De Ronde, much more than a race

Well supported

The Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, is a bike race held this Sunday. But it is so much more than a bike race, so much more than a sports event. It is a sociological phenomenon, a cultural and national event.

Many countries have days on the sporting calendar that take on a national significance. France obviously has the Tour de France, Italy has the Giro d’Italia. Australia has a horse race, the Melbourne Cup that is described as “the race that stops a nation” and that’s apt for De Ronde and Belgium. Britain has the Grand National horse race and the FA Cup final and there’s the Superbowl in the US. But I still don’t feel these events get the measure of what’s coming this Sunday in Flanders.

Small place, big deal
Belgium a smaller place so any event that takes place is likely to grab more attention. By contrast it’s easier to ignore the Superbowl if you’re American. But it’s still different, competitions like the Superbowl or FA Cup are reliant on fans from each team for a lot of support. By contrast, whilst there will be fans of Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert by the road, most people will simply be out to watch the event; most TV viewers just want to watch the race.

Near religious fervour
Near religious fervour

There are some pointers that this is more than a mere sports event. Belgium’s TV1 channel broadcasts a sort of soap opera called De Ronde. Similarly the race escapes the back pages of the newspaper sports sections and it’s the stuff of front pages, comment and opinion plus features on what the riders are eating, new bike technology and more, all in the national press. This isn’t to say every Belgian watches the race. No, millions also tune in via radio too.

Belgian frites
They should be called Belgian fries

It’s also a nice distraction for the country right now. Belgium has no formal government, elections 290 days ago when the last government collapsed resulted in no overall majority from any party and all attempts at horse-trading so far to form a coalition have failed. Life goes on, Belgium relies a lot on regional and local government but De Ronde is a common good shared by millions, like a love of frites, the King and the soccer team.

Of course plenty of Belgians are indifferent to the race but this race is really unlike others. Many a race will flash through European towns and villages without people knowing, an inconvenience thanks to closed roads. Politics aside, this is a nice day out for millions in the country. When you see the TV coverage or photos you’ll see many lining the road but you have to imagine many more people sitting in their homes, in bars and cafés watching the race. You have to experience it to believe it.

For tips on watching the classics, see an earlier post: How to watch a race.

13 thoughts on “De Ronde, much more than a race”

  1. Nearly 2 million people in Flanders (population 6 million) will watch the race on TV and some 800.000 will watch the race live. The others, well… I don’t know these people actually

  2. Hilarious Broerie!

    This is my World Championships. The Lion of Flanders flag will fly outside the house. Guests will arrive with their favorite Belgie biers. And the kids will make up bowls upon bowls of frites. Mayo toppings of course.

    BTW – The faves will “watch” each other out of the victory because of Cancellara’s form and some roleur like Burghardt will slip off for the trophy.

  3. Starr – i agree to an extent – the you feel that the only thing that can stop Cancellara is himself choosing not to have his team help work to keep a break in check. I wonder what excuses Boonen has planned this year after last years “cramps” – sorry Tom, you’re on form i know, but i can’t see it happening for you this year @RVV. I say save your powder for Roubaix….

  4. Broerie: some people have to work and there must be football games being played, no?

    Yves: thanks, as you might have seen I’ve shared this with others in a separate post as it’s a great film.

    Rovsom: fuel for the cobbles? Well it keeps you warm as a fan but they’re off limits for the riders right now.

    Beev/Starr: yes, we’ve seen clashes and duels before… only for someone else to win. The classic version is document in the Sunday in Hell film where Moser and Merckx duel, along with others… whilst Marc de Meyer wins.

  5. inrng, I thought Broerie was referring to the Walloons, which of course made me lmao, but if it’s just referring to the few Flandrians that miss the event, I guess I was hoping for too much…

  6. You are wrong about the superbowl. More than half of Americans watched some part of the 2011 edition from their homes, and millions more watched from bars. If Broerie’s figures are correct then the superbowl has a far higher per-capita viewership.

  7. I only know the numbers for Flanders, but I guess most Walloon cycling fans watch the race too.
    Sadly, that’s how this country works, we have no clue what’s going on in the other half of the coutry. And that’s a shame IMO.

  8. The similarities between the Superbowl and the Tour of Flanders are that the competitors of both wear helmets… the only people interested in the Superbowl are American (poor souls)… the world is interested in Flanders. I for one will be watching all night from Melbourne, Australia and have never seen a minute of the Superbowl… there are just too many damn commercial breaks!

  9. 50 million for a bike race is outstanding, and I’d rather watch a bike race than the Superbowl. FWIW the last Superbowl had 111 million US viewers and an estimated 30- 40 million international viewers.

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