What's Cool In Road Cycling

Travel: Experiencing Cobbled Belgium

Each Spring, Belgium provides the stage for the epic cycling battles that are fought across the bergs and cobbles that scatter the landscape. Bearing personal witness to this is a right of passage for many true cycling fans, and Vйlo Classic Tours knows how to experience the races, the region’s culture, history and hospitality better than most…

What makes these races so demanding? What does it feel like to be awash in an red, yellow and black culture that embraces these monuments and the riders who do battle there? The only way to find out is to see for yourself… and ask anyone who’s been, and you’ll likely hear something like “I gotta get back there.”

The Spring Classics are the traditional opening act to the European racing calendar – the Belgians embrace these races, and every cycling fan should too. Most people shiver when they think “Spring in Belgium”… and fair enough – this ain’t no beach holiday. But there’s a reason they invented thermal jackets, rain-proof gloves, and winter booties… so riders can enjoy the elements that make the season opening Classics so unequaled…

Say these words slowly and to yourself…(or out loud if you dare):
“Ronde van Vlaanderen”
“Paris – Roubaix”
“Gent – Wevelgem”

Unless you’ve been, you’re pronunciation will probably suck…

But now imagine how they’ll sound when followed by a mouthful (or 10) of cold, crisp Belgian beer… a big plate of frites, and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve just conquered 100kms of the actual cobbles and climbs that wrote cycling history…

Now imagine you’re staying in a hotel that looks like it belongs in a Hans Christian Anderson story, and will soon be dining in a 4 star restaurant that could never be back home…

If you’re on this trip… you’re in Belgium baby.

Roubaix’s historic sections of protected pave are marked with these ‘gate posts to hell’.

The Velo Classic Difference
Peter Easton, the founder of Vйlo Classic Tours, is on a personal mission to show his guests a combination of serious cycling, sublime culture and exemplary service – all inside the ‘true’ Belgium that only the locals know. He believes the interaction of cycling and culture can enrich the quality of your travels and that every vacation can, and should be a life-changing experience. “Ride through history, live in luxury” is his philosophy and vision of a European cycling adventure.

I’ve traveled with him, and seen it with my own eyes, and we asked Pete to tell us more about his mantra of “serious cycling, sublime culture, and exemplary service”…

PEZ: What’s the riding like – I know from my own experience how great it is, but what kind of rides do you try to show guests?

Peter: We want to give an up close and personal feel of what the races are really like, so we cover the courses. First, we ride the Amateur Tour of Flanders with several thousand cycling crazed Belgians, covering 75 or 140 kilometers, the latter including all of the climbs. Next, we do a loop ride over the critical sections of Gent-Wevelgem, including the Kemmelberg. And finally, for Paris-Roubaix, we ride anywhere from 100-160 kilometers of the course.

Last year we had Scott Sunderland, Director Sportif for Team-CSC, join us for our rides over the Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix routes. He added some very cool insight into his race strategy for each, as well as his own experiences as a rider, and he’s interested in joining us again this year. Also, Freddie Rodriguez is sponsoring us with his gourmet coffee, Fast Freddie’s Turbo Blend and we’re hoping to have him ride with us as well.

The town square in Tournai is typical of the most beautiful city centers of Europe.

PEZ: You’ve been showing guests the Classics for a number of years now – how has your approach improved the way you run the trip and see the races?

Peter: I spend about 8 weeks during the year in Belgium. My familiarity with the area means I know the shortcuts, where not to get caught behind the race, where the crowds will be, and where the best places for up close action are. Having a plan of action for the day is key, but also being able to think proactively and anticipate is very important. I’ve made some great contacts in Belgium over the years, and I spend time with these friends reviewing the race route and getting tips on how to approach the day.

Sublime Culture
The beauty of Europe is that there is so much more on offer then great riding – they’ve got culture comin’ out the wazoo… Vйlo Classic’s tours explore the essence of cycling and European travel, offering a complete experience that captures the spirit of European culture through bicycling. Again, their relationships with local artisans, hotels and restaurants make you feel like you belong, and not just a tourist looking in. Guests can experience historic Belgium first hand along the canals and cobbled lanes of Bruges, and under the impressive stone structures of the historic port city of Gent.

See those cobbles? You’ll ride ‘em one day, and then get schooled by the pros the next.

PEZ: You guys know some pretty cool hotels and restaurants – it’s obvious you enjoy good eating and staying in nice hotels…

Peter: A significant part of the Vйlo Classic Experience is our meticulous selection of hotels and restaurants. We personally select each hotel and restaurant you will stay in and dine at, making sure they share the same high level of standards and quality. We have established long-term relationships with the staff, and our groups are always enthusiastically welcomed, ensuring the excellent quality and attentive service that define your travel with Vйlo Classic Tours.

Location and historic significance are all part of the equation, and with first class quality and service, equal a memorable part of your trip. Our hotel in Bruges is a very well preserved 16th century Guild House and in Ghent we stay directly across from the magnificent city hall. Our starting and ending hotel in Mechelen is a former merchant’s townhouse and in Tournai we stay in a 14th century mansion. We continue to review our hotels and our restaurants and make changes as necessary to keep everything at a first class level. We have very high standards and these need to be met every year. We’ve improved it quite a bit since we started going to Belgium, and we continue to improve with each trip.

The dining experience is a very important and enjoyable part of the Vйlo Classic itinerary. We have performed extensive research, travel and tastings at the restaurants we select. We discuss custom menus, vegetarian options, gastronomique menus, wine pairing and menus of the chef’s choice. Each of our itineraries guarantees a dining experience unlike any you’ve ever had.

Often called the “Venice if the North”, the city of Bruges is flooded with canals… literally.

PEZ: What are the small things that make the difference traveling with Velo Classic Tours?

Peter: The most important element of traveling with Vйlo Classic Tours is service. Your vacation is our job, and it is our goal to make your trip with us memorable. Though highly structured, all of our itineraries incorporate flexibility. We work with you to tailor your trip to your desires- each day has optional starting and finishing points for your rides; van service and exclusive excursions to special attractions. From your Vйlo Classic personnel to the staff at our hotels and restaurants, our exemplary client services are focused on providing you and your vacation with the attention you deserve.

PEZ: From the guest perspective, what type of mind set or level of expectations ensures they’ll have an awesome experience?

Peter: Coming in open minded is a must. We are used to dealing with high expectations from our clients, and we typically deliver beyond them. We can’t control the weather, for instance, but if you come prepared, and willing to take whatever experience comes your way, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the trip as a whole. You’re guaranteed great riding; accommodations, food and service, but having a positive outlook and a willingness for adventure will take your trip to a much higher level.

The cobbles of the Kemmelberg will toughen you up for the pave of Roubaix.

For more information, log on to
www.VeloClassic.com or call 212.779.9599 2006 color brochure and itineraries now available.

Peter Easton
Velo Classic Tours
15 E 32nd St 5th Flr
New York, NY 10016
[email protected]

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