Saturday, April 02, 2005


Time flies. It’s not one year yet since on July 3rd, 2004 the Tour de France, that Mother of All Cyclist Races, started – but the string of minor tournaments leading up to it has. That string includes classics like Italy’s Giro d'Italia, Holland’s Amstel Gold Race, and the so-called Spring Classics: Belgium’s Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem-Ghent, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and France’s Paris-Roubaix, the "Hell of the North". Tomorrow, April 3, the Tour of Flanders will be held.

I’m covering it this year for two reasons: first, frankly said, I need a break from the (load of ) bad news reporting – and God knows there’s a lot of. There is the developing power struggle between an EU Commission asserting itself and several European governments who think the EU should be meant as a cloak to serve their interests. Most important of all there’s the utter failure of multiculturalism which is becoming more clear day after day with, sadly, the recent surge of violent attacks by mobs of mainly young Moroccans on police patrols in France, The Netherlands and Beligum. More on that later, alas.

Secondly, I thought that this years’ cycling frenzy might interest you since for the first time, US cycling legend and sixfold Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, has decided to participate in at least some of the preluding events – including tomorrow’s Tour of Flanders.

That Tour of Flanders is actually a 256km-long race held in the western part of Flanders, with a trajectory spanning a wide arc starting somewhere to the southwest of Brussels going northwesterly towards Bruges, and encompassing a region called the "Flemish Ardennes", which sports many low hills featuring narrow cobblestoned streets leading to their summits. Now while the race actually starts in Bruges, where the land is flat, the Flemish Ardennes are reserved for the last part of the Tour – see map – kind of keeping the best for the last. And of those "calf-biters", no one is dreaded more than the so-called Muur van Geraardsbergen, where a height difference of 92 meters over a distance of 1,000 meters (9.2% on average, one steep stretch of 20% on the last part of the Muur) shifts the cyborgs from the mere mortals. The "Muur" leads to the summit of the 111-m high Oudenberg, the hill overlooking Geraardsbergen – which is my beloved hometown, one of Flanders oldest cities (1068).

Since the Tour of Flanders is in fact outgrowing its status of minor TdF preluding event and becoming a huge tournament in itself, with tickets being sold long in advance (even in the States!) there’s no way I will be able to secure myself a nice spot on top of the Oudenberg to personally take a shot of Lance on this 89th Edition of the Tour. So instead I took to the site this evening, to give you at least an idea of the battlefield of one of tomorrow’s hot spots. The first picture below shows the last meters of the cobblestoned road to the Oudenberg's summit, which is crowned by a nice chapel. The guy on the photo - one of the ubiquitous amateurs today - obviously has had enough. I can sympathize.

Oudenberg Chapel - Muur van Geraardsbergen

The second picture shows the Chapel from another angle and from a plateau on which there is also a small pond...


Finally, this photo was taken from the very summit of the Oudenberg, 111 m above sea level. In the distance you can make out the land below. The cyclists have to climb 80% of the height difference over a fairly short distance, at some point confronting a 20% slope. It's excruciating!


I will be glad to report on the race's outcome tomorrow evening.



The Tour of Flanders has been won by 24-year old Belgian promise Tom Boonen, who also one of the first rides in 2004's Tour de France as well as its last one. Details here. As you can notice, Lance was 28th (248 cyclists participated). Nothing to worry about, Lance did not intend to win.

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