If your only memories of Belgium are fries with mayonnaise and high alcohol content beer then you are definitely missing something. Yesterday was the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders to us English-speaking types. It is more than a 165-mile bike race full of steep cobbled climbs. It is the premier sporting even in all of Belgium. Forget soccer(futbol to you non-English speaking types), Formula 1 at Spa-Francorchamps or a tennis match between Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin, De Ronde is it. Not only are the crowds huge, but they exude passion, way more passion than the Black Hole in the Oakland Raiders' stadium.
Yeah, it's a bike race, but it is also a desert topping, floor wax and much, much more. Yes, it is one of cycling's one-day 'classics', but when the weather turns to ugly like it did yesterday, it becomes legendary. If your only exposure to bike racing is standing around in an industrial park watching your significant other go round and round for an hour or so, it is hard to describe how popular this event is with your average Belgian. They are probably still partying in Ninove, to be sure a Belgian won, however, it wouldn't matter if an alien from team Roswell had been first across the line.
You see, it is all about having a great race. Given how much a win in this event means to a pro rider's career and the difficulty of the parcours (that's 'race course' for you English-speaking types) it is almost impossible not to have a great race. If you are not a 'hardman of the road' your chances of winning De Ronde hover somewhere between slim and none. The climbs, though short, are extremely steep and most are cobbled. And if you think the craftsmen on "This Old House" laid the stones with their laser levels you would be sorely mistaken. In most cases you are convinced that nobody laid the stones. There must have been a truck bed spill which nobody bothered to clean up.
Dr. Phil types love to say 'its the journey, not the destination.. After 165-miles of incessant winds, rain and hail and all the cobbles, the riders in De Ronde would probably have a few choice words for Oprah's folksy friend. But, the pros will come back to Flanders next year and the year after that and the year after that. After all, it's De Ronde.
ps- if you can't be in Belgium, you should be watching all this on Versus!
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