FLANDERS: Appreciating the Finer Points of Belgian Cycling Culture
Planning a Flemish trip?
The Flanders Experience: Spring has hit Belgium and there is a pull towards that small north European country for all lovers of bike racing. Ed Hood has barrels full of the Belgian ‘race chase’ experience, and shares his keen observance of what makes Belgian cycling culture unique, and impossible to resist.
# See the ‘2022 PEZ Flanders Race Preview’ HERE.#
The papers will be full of ‘Wielersport’
You’re going to Flanders for the E3, or is it De Ronde? The parcours and start lists are a cinch, the papers are full of detail.
What about the stuff you really need to know about The Flatlands? Read on. . .
No.1 – Eddy!
Yes, Eddy Merckx is a Diety – BUT he’s not Flemish. It was headline news when Eddy and Claudine were married; the service was conducted in French. . . Godverdomme!
However, you’re safe with Tom Boonen, Peter Van Petegem, Johan Museeuw and of course, Freddy and the late, great ‘Franky Boy.’ Roger De Vlaeminck’s recent criticisms of Tommeke, WVA, Remco and just about everyone else bar himself have rather undermined his popular status despite his wonderful palmarès. If you’re talking to older dudes then Rik Van Looy, Ward Sels and even further back, Briek Schotte will get you approving nods.
The original Flandrien
Avoid! As John Wayne might say; ‘tastes like it ran offa someone’s boots!’ Cappuccino? Nee, nee, nee! It’s the above mentioned brake fluid with that horrible pressurised cream stuff skooshed on top.
We hope Greg knows how to make a proper cappuccino
As my mentor, adviser on all things Flemish and PEZ soothsayer, Vik once rightly observed; ‘you can never wear the wrong thing in Flanders.’
You can never wear the wrong thing in Flanders…
Horrific 80’s shell-suits? No problem.
Take your pick?
White socks with your suit? Sure!
‘Basket weave’ topped shoes? Yeah. ‘Kipper’ ties? Of course.
The perfect shoe and tie combo
And burgundy is still a big colour in Flanders, particularly for trousers, it shows up that shine from sitting on bar stools for too much of your life just fine. And Crimplene is also still big. . .
‘Mmm, suits you sir!’
The guys and me are in Sersekamp for a kermis, I fancy a brandy. The barman looks at me as if there’s something wrong with me – pils it is then. . .
Jupiler with fish option
The most popular brand of beer in Belgium is Jupiler, it’s not that tasty but on the plus side you can consume litres of the stuff without getting too buckled.
Sometimes you need a beer
Trappistes and the likes of Duvel and Orvelo look great, taste great but were originally designed with Belgium’s space program in mind as rocket fuels – tread lightly, Dude. But remember, it’s never too early for a beer in Belgium.
If you do crave something a little stronger then go for Genever, – ‘Juniper.’ Genever is a clear, botanically rich, malted grain-based spirit that can only be made in Holland or Belgium. It is a blend of two or more distillates: first, a whiskey-like triple distillate made of corn, wheat, and rye (so-called malt wine). Second, a juniper-infused distillate.
The Vivaldi Bar – Never too late
Speaking for the Vivaldi, our favourite watering hole in Gent, I can’t help you; no matter how far into the wee small hours we’ve stumbled out into the cold November air, the tunes are still coming and the regulars are still, ‘partying on’ behind us. Respect.
De Karper, another favourite
You’re approaching a slip road, you’re in the near side lane; ease off, adjust your speed, indicate and execute the manoeuvre? Nee, nee, nee! Floor, it veer across to the fast lane then brake hard, dive back across the lanes and thrash it into the slip – job done.
Indicate? Neen, neen, neen.
Death Race 2000 – Average day on a Belgian motorway
Stopping distance? What’s that?
Despite the Monday morning papers being full of pictures of the weekend motorway carnage it makes not a bit of difference, the driving continues to be crazy. If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember a film called, ‘Death Race 2,000’ – the dudes in that movie simply wouldn’t cut it on the Flemish motorways.
French fans in Flanders – I’d keep that quiet
Not a good idea to try to converse in that language in Flanders.
One of the many joys of Flanders
One of the many joys of Flanders is that you’re never far from a frituur. Portions: ‘Klein’ is for amateurs, ‘Grooten’ about right for most and a ‘Super’ is only for the real pros. Mayonnaise is the choice of many but I’m an Andalouse man myself. There are few things more satisfying than the sound of the industrial sized sauce pump ‘splatting’ that tangy gloop onto your frites. And, as with pils, it’s never too early for frites in Flanders.
Ed’s favourite – Frites met Andalouse saus
The mullet never died in Belgium, you can see them everywhere and ex-pro and Ronde, Roubaix, E3 and Gent-Wevelgem winner, Eric Vanderaerden may be 60 years-of-age now but still sports his mullet – albeit it’s not as luxurious as it once was.
‘Comb overs’ are still popular, my hair has long gone but you have to respect any man who grows what’s left of his hair long at the back then scrapes it forward over his bald pate, applying a healthy dose of hairspray to keep it in place. . .
I remember Johan when he was bald
The toupee may have all but vanished in most of the civilised world but not in Flanders, usually in the colour your hair was a decade ago, the joint resembling a geological fault. You can usually still buy a ‘man’s hair piece’ in a ironmongers/hardware store.
The better Belgian wigs
No self-respecting bar is without it’s juke box, when confronted with a list of artists you’ve never heard of, go to ‘ABBA’ – they’ll be in there for sure and you can never go wrong with them.
The radio choice
When you’re in the hire car and need some sounds search for NRJ or Nostalgi, you will be subjected to grim ballads and Europop perhaps every three or four songs but stick with it, they do play a great selection of 60’s and 70’s Oldies. There is also Studio Brussel or ‘Stu Bru’ which can be interesting.
Rijsttaart – It’s addictive
‘Rijsttaart,’ track them down in any decent bakers, you’ll thank us – but they are addictive.
Stick to only watching cycling on Flemish TV
Apart from the sports programmes and sports news, best avoided.
Belgium, beer and a bike race – What more do you want?
# All of the above said, I love the place, it’s people it’s quirks and there’s no finer thing to do in the world of an afternoon than hang over the barrier at a kermis with your pils. And surely it’s no coincidence that one lap corresponds perfectly with the time it takes to drain your ‘pintje’ – that’s a 250 cl. glass of pils. . . #
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