Waffles and beer, beer and waffles. That was the extent of my Belgian knowledge about a month ago. Oh, and that Dr. Evil is from there, which is kind of ironic (in a tragic way) given the country’s pretty horrendous history with Africa.
Going to happier thoughts, Belgium is also a cycling mecca. It’s their football and the Tour Of Flanders, known locally as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is their Super Bowl — at least the northern part of the country that identifies with the mostly Dutch-speaking Flanders region.
I should also point out here that I had no idea Belgium was divided between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking regions. That Brussels and Brugge are all part of Flanders. That “Flanders” is the name of a region and not just a fictional cartoon character praying us all to Hell.
The past month has been a “Belgium Bootcamp” of sorts. Let’s recap quickly, shall we?
A little over a month ago I learned that I would be heading to Belgium to ride the Tour Of Flanders sportive (amateur event), which just so happens to be a 153-mile ride around Flemish cities with brutal cobblestone climbs. This once in a lifetime opportunity came courtesy of BMC Switzerland, who provided me with a GF01 road bike to train on for about a month.
And training I did, mentally repeating “For the Ronde!” in a faux Scottish, William Wallace-esque accent in my mind whenever trying to get through tough climbs. Whatever works, right?
See, I had scarcely ridden over 40 miles prior to being told I would need to nearly quadruple my best in a month’s time. My background is in team sports and weight-training-to-stay-healthy. Plus we unfortunately do not have the cycling culture here in the States, let alone Ohio, to ride long distances without feeling incredible confident on pothole-laden roads filled with anxious drivers.
Over the past month I’ve increased my long distance weekend rides by 20 miles, riding just over 100 miles to Youngstown last weekend. I had hoped to conquer 120-135 this past weekend, but a bizarre blizzard came through to abruptly change my plans. Bottom line, I’m feeling confident that I can finish the ride so long as I’m eating and drinking plenty — something I did not do in my early training rides that led to some embarrassingly slow finishes with me hating anything and everything about each passing moment until I finally finished, ready to devour a plate of anything.
Part of my training also included learning a bit about Belgium and this jaunt I’m about to embark on. So I downloaded a copy of Les Woodland’s history on the race, appropriately titled Tour Of Flanders: The Inside Story. Here I learned about Eddy Merckx, a famous Belgian who would be considered the Michael Jordan of cycling. Because in America, we have to appropriate foreign things into our context to understand anything.
I also took advantage of a 99-cent download of A Short History Of Belgium. Unfortunately as of this morning, I’ve only gotten through the Middle Ages. Suffice it to say, the book basically taught me that Belgium has been conquered, at least in some regions, by the French, Germans, and Dutch with a heavy English influence at some point, starting all the way back when Julius Caesar first rolled through.
Needless to say Belgians now strongly identify with independence and freedom.
In a few hours I’ll hop on a plane to Brussels then a train to Kortrijk, which I’ll admit I had to copy and paste from an email to make sure I got the spelling right. Kortrijk will evidently be headquarters for my six-day stay in Belgium.
For some reason, it still doesn’t feel like I’m about to leave or ride 153 miles on Saturday. Friends and family seem to be in disbelief, too, especially about the ride.
“Don’t die!” a few have advised. Which if you think about it, is terrible parting advice. You could say that about anything, really.
“Going to the grocery store!”
“Ok, don’t get into horrendous car accident!”
I’ll be just fine on my new BMC, thank you very much. And I plan to roll through the finish line in Oudenaarde relatively unscathed as I’ve planned all along.