The Tour of Flanders has come and gone. Belgium is suffering from the ‘post Tour of Flanders blues’. The sort of thing we Americans are tormented by during most of the month of February, after the Super Bowl.
You see, the Tour of Flanders bike race is the biggest single day event in the entire country. Bigger than anything…including the celebration of my birthday (which amazingly doesn’t even create a blip of interest in their ‘backward’ part of the world).
Evidence of cycling’s popularity in Belgium? How about this…the top 10 list of Famous Belgians is headed by none other than Eddy Merckx (nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ for his propensity to kill and consume for breakfast any competitor challenging him for the victory. That’s right, while other riders were eating Belgium waffles and French eclairs for breakfast, Eddie was dining on quadriceps and biceps). While unconventional in his dining habits, Eddy did win the Tour de France five times.
As a point of reference, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times, and while he tops the list of Americans with only one lonely testicle, I doubt anyone would rank him at the top of the list of ALL Americans.
But back to the subject at hand… The Tour of Flanders.
Here’s a race that began in 1913 and after a sputtering start (no races from 1915 until 1919…perhaps because it’s popularity hadn’t yet exceeded the popularity of World War
One) has run uninterrupted until the present day. That’s right, once the Tour of Flanders got a head of steam, even Hitler and his minions couldn’t supplant it; no doubt contributing to Adolf’s generally surly demeanor.
World War Two bombs may have been bursting in air, but Briek Schotte still pedaled to victory in the Tour of Flanders.
Since that time there have been a disproportionate number of Belgium cyclists winning this race, the latest being Tom Boonen (2005, 2006), Stijn Devolder (2008, 2009), and Nick Nuyens (2011). There are only about 11 million people in Belgium (so it’s 11 million in Belgium against 7.004 billion in the world), and the country is a mere ‘dot’ on the map…but then again just about everyone rides a bike in Belgium. And you know the old saying…’you never forget how to ride a bike’.
When the ugliness of dementia raises it’s head, Belgians may forget their mother’s maiden name, the password to their Twitter account, or if they should use a fork or a spoon while eating soup…but they never forget how to pedal a bike. And it’s that passion for cycling that makes the Tour of Flanders so popular.
And the reason that soup kitchens have never taken off in the country.
My wife just reminded me to watch what I write, lest neither of us is welcomed into Belgium…the victims of saddle sore Belgians carrying a grudge against those who would mock their soup-eating skill set…and don’t forget there are aggressive Belgians with nicknames like ‘The Cannibal’.
Cobbles, Cobbles, Cobbles…and Wind
Did you know that the country of Belgium is essentially flat? Sure, there are some climbs in the race, but it’s the fact that the riders are riding on cobblestones that makes the riding so difficult. Not only are the cobblestones bumpy, but the cobblestone roads are narrow, so the riders are constantly having to fight for positions during the race.
Then there are the winds. Headwinds, tailwinds, side-winds…they all show up for the Tour of Flanders. Once a rider gets left behind during a side-wind echelon, good luck to him.
Well, I’m running out of steam here, so I’ll leave you with the YouTube video that inspired this blog post. It isn’t of the Tour of Flanders, but it’s no doubt one of the many races that are held several times a week in the Cycling Crazed Country known as Belgium.