The Tour of Belgium

Friday, 22 April 2011

Côte de la Redoute

The redoubtable Côte de la Redoute

Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège marks the end of the spring classics season and the transition to stage racing and soon, the summer. We’ve had races like Paris-Nice or the Tour of the Basque country and the scenic Giro di Trentino is on right now. But eyes have been on the spring classics in Belgium.

For me the races from early March to the end of April are the fourth grand tour. Races criss-cross Belgium and even Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold have their finishes a cobblestone’s throw away from the Belgian border. Of course there is no yellow jersey but the succession of stages means riders who lose out one day can make amends the next and like a grand tour there are some prestigious stages and some where not everyone races full gas.

A country where Merckx is almost royalty

A country where Merckx is almost royalty

A quirky country at times, Belgium probably has the most knowledgeable and appreciative cycling fans. Not everyone by the road can tell you who won the 1988 Tour de France but many probably can. The succession of races, often literally on the doorstep of these fans, is a big moment in the country’s sporting calendar. Belgium might lack a government but it has some of the best races going.

Now the racing turns to the Walloon Ardennes, home of some tough roads and as often noted, Liège–Bastogne–Liège has as much vertical climbing as an Alpine stage of the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.

Even before Sunday it’s safe to say this has been a vintage year for the classics. Excitement, drama, suspense and surprise, spectators have been spoilt.

As much as I’ll miss the frenetic action, now we turn to the long stage races in which the pace changes, where you get daily action but often set against a story that takes a full three weeks to unfold. If the Giro is half as good as the spring classics…

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{ 7 comments }

Craig April 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm

“Races criss-cross Belgium and even Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold have their finishes a cobblestone’s throw away from the Belgian border. ”

That’s pretty close. The only cyclist I can imagine even being able to throw a cobblestone is Chris Hoy. I’d imagine most of the peloton has been thrown farther by the pave than they could throw it themselves.

As for me I’ll be thrilled if the Giro (or even the Tour for that matter) can match this year’s Spring Classics for excitement.

Starr April 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I’ve always assumed Belgium was the “center” of the bike racing world.
If you add in cyclocross, it’s like the Mecca for racing’s pilgrims.

Broerie April 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Well… as a Belgian, I can telll you that the Giro is my favourite race of the year. No other race is as exciting and spectacular as this one IMO.

Pirate Maboule April 23, 2011 at 12:18 am

So, who won the ’88 tour??

cthulhu April 23, 2011 at 2:48 am

Ah, La Redoute, I’m gonna be there on sunday and I’m really looking forward to it, who else is?
I love riding and racing in Belgium a lot, and the races there are fantastic.

Tom April 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

“If the Giro is half as good as the spring classics…”

I’m not going to make my 30th birthday. ;-)

Especially the RVV did it for me. I was excited to see the epic Boonen vs. Cancellara battle all over again, and when Cancellara (aka the Leopard Tank) attacked I really thought the race was over. Given his performance a week earlier I thought he was going to big ring it straight to the finish. Great to see how even the best or riders are human and get it wrong sometimes.

Tom from Raleigh April 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm

This season the one day races have taught me that the grand tours are not the most exciting events on the calendar. Last year’s Tour de France was kind of boring for the most part, well except for the first week.

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