Experiencing Flanders

While the highlights of my Spring Classics trip were the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, I did have some unique experiences in the days between.

On Monday, I decided to ride route posted to the Ghent tourism website. It was an “official” local route with signage. Well, I’m glad I downloaded the route to my Garmin, since the signs weren’t very noticeable. The ride took me out of Ghent and through local farm country, including some dirt/gravel. I didn’t want to hammer, so this looked like a great idea. With things starting turning green and blooming, it was gorgeous. I even got to go past a castle, though you had to pay to go inside.

A suspension bridge outside Ghent over the canal and bike path.
Gravel roads long the farmlands of Flanders.
Miniature horses seen on my ride.

The weirdest, but coolest thing was encountering a 1-man ferry. Following the route I came to a canal crossing with no bridge. I could have gone a mile in either direction to cross, but this was the official route. Looking at the boat, I kept trying to figure out if I was supposed to ferry myself. After 1-2 minutes, a man and his dog appeared from the yard next to the ferry. He asked if I wanted to cross and I said yes. So, we got in boat and he ferried me across. We chatted a bit and I gave him a couple of Euros. I imagine he gets a lot more business in the summer, but I wonder if he knows someone on the local tourism board so he’s on the posted routes.

All aboard!
The 1-ferry that carried me across the canal…for 2 Euros.

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of riding with Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders. Museeuw won both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders three times, was the 1996 World Champion, and 4-time Tour de France stage winner. In a country that adores cycling, this makes him an idol. The only downside was that it was raining, but that only added to the Flanders experience.

He took us around some of the old Flanders course and telling stories. We eventually rode up the classic Muur van Geraardsbergen. It’s not used in Flanders much anymore, but has a storied past and is still featured in other races (like this year’s Tour de France). One of the things that makes the Mur iconic is the chapel on top. There is also a cafe there frequented by tourists (like us). I had just come down to the cafe the same time a group of seniors showed up. One of the older men asked me where I was from, etc., then wondered if I was there with Museew. I said “yes” and his eye lit up. It made me realize how huge cycling is in Belgium and how someone like Museeuw is a huge sports celebrity.

We concluded our day at the Flanders museum, which as you guessed, showcases the history of the race and cycling culture in the region. Have a guided tour led by Museeuw made it even more special, since one the bikes he rode was featured there. If you are a cycling fan, this was one place to geek out.

My Niner at the top of the Muur.
Me with Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders.
The chapel at the top of the Muur van Geraardsbergen.

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