Book Review: The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman: A Bone-shaking Tour through Cycling’s Flemish Heartlands


What’s it about?

The author takes a trip to Flanders to watch the Spring Classics races. He shares with us some of the fun history of the riders and races, the sights and sounds of the area and just why the Spring Classics and cycling are such a big deal to the locals.


Harry Pearson

Where can I get it?




Book Review

As a massive fan of the spring classics I’ve done my own trips too. Heading over to Flanders to watch the races and ride the famous roads, this book hooked me in quickly. Part cycling history and part travel guide, the author transverses the Flanders region in search of cyclists doing their thing. He’s also got the habit of being able to talk and engage with those next to him. Something I personally don’t do! As a result, this book isn’t some dry tome of history.

Each chapter is devoted to an experience at a race. But I noticed it tends to steer clear of describing the race itself in great detail. Often the synopsis of the race only lasts a few lines at the end of the chapter. What we’re treated to instead, is what the fan often sees of the race on the ground. Often not actually very much at all! The suspense of waiting for the race to arrive and then the excitement as the preliminary cars and motorbikes cruise past are all captured.

The majority of each chapter is devoted to interesting tales and folklore of a local rider or rider connected to the race. From humble origins of some of cycling’s finest to entertaining escapades. There will be plenty in the book that the average cycling fan won’t have heard about. Particularly a British fan who hasn’t delved into the full back story of Belgian cycling before. There’s a solid mix of obscure knowledge and those facts most cycling fans will be able to recall.

We also get to hear from the locals and their own views of the cycle races on their doorsteps. For some, the races are like how the Brits see the Tour de France. As the only race in the calendar worth watching. For others, it’s an obsession. Each local town has its own hero, plenty with their own monuments and busts in recognition of their feats. Accordingly, each local hero is supported in the same way of a favourite son. It’s a nod to ‘the olden days‘ where hometown sporting achievements were celebrated by everyone. There’s a handy nod to the local food and drink. The local Belgian beer, for instance – a love I definitely share with the author. The cultural aspects recorded are one of the best things about this book.

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