An hour into our ride through the Flemish Ardennes, Sir Bradley Wiggins is in his element. In this small corner of Belgium, every hill and cobbled avenue has a tale to inform from a century of biking history, and he is aware of all of them. It’s an extraordinary revel in to have a Tour de France winner – and a person who has played a substantial role inside the nearby subculture – as your excursion guide, however here I am following inside the wheels of now not just one legend however the masses who’ve helped to form a region wherein cycling is plenty more than a recreation.
Starting a few 15 miles south of Ghent and available through a huge, automobile-unfastened cycle route beside the River Schelde, the Flemish Ardennes (quite awesome from the opposite Ardennes in the ways south of Belgium) is the canvas on which the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) paints itself every 12 months. The anticipation builds week with the aid of week across the place, and the ecosystem at the day itself is a combination of the London Marathon and the glory days of the FA Cup very last. More than 1,000,000 human beings line the roads, and there may be blanket television insurance.
Today, but we are using at the eve of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the traditional curtain-raiser of the Flemish biking calendar, and Wiggins is displaying us his favorite roads and cafe stops in the area, as well as explaining why it is one of this unique location to go biking. Wiggins was born in Ghent and committed the latter part of his career to race in the Flemish Classics. “The remarkable component about Belgium,” he explains as we roll down the cycle direction, “is that you can pressure an hour and a half off from the Channel crossing and be in a totally exclusive international. Drivers admire cyclists; you forestall in a restaurant and those who welcome you and want to realize where you’ve been. They include cycling.”
Unfortunately, the speaking has to prevent as we hit the Molenberg, the first of the day’s cobbled climbs. The hard, off-camber cobbles are a short but excessive creation to what cycling in Flanders is all approximately. You can imagine the rate of the peloton as they take the sharp corner and straight away hit the stones. The struggle for traction and the venture of choosing the proper line is tough sufficient solo; the notion of doing it surrounded through one hundred different riders appears nigh-on impossible. After more than one kilometer on roads that crisscross winter fields, we arrive at the Haaghoek, a 2km cobbled avenue that the peloton will pass 3 instances within the Omloop. This spot, north-west of Brakel, is famous with spectators. Certainly, a collection of beginner photographers is waiting, hoping to capture a glimpse of the professional teams as they recce the Omloop path. Indeed, Greg Van Avermaet’s CCC Team passes us rapidly after the steep climb of Berendries, the Belgian Olympic champion’s favorite schooling climb.
If you had been to ask a layman for a photo of the Tour of Flanders, they could probably conjure up Eddy Merckx or Fabian Cancellara rounding the very last corner on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the impossibly steep and more or less cobbled climb as much as the pretty church that sits above the metropolis, offering amazing perspectives all the way to Ghent in the north and Brussels to the east. The climb nonetheless resonates for Wiggins, no matter having ridden it endless times in his career. “It’s something special hiking out of the marketplace here,” he says. “When I trip up the cobbles, I’m nevertheless seeing Johan Museeuw [the Lion of Flanders and three-time winner of the Ronde] attacking out of the saddle. I get the equal feeling using as I did when I was a child, watching – the climb is iconic.”