look no further than this chapel Karsten and I came across just after starting out, where the cyclist is at least 4 times bigger than the Jesus on the wall
A not-quite-updated holy list of Tour of Flanders winners.
And the Flandrian saints who have won the race.
One thing I should mention here, since K and I had to keep reminding ourselves of our luck, is that it never rained on us once while we were up there. It was even calling for rain and it never happened. Maybe it was the ‘Hail Tomekke’ I whispered while at the chapel.
The day progressed with more lovely roads, and an amazing variety of domestic animals, including the standards like donkeys and 80s hair-band ponys, but we passed ostriches (or emus – I can’t tell the difference), at least one peacock and plenty of front-yard deer. It was both cute and a little weird at the same time.
There were very few cobbled climbs on the Red Route, and in fact the course seems to go out of its way to find one – the Muur van Geraardsbergen – which is definitely worthy of a detour. Jan, I waved to your mom, but I’m not actually sure how close we got to Meerbeke!
A benefit of your riding buddy being faster up steep hills than you is that you might get a shot or two of yourself on the climb. There aren’t many more positives I can think of, though.
For the last hour or more we kept seeing marshals at intersections we crossed and knew that a bike race was coming our way, one way or another. We had no idea which race till we stopped here and this kind young Belgian cyclist filled us in – we were just in time to see the first loop of the U23 Tour of Flanders.
These guys race on national teams (or mostly – educate me if you know), so most of them seemed to be wearing their country’s colors. Italy and a ‘red’ country are leading the pack here, but Slovenia won the day (David Per), with the UK and France filling up the podium.
After this really enjoyable but tough ride we were both ready to re-hydrate and get some grub in us that wasn’t a gel or dried fruit. All routes lead to the Tour of Flanders Center, which includes a museum and, should go without saying, a brasserie.
I don’t think Karsten felt that bad in the photo above, but he doesn’t have a beer in front of him, so maybe he really was suffering.
The brasserie’s menu is quite extensive, but when we both spotted ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’, it became an easy decision. We were lucky, too, because the kitchen had just officially closed for lunch, but a group of 35 cyclists were coming in shortly and, duh, they had all pre-ordered the bolognese. Adding two more to the mix was easy for them and this brasserie made two friends for life in the process.
Below is the 2nd beer I had over lunch. The first one – their house beer – is ‘better than EPO’, according to the menu, so that was another no-brainer. The clever play on words below is a beer brewed by a friend of mine from Lille (but it is good ol’ Belgian beer). If you are within 1000 km of Alex he’d probably consider delivering a few cases to you in person, he loves his cargo bike so much.
And the famous Kwaremont, which is much easier to drink than climb, I confess.
Fully satiated, we hesitated a little on paying to go to the basement and check out the cycling museum, but I’m glad we did. Except for the fact that everything is only in Flemish (maybe audio guides are available), it was nice to walk through room after room of total cycling immersion.
And so ended our Flanders weekend. We did have one more ride in Belgium and if I can find any suitable pics to post, you’ll have to read all about it soon.