Tuesday, March 4, 2008
My final evening in Belgium this past November was spent in Brussels conversing with a couple of native Flandriens in a smoky, Flemish bar. While we touched on a variety of subjects, the heart of our conversation dwelled on two topics near and dear to my heart: beer and pro cycling (more specifically, this evening, all things beer and pro cycling in Flanders). I was reminded of that particular conversation this past weekend while noticing a sure sign of spring in North Carolina–the sudden proliferation of daffodils emerging overnight en-masse as if by magic. To my Flandrien friends the telltale harbinger of spring was represented by one annual, blockbuster event: Het Volk (occurring the same day all of our daffodils sprouted this side of the Atlantic). It was with almost religious fervor that they spoke of Het Volk, ensuing hints of blue sky and warmer weather, and the steady crescendo of racing throughout March culminating in early April with the largest event on the Flandrien calendar: The Ronde…part Super Bowl, part Fourth of July, part Holy Day.
I heard tales from years past of seeing Het Volk, Gent-Wevelgem, and the Ronde in person—of daring driving and insider, back-road knowledge put to the test in order to view the parcours from multiple bergs before navigating to the finish line. More recently, however, the insanity of seeing the races in person grew too much to negotiate and the races were instead viewed via television from the comfort of their favorite bars. Which brings me to a phenomenon of Flanders chronicled in a book purchased at the Ronde museum…the ubiquity of wielercafes throughout Flanders. One hundred twenty one, to be precise. 121 bars devoted in one way or another to pro cycling whether owned by an ex-pro, a fan club of current pros, or just cafes owned and operated by die-hard cycling fans. Wielercafes in Vlaanderen investigates them all and provides the raw materials to string together the pub crawl to end all pub crawls. I propose one fine tune the Vlaams, get the liver in tip-top shape, and hit about 3 or 4 wielercafes per day for the entire Spring Classic season. And document it all Zane Lamprey style for the posterity’s sake. Word.
(If you just want the bare bones facts, here’s the master list.)