How To See The Classics: The Right Way
Watch out Belgium – the PEZ-Crew will be live and in color at the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, and the Queen: Paris-Roubaix. We’ll be riding the routes, covering the Classics (and a few Belgian pubs), and traveling with Velo Classic Tours, who know a few things about how to see a Classic in style…
I’ve traveled with a few different cycling tour operators in the past at races like the Giro and le Tour, and have seen many styles of guides and trip organization, and having spent many hours over the past few months talking about seeing the Classics with Peter Easton’s Velo Classic Tours, I’m convinced this will be a Spring like no other… Of course because I’ll be there myself (…YES!) to see the races and ride the routes, but also because Peter’s philosophy is one to appreciate – the perfect mix of riding, racing, and a little luxury for 10 days.
We receive a lot of email from readers asking about the best way to see the best races, so it seemed like a great time to let a real expert tell us how he does it…
PEZ: With your experience, what have you found is the best way to watch one of these point-to-point races, see the race, and not get lost all day chasing it across the Belgian countryside?
Peter: What we’ve found works the best is to have a plan, and stick to it. We limit the size of our groups so everyone gets a certain level of attention, for instance we’ll take a maximum of 12 guests to the Spring Classics.
Our key is to be at a pivotal spot of the race so in effect, we will be at the center of event for the duration. The excitement of the race is tangible all day, whether at the start, waiting for the race to come by, or watching it on the video screen. We have a small, but very dedicated staff here in the States that is continually researching via printed maps, computer software, and of course, visiting the race sites time and time again to verify information.
We’ve spent countless hours tracing the race routes in person, reviewing the timetables on race day, and conversing with the locals about where the best spots to see the race are, how to get there, and how not to get lost. With two of us leading the trip, it allows for us to drop off the group while one leader stays with the van and not be forced to find parking or have to walk too far to where the race will pass. Once it goes by, our van picks us up at we’re on to the next spot. We are also equipped with a portable television so we can keep track of all the action.
PEZ: In the Spring Classics Tour, you’ll show your guests Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, and finally Paris-Roubaix. What is a typical day for your guests watching these races?
Peter: On the day of the Tour of Flanders, for example, we will be staying in the heart of the city of Bruges, where the race starts. We have an established meeting point and time after the race departs, so our clients are free to move about the city as they wish during the pre-race ceremonies. With a big crowd and narrow streets, it is much easier to enjoy the spectacle for yourself, rather than try to keep the group together.
After the start, we head into the heart of Flanders, the town of Oudenaarde. There is a new museum, the Centrum, built to honor the history of the race. This is a great spot to visit, as the displays and interactive materials give a strong sense of the history and importance of the event, and the race of course comes through town. The race at this point is still in its early stages.
Next we will head to the town of Geraardsbergen to see the penultimate climb of the Muur de Grammont. This is the pivotal spot of the race, and the town is a center of excitement in anticipation of the arrival, and soon after, the finish. The town is closed off for the race, and there is an enormous outdoor video and concession area where the race is broadcasted.
PEZ: How much riding can guests do, and where? Will we actually be riding in the races routes?
Peter: There’s lots riding on our trip, it’s the primary focus of traveling with your bike! We ride 7 of the 10 days during the trip, with the non-riding days being the races. We have two point-to-point days, both in excess of 60 miles that criss-cross the countryside. On the days before each race, we have routes that take in the most well-known and critical spots on the course- the Muur de Grammont and the Koppenberg during Flanders, the Kemmelberg of Ghent-Wevelgem, and the Arenberg Forest of Paris Roubiax.
Our guests are entered into the amateur version of the Tour of Flanders, and can choose between the 50 and 85-mile versions that cover the most exciting parts of the racecourse. Our Paris-Roubaix loop covers 12 sections of cobbles, and we ride it the same day the teams do leading up to the race, so there is always the potential to ride with a few pros- last year it was the Saeco team. Riding the courses gives a first hand experience of the challenges the racers face, and helps you to further appreciate the difficulty of these races.
PEZ: How long are the van transfers – from hotel to hotel, and on race days?
Peter: The area of Flanders is not big, so the transfers are at most a bit over an hour. Since we are riding from city to city on two occasions, it allows for you to see more of the country without having to expect a van ride after your cycling is over.
PEZ: Do you know some local pubs where we’ll settle in to see a finish or part of a race?
Peter: We sure do! The locals are very warm and welcoming, and are intrigued by the presence of foreigners- as long as you’re rooting for a Belgian! There is of course plenty of beer to go around, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and jovial. It is understood that these races are lengthy events, that everyone has a love for them, and it’s the reason why everyone has gathered at that location. We also always plan a stop in at Peter van Petegem’s supporters bar, operated by his parents, in his hometown. If he wins again, look out!
PEZ: At the starts & finishes, can guests actually talk to riders – how does that happen?
Peter: At Flanders, the riders are located in a huge parking lot that is gated off- but they do have to ride through the city on a designated route to get to the sign in, so there is time to see and potentially chat with them. The start at Ghent-Wevelgem is less serious; as it is a midweek race- I guess the locals are working! It’s a bit easier to mingle with the racers, and have a chance to meet a few of the guys.
PEZ: Accommodations – tell us a little about the hotels we’ll be staying in.
Peter: Our accommodations are first class all the way. We will be lodged in 4 different hotels during the trip, all 4-star status. We stress this part of our traveling as much as our riding, and go to great lengths to find the most qualified inn to house us. All of our hotels are located in the city centers, so it is very convenient for seeing the sights. Our hotel in Bruges is originally a 16th century Guild House, very well preserved in its original design. Our accommodations in Ghent are directly across from the magnificent city hall, and dates back to the early 1200’s as one of the oldest hotels in of Europe. Our starting and ending hotel in Aalst is a former Royal residence, and in Tournai we stay in a 14th century mansion.
There are only a couple of spots left of the Velo Classics Spring Classics trip, priced at $2995.00, which includes accommodations, breakfasts & dinners, supported rides, and a whole lot more. For more info check out their website…
Visit the Velo Classic Tours website for more info,
or call 212.779.9599.