Whilst many people fly to Mallorca come springtime, I like to off to Flanders in Belgium for some fun at the Spring Classics. The mix of fans and riders is almost like nothing else in the rest of the season.
It helps that the local area suits my style of riding more I think. Plenty of flat roads to suffer against the wind and when you come to a climb it’s short and steep. Throw in some cobblestones and it’s perfect for someone with the build of a rugby player instead of a lithe featherweight climber. There’s also the background of Belgium still idolising cycling, the epic combination of frites met mayo and plenty of local beers to sample.
How to get there
You can fly direct to Brussels from London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newcastle. Airlines include Ryanair, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa & British Airways.
Alternatively, there’s the Eurostar. You can take the train from St Pancras station in London to Brussels. From there you can get a train to anywhere in Belgium, including Oudenaarde, Gent and Kortrijk. Eurostar allows you to purchase a ticket to Any Belgian Station which allows you to travel onto your final destination on the same ticket.
There’s also the traditional ferry/Eurotunnel crossing if you want to take your car. Routes include Folkestone or Dover to Calais or Dunkerque. Once across the Channel, it’s about a 90 minute motorway blast to Kortrijk and not much more to Gent and Oudenaarde.
There’s a few options dotted across Flanders but most are towards Gent. The always excellent Cycling in Flanders website has a list.
The Tour of Flanders museum in Oudenaarde will let you rent a Specialized Roubaix for €60 a day or a Trek Emonda for €50 a day. They’ll also rent you a Wahoo Element BOLT for another €10 a day and a pedals/helmet/shoes pack for another €10 a day.
Predictably, Cycling in Flanders has it covered with hotels/B&Bs on the Oude Kwaremont itself and Deceuninck-Quickstep’s hotel of choice during the Tour of Flanders. For a more self-contained apartment, I can recommend the Gite Ferme du Ruisseau, close to the base of the Kluisberg and the Oude Kwaremont.
Where to Ride
There are 3 permanently marked out loops that are easy to follow. The Red, Yellow and Blue loops all give a taste of what the Tour of Flanders has to offer. They all start in Oudenaarde but can be easily picked up along the way. The Red loop includes the old finish route, including Kapelmuur and the Bosberg. The Yellow loop includes many of the flat cobbled sections like Paddestraat. It does also have some of the climbs such as the Molenberg. The Blue loop has the tough climbs – the Oude Kwaremont, the legendary Koppenberg and the Taaienberg.
The Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen is a good start or finish to your ride. Tonnes of parking outside, a shop full of cycling bits and a cafe is ideal. It’ll have you wanting to come back and check out the museum properly (best done on a rainy day naturally!). De Bevoorrading in Aalst is a good spot for coffee and some lunch whilst basking in the cycling-themed decor. If you find yourself in the middle of Gent, Pedaleur de Flandres is a bike shop and coffee shop so you can get all sorts of supplies.
Post-Ride Places to Visit
Post-ride refreshment in Flanders normally involves a beer of some sort. D’Oude Hoeve, in Kluisbergen, near to Oudenaarde is well thought of and naturally has a cycling theme. Café Koppenberg in Oudenaarde pays particular focus on Jesper Skibby’s heartbreaking crash on the Koppenberg in 1986 with its photo exhibition. For the beer lovers, Gainsbar in Kortrijk has a huge selection of all sorts of styles.