Inside the Tour of Flanders, the World’s Toughest Bike Race
By Edward Pickering
The Tour of Flanders – known to cycling fans as The Ronde – is the biggest one day cycling race in the world.
It is a potent mix of grit, cobbles, steep climbs, narrow roads, national pride, beer, brutal weather and the maddest, most passionate fans in the sport.
Every April, up to a million fanatical cycling fans line the streets of Flanders to watch one of cycling’s most exciting and dangerous one-day races unfold. This race is the Ronde van Vlaanderen, more commonly known as The Ronde.
Such is the winding complexity of the race route that many thousands of fans enthusiastically engage in a game of the chaotically mad Belgium-Hopscotch; dashing from roadside to roadside in the hope of glimpsing their hero’s as they fly past in a whirlwind of colour. Flanders is cycling’s heartland, and the followers of cycling are among the most passionate and knowledgeable. The race itself is characterised by a series of short, steep narrow climbs, often over slippery cobbles that can and do send many a cyclist tumbling.
The Ronde though is so much more than a bike race.
The race is, as Pickering explains in this beautifully written book, inseparable from the landscape, and the people who inhabit Flanders. In writing this book Pickering has undertaken a pilgrimage of sorts. He not only provides an exciting in-depth account of the race but also entwines and enriches this sporting behemoth with an assessment on how the geography, history, culture, politics, and so much more, come to form such a vital part of Flemish identity. It is clear from the book that the race itself defines Flanders as much as Flanders defines the race. Pickering also reveals why The Ronde is such a tough race to master, one that has been targeted by the all-powerful Team Sky, but yet still remains beyond their reach. If only Team Sky had stopped trying to control every variable and ‘G’ had focused on the classics … sigh… what could have been!
This book is about cycling in its purest and most compelling form.
The Ronde is exquisitely written and its style, at least to me, is fascinating. It a mosaic of race history, anecdotes, interviews, geography, sociology, economics, politics, culture, you name it and it’s in there. If this sounds daunting, please don’t be put off as it is magically interwoven by the golden thread of the 2011 race. Won, of course by Nick Nuyens (I was there to witness this most unexpected victory thanks to Nico and his Go4cycling.com team, and The Ronde brought back so many marvellous memories.)
Interview with the author: Edward Pickering.
Late one evening, just prior to publication, I was fortunate enough to grab moment of Edward Pickering’s time to discuss the book.
As Edward stated ‘….The structure of the book is based around the 2011 race, and the chapters are the climbs as they appeared. it’s not just a blow-by-blow account of the races.’ He continues, ‘for each climb I’ve also branched out and incorporated things that have happened throughout the history of the race. So, although you could see the book as a history of the tour of Flanders it’s as much a geography of the race. In each chapter there are tangents into the history of the race… or the culture… or the geography… or the sociology… or the people of Flanders… or whatever context best served the story.’
Pickering is clearly passionate about Belgium and The Ronde.
‘I don’t think you can fully understand The Tour of Flanders unless you have an appreciation of Flanders itself as a historical, political and sociological entity, and why the race is linked to all of this. The race itself is an expression of Flemish geographical pride. To understand why this is so you have to have an appreciation of the history of the region.’
(Full interview will be published shortly on CS.)
Pickering further develops the story by interspersing each chapter with interviews and anecdotes from the main protagonists. The book is enriched by this testimony and the riders motivation for racing along with how their strategies evolved, and how they faced victory, or more often than not, crushing defeat is at times visceral. In places it’s a thriller, a real page turner.
To give you a hint of the riders mindset here’s the list, penned by Nick Nuyens and his sports psychologist, on the eve of the 2011 race;
- Small roads.
- Understanding the road/wriggling.
- Knowledge (parcours & tactics).
- Very hard race.
- Never give up/perseverance.
- Good legs needed to go hard.
- Incredible crowd/fans/arena.
To find out more – and to glimpse how and why the races unfolded as they did – read this wonderful book about the world’s greatest race. Unleash your inner Flandrian: the ten-commandments on how to be a Flandrian are revealed within: You will not regret it.
CyclingShorts.cc rating 10/10 …buy this superb book, read it, and enjoy watching The Ronde.
About the Author of The Ronde
Ed Pickering is one of the UK’s leading cycling writers, having written for a range of publications from Cycling Weekly to the New York Times & Loaded. He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Race Against Time and The Yellow Jersey Club, and is the editor of Procycling magazine.
My sincerest thanks to Ed for allowing me some of his valuable time.
The full interview will feature in the coming weeks as will a report on my attempt to ride the 2018 Ronde Cyclopsortive (don’t tell my oncologist!)
Nichiless K Dey
Nick Dey AKA Nichiless Dey AKA "The Prof" AKA....
European Cycling Correspondent
European Cycling correspondent, physics & chemistry teacher and cyclist of little renown! (his words, in truth he is a cycling god!).
Enthusiast & Optimist-ish!