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Bonkers for Belgium

A Bike+ guide to Flanders.


Flanders and cycling - a match made in a beautiful, gnarly kind of heaven. Synonomous with the Spring Classics and the race bearing the regions name, it really is a must visit for UK cyclists and we are keen to highlight how easy (and cheap) this trip can be.


Cycling in Flanders is difficult to capture - it is not as visually stunning as the Alps, nor sun kissed like the Costa's, nor a honey pot like Majorca. However, as a region it has cycling in it's DNA. And this goes far deeper than the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and lasts long after the Spring classics are finished. Flanders is to Cycling what Wembley is to Football and Lords is to Cricket - it is the spiritual home of the sport.


Where is Flanders?


The Flanders region covers Northern Belgium from Ypres in the North West across to Leuven via Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. Much of the region is very flat and laced with a great network of cycling paths. However, it is the hills that really grasp the attention of the cycling community - specifically the Flemish Ardennes which run from south of Ghent across to Leuven further West.


From the UK, the journey is both fast and easy - Ypres and the Kemmelberg (of Ghent-Wevelgem fame) are only 75 mins drive from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, and Oudenaarde - home of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen - just a further 40 mins away.


**As a LeShuttle tour operator we are able to package crossings as part of your Flanders experience.**


Cycling in Flanders


This particular topic has had books written about it, but with brevity in mind we have just outlined a few of our favourites by region


Ypres and Western Flanders


Ypres is a beautiful market town, made famous for the battles fought in its surrounding area during WW1 and the monuments that keep alive the memory of those who lost their lives. We certainly recommend cycling through the Menin gate and visit Tynecot cemetry when in this region as a way of connecting with its past. As cyclists we think this is a beautiful region to ride your bike - the roads are quiet and undulating and the route options numerous. The Kemmelberg is a natural focus for those visiting the region for cycling as there are two cobbled ascents to the monument at the hill top. The ascent from Ossaire is shorter, but very punchy whilst the climb from Kemmel is longer, but the gradient slightly less viscious.


Bike + recommends - visiting Ypres and cycling in Western Flanders on day 1 as the perfect starter to your Flandrien adventure


Oudenaarde


Oudenaarde is the gateway to the Flemish Ardennes and is truly a mecca for cyclists. Within a short distance of the town you will be on the roads that have been made famous by the Belgian classics. From the filthy gradients of the Koppenberg to the brutal 2.2km of the Oude Kwaremont via the blood vessel popping effort on the Paterberg - this area is like no other. It is not just the cobbled climbs that make this area special, the region lives and breathes cycling from the bars and cafe's to your accommodation - you are rarely far from a moment of cycling folklore.


There are so many great route combinations in this small area that it is easy to miss out on a cycling gem or get lost trying to find one, so we recommend visiting the Cycling in Flanders website for ideas and inspiration - https://www.cyclinginflanders.cc)


Geraardsbergen and Brakel



Up until very recently these two towns witnessed the climax of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, but whilst the race may have moved East, this is still a great place to ride a bike and the Muur/Bosberg cobbled combo is a must. Climbing the Muur van Geraardsbergen is a rite of passage on your way to becoming a Flandrien as it is both, steep and slippery as you wind your way to the Chapel at the top of the hill (pictured below).

Brakel is less famous, but is home to the Flandrien Hotel, which is a great base if you are looking to stay on this side of the region and nearer Brussels.


Leuven


Leuven is the home of Stella Artois and academic excellence which is a wonderful juxtaposition.


It was also home to one the best world championships in recent memory as Julian Alaphillipe roared to victory. We really enjoy cycling in this region and it has a great range of terrain including cobbled climbs like Moskesstraat and the fast and fun Hertstraat. The city of Leuven itself is beautiful and often overlooked for Liege in the East and Oudenaarde/Ghent in the East. We definitely recommend a couple of nights here - the cycling is fantastic and off the bike the food and drink are as good as you will get in Belgium (in our opinion)



Pic. Moskestraat is a regular feature in Brabantse Pijl and featured in the 2021 Road World Champs


Where to stay


Now this is a tricky question, and we do not claim to have all the answers, but here are our preferences:


Kortrijk - perfect for a Roubaix/Flanders weekend and can be a cost effective option when visiting the area. We will be using this as our base during Spring Classics trips.


Oudenaarde - Probably our preferred base due to its proximity to the iconic climbs and the Tour of Flanders museum. We use the Leopold hotel in Oudenaarde outside of the classics season.


Leuven - Our favourite Flanders city (Ghent is a close 2nd) - there are a number of hotels near the station which offer a good service for cyclists. For those who like a beer and some nice grub - Leuven is a must.


Ghent - Ghent is a perfect city for cyclists who are travelling with non cyclists. The city centre is beautiful with the perfect combination of culture and gastronomic delights. Ghent is also home to the Eddy Merckx velodrome where you can book in for track taster sessions. During the Spring Classics you will find a number of the worlds best cycling teams based just south of the city where a number of them have their service course facilities.


Food and Drink

Flanders, a region in Belgium, is famous for its rich culinary tradition and diverse range of delicious foods. Some of the iconic foods associated with Flanders include:

  • Belgian Waffles are a popular treat in Flanders nd a great post ride indulgence

  • Frites (Fries): Belgium is renowned for its fries, and Flanders is no exception. Frites are typically served with a variety of sauces, including mayonnaise, ketchup, and a special Belgian condiment called "frite sauce."

  • Chocolate: Belgium is world-famous for its high-quality chocolate, and Flanders is a major contributor to this reputation.

  • Beer: Flanders is known for its rich beer culture, Belgian beer is often enjoyed with meals and is an integral part of the country's culinary and cycling heritage.

  • Mussels with Fries (Moules Frites): This is a classic Belgian dish that consists of steamed mussels cooked with garlic, onions, and herbs, accompanied by a side of crispy fries. It would not be a Belgian trip without this.


Cycling tips


As with much of this article - this particular topic has been the subject of many articles and blogs. However, we are looking to appeal to the cyclist who values smiles over segments and simply wants to enjoy the ride. Firstly, we recommend being prepared for all weather - particularly in the spring. The riding conditions in June and July can be awesome and far more predictable if you want to cover the cobbles in the sunshine!


For the bike - we would simply ride the road bike you love - the cobbles are not comfortable to ride on, but they are rideable for all cyclists and those you find in Flanders are not as severe as those across the border on the way to Roubaix.


We would suggest a tyre width of between 28mm and 32mm - this provides both comfort and grip (in case it is slippy). We would also suggest that climbs like the Koppenberg and Muur might require a larger rear sprocket - maybe even a 34 - to keep the legs spinning. Due to the narrow roads, lots of turns and nature of the climbs - your average speed is rarely high when riding in Flanders, so we prioritise comfort over speed - our Giant Defy with 32mm tyres and a 11 - 34 cassette (12 speed) is a bike we feel is perfect for our needs in Flanders!


What do we do in Belgium


We are proud to have a good relationship with the team at Cycling in Flanders and have a really good support network in Belgium. Furthermore, we are also proud to be able to package Eurotunnel travel for all our guests and this helps keeps the price sensible.


Our first trip to Flanders this year will be on the Opening Weekend when we are offering a travel, 2 night stay and a full Flandrien experience for under £300pp. For all other Flanders enquiries please get in touch via the contact form or email swoodward@sportagroup.com



Pic. Love it or hate it. The Koppenberg is a must ride when in Flanders.


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