Spring cycling races in Belgium

Cycling race at the Tour des Flandres, Mur de Grammont.

In the Tour of Flanders, the steep Grammont wall slows down even the fastest cyclists to a relative crawl.

Well it’s getting to be about that time of year again. While most are eagerly awaiting signs of spring, cycling fans are counting down the days until the big races. If you are of the latter group, you probably know that Belgium is one of the best places to see professional cycling’s top athletes compete. Throughout April, the streets will be lined with cheering fans waving bright flags as they wait for the peloton to whoosh past in a flash. For many, this is more about the anticipation than getting a good look at the action, although those in the know will be camped out at the best vantage points. If you plan on attending any cycling events this spring, remember to arrive early, with something to sit on, something to eat and definitely something to drink. Often there will be someone selling refreshments, but only in the most crowded parts of the race course. Below is a list of the classic races coming up this season. Don’t forget to check out their websites for course maps and regional information.

Gent-Wevelgem

The first of the Belgian spring classics, Gent-Wevelgem is 219 kilometers through the province of West Flanders. The first half takes place in the northern, flat, polder landscape and the second in the hilly sections in the south of the province. You’ll want to see the cyclists struggle up the Kemmelberg twice, which is the highest point in the province. This long, cobbled hill ascends at a grade of 23% at its steepest point.

  • When: March 28, 2010
  • Start: Deinze
  • End: Wevelgem
  • Points of interest: Kemmelberg and Mont Noir
  • Who to watch: Edvald Boasson Hagen (2009 winner), Tom Boonen, Daniele Bennati and Oscar Freire
  • For more information: http://www.gent-wevelgem.be/ (In English, French and Dutch)

De Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders)

Right on the Wallonian-Flemish border is Geraardsbergen (Grammont), a typical small town in the Flemish Ardennes. You’ll find a charming Grote Markt, gabled brick houses and a whole lot of cyclists. Wind your way up through the village to the Kapelmuur (Mur de Grammont or Grammont wall) which is really just a continuation of this very steep hill, but with cobblestones. At the top you’ll see the church featured in the background of every photo of the Tour. The race is 262 kilometers (162 miles) long with 15 steep hills, several of which are cobblestoned.

  • When: April 4, 2010
  • Start: Bruges (9:45)
  • End: Ninove (ETA 15:48 and later)
  • Points of interest: Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen; Koppenberg near Oudenaarde
  • Who to watch: Stijn Devolder (2009 winner), Tom Boonen, Lance Armstrong and Sylvain Chavanel
  • For more information: http://www.rvv.be/en (In English, French, and Dutch)

Paris-Roubaix

Though technically not in Belgium, this intense race take place in French Flanders which is just a few minutes from the Belgian border. Also, you’ll see many, many Belgian spectators so it will feel like you’re in Belgium anyways. The course is around 260 kilometers (161 miles) long with about 50 kilometers (31 miles) of cobblestone sections.

  • When: April 11, 2010
  • Start: Compiègne, France
  • End: Roubaix, France
  • Points of interest: Any of the 27 cobblestone sections, but especially Trouée d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre, or the arrival in the Roubaix Velodrome.
  • Who to watch: Tom Boonen (2009 winner), Fabien Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan
  • For more information: http://www.letour.fr/indexPRX_fr.html (In English and French)

La Flèche Wallonne

For a change of scenery, head to the Belgian Ardennes, the rolling, green mountains in Eastern Belgium. This is the first of the races in the Ardennes. It’s about 200 kilometers (124 miles) long with 11 long, steep hills. The last kilometer is the dramatic climb up the Mur de Huy (Huy Wall) which at one point ascends at a grade of 19%.

  • When: April 21, 2010
  • Start: Charleroi
  • End: Huy
  • Points of interest: The Mur de Huy which they climb 3 times; the Côte de Bonneville.
  • Who to watch: Davide Rebellin (2009 winner), Andy Schleck and Franck Schleck
  • For more information: http://www.letour.fr/indexFWH_fr.html (In English and French)

Liège-Bastogne-Liège

A mere 4 days later, head back to the hills for “La Doyenne,” as this race is nicknamed. This is the oldest, one-day cycling race in the world and the most prestigious of the Ardennes races. Many say this course is harder than a single leg of the Tour de France. Around 261 kilometers (162 miles) with 11 good hills.

  • When: April 25, 2010
  • Start: Liège
  • End: Ans (suburb of Liège)
  • Points of interest: Cote de la Redoute, Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, Cote de Saint-Nicolas (through the Italian neighborhood of Liège)
  • Who to watch: Andy Schleck (2009 winner), Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde and Franck Schleck
  • For more information: http://www.letour.fr/indexLBL_fr.html (In English and French)
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