Vlaanderen Part 1
There’s a common saying in Belgium that, “koers is religie” or “cycling is religion,” which to be honest didn't seem like a metaphor, but rather a literal truth during our visit at the end of March. We were in Belgium specifically for one of the biggest bike races of the year, de Ronde van Vlaanderen or in English, the Tour of Flanders. As a result, we likely experienced the “cycling religion” at it’s greatest intensity which was perfect, because for a cyclist, the Belgian cycling culture in full flight is awesome. What was even more interesting was that our experience quite literally began from the time we walked off the airplane.
Immediately after landing in Brussels from Toronto we had to pass through customs. When we arrived at the kiosk, as expected, the customs officer asked about the reason for our visit. My wife quickly responded by explaining that we were there for leisure. The officer elicited basically no response to what was a rather mundane answer to his question. For some unknown reason, I decided to mention we were in Belgium for the Tour of Flanders and at that moment the customs agent’s head immediately perked up and he asked who my favourite cyclist was. As I began to respond he simultaneously stamped our passports as if that’s all he needed to hear. Naturally and strategically my response to his question was to say a Belgian was my favourite; Greg Van Avermaet. At that moment, there was no doubt that we had arrived in cycling’s heartland just prior the “holy week” of top level racing.
Antwerp was our ultimate destination two days prior to the Tour of Flanders and one day before the the Tour of Flanders Cyclo Sportive; a gran fondo that allows fans to ride the Tour of Flanders course a day before the pro race. In the train station in Antwerp, despite the struggle of dragging a bike bag and luggage seemingly everywhere, my excitement went from a simmer to a boil. I managed to get my bike built and do a short ride around the city.
At last I had arrived! I should mention that my wife had organized this trip as an early 30th birthday gift last fall and I felt truly blessed to be there. I had been thinking about the spring in Belgium since then and I was ready to ride 230km with thousands of other people. I not only wanted to experience the event as a cyclist, I also wanted see how things were organized and perhaps find new elements to add to the FRETORI experience.
This is the first three posts: The Arrival, The Cyclo Sportive and de Ronde, chronicling a bucket-list trip for any cyclist and fan of the sport. Perhaps, a sign of future things to happen with FRETORI, and most importantly I felt this experience was one that needed to be shared with FRETORI's followers.
Thanks for reading.