This Sunday we witness not only a pre-cursor to the infamous Paris-Roubaix, but see history unfold as well. For it is the 100th anniversary of the Ronde Van Vlaaderen – the Tour of Flanders.
Yes, they ride up the Koppenberg, the picture that takes up much of this page!
As much as the Roubaix is recognised as the Queen of the Classics, the Ronde is arguably the Prince of them all. What makes this race stand out is that it runs through Belgium – Flanders, to be exact. Renowned as the most celebrated cycling nation – you can tell from the quality of Belgian websites dedicated to cycling – listed above and below, Belgium boasts a plethora of sporting heroes: Rik Van Steenbergen; Johan Museeuw; Freddy Maertens; Rik Van Looy – known fondly as ‘The King of the Classics’; Roger de Vlaeminck – described by Van Looy as ‘”The most talented and the only real classics rider of his generation”; Eddy Merckx – 5 times winner of Le Tour de France, 5 times winner of the Giro d’Italia and 3 time winner of the Paris Roubaix and much more besides!
More recently we have seen the likes of Philippe Gilbert capture the imagination of an ‘All Round’ cyclist and Belgian heart-throb, Tom Boonen, re-invent himself. Away from the cocaine past, Tom has reclaimed his talents to become the current record holder of 3 wins at the Ronde and last year winning the Roubaix for a record 4 times, becoming one of only two people to have won a Double-Double!
First organised in 1913, the Ronde played second fiddle to Milan-Sanremo, until being re-scheduleled to avoid the clash and become part of the UCI Pro Tour calendar. In it’s inaugural year, only 27 riders were brave enough to enter. Today there are 26 Pro Teams, 5 of which are Belgian.
For me, The modern Ronde came to life in 2010, when local favourite Tom Boonen donned the National-Champs colours and led the race convincingly, that is until Fabian Cancellara – aka ‘Fabu/Spartacus’ bit off a giant chunk out of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and outwit his opponent to the finish line. The thing is, this year, eyes will be on Spartacus and his one-trick-pony turbines, making him a marked man. Man of the moment, Peter Sagan will also be one to watch as he continues to shine under the cloudy skies of northern Europe.
In ‘English’ – Agreed, it would sound great in Flemish too, this 5.12 mins footage shows the skill and the smarts needed to win the race. 1.30 in, Fabu strikes back to ultimately take a 300m lead over Boonen.
If there’s one thing we can relate to in Flanders, it’s the weather. Unlike the sunkist arms and legs that fill our screens in the summer, the Spring Classics are unapologetic for the clouds and the greys present. What makes up for it, is the iconic sights such as the Koppenberg pictured above.
The Church on the Muur
No European Tour would be complete without a nod to cycling’s connections with ‘faith’. The Ronde is no exception. The Muur van Geraardsbergen is a ‘mental’ as well as a physical challenge to riders. Like a goal on a field, it marks the promise of flat roads ahead. Eddy Planckaert, 1988 Ronde winner describes the climb towards the church as “The Muur is a rendezvous with your character”
Last, but by no means least these are the people who make this race, and they aren’t exactly what you would describe as ‘shy’. Every inch up a climb is lined with cheering fans to ensure if you’re thinking about dropping off, then your wake up call has arrived. The roar is incredible. Why the Black Lions? The regional flag of Flanders; it is the one occasion where one can flaunt your colours. Here’s an excellent observation by inrng.com that makes you think twice before donning the black-and-yellow.
All too often the drama of a race starts long before the cameras switch on. For the pros, there will be much advanced training and planning coming into play. As for the masses, the caravans, radios and flags have all been locked away till this day. This little video sums up what the London Baroudeurs hope to celebrate this weekend. Hope you can make it!
Viewing Details for the Ronde 2013:
TV schedule @ 11AM on Sky: http://tv.eurosport.co.uk/tvschedule.shtml
Aside: One week before the Roubaix 2013 Challenge and the forecast is looking good: