For any cyclist, Belgium – the home of bike racing – is an essential place to visit for its infectious devotion to cycling culture. Several WMPCC members were therefore excited to journey to Flanders this November to experience the unique atmosphere of the Six Days of Gent racing which takes place annually at the Kuipke velodrome, known to locals simply as ‘the track’. Dating back to 1922 and steeped in cycling history, the event is famous worldwide for its flamboyant,relentless racing, infused with a heady mix of beer, hotdogs and vocal fans. Attending the fifth day of racing, nobody was left disappointed as the riders raced wheel-to-wheel until well past 1am, cheered on by the exuberant and seemingly tireless crowd. Fittingly, the Belgian team won the night, and would go on to win the overall event which only added to the celebratory atmosphere.
Any trip to Belgium should include a bike ride of some sort, but the morning after a night at the track isn’t the time to tackle the local cobbled climbs made famous by the Tour of Flanders one day race. No matter – Belgium’s dedication to cycling as an accessible mode of transport for all means that its towns and cities are generously endowed with networks of safe, traffic-free cycleways. With this in mind, after a tasty local breakfast and a bit of bike fettling, the group rolled gently along the sunlit Gent streets and joined a route to the city of Oudenaarde. Running along the banks of the river Scheldt, this cycleway provided over 30km of flat, unfettered riding through scenery that illustrated the region’s industrial heritage as well as its rural splendour.
Oudenaarde holds a special place in cycling culture as the Tour of Flanders finishes there each year. In honour of this, the city boasts a cycling museum, café, and shop dedicated to the event, which provided a suitable venue for refreshments and indulgence of cycling passions before the return journey. The golden November sunshine turned chilly in the closing kilometres, and a quick stop at a small non-descript bar on a quiet street further illustrated the depth of cycling history woven into the fabric of Belgian life. The owner of the establishment, a friendly and welcoming lady, turned out to be the daughter of legendary English racing cyclist Tom Simpson who famously died on Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France. With a friendly farewell from the bar’s patrons, the group pedalled the last few kilometres back into Gent as the light started to fade.
The trip was concluded on the final evening with food at a stunning Art Deco ribhouse, washed down with a few Belgian beers. No doubt thoughts will turn to the next time that WMPCC can indulge in the rich cycling culture that Belgium has to offer. Anyone new to cycling, or who has never made a trip to Flanders would undoubtedly enjoy the experience.