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Tour of Flanders Exhibit

The CRVV

Belgium’s obsession with bike racing is never really clear until you’ve been there. The Tour of Flanders (Ronde Van Vlaanderen) is the biggest event on the Flandrian cycling calendar, forget the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia this is proper bike racing, Belgian style.

Tucked away into the corner of the town square at Oudenaarde is a modern building with few hints as to what’s inside. The wall of jerseys in the window is a bit of a giveaway, but there’s no big sign – a tasteful modernist and low key approach to a very colourful event.

I was lucky to be shown around by Belgian bike journalist and writer Rik Vanwalleghem who is also an independent member of the museum and a part of the Ronde’s organisation. Fortunately his English is very good (far better than my Flemish) so he can explain how the museum came about and also the details of current displays. The latest objects on show are to celebrate 90 years of the Ronde and the curators have chosen objects that have some relevance to each running of the race. A weather map from 1985 when Vanderaeden won in a torrential downpour, a photo-finish camera from 1954 and magazine a book reports all add flavour to the history of this great event.

The artist’s view of the cobbles

The designers of the CRVV are the same exhibition company that put together the highly acclaimed First World War exhibit “Flanders field museum” in Ypres. The Ronde exhibit starts with a film of highlights over the past century and very inspirational it is too. Winners and scenes from classic races flash accross the three screens in front of you, it’s wondefully presented and sets the mood for finding out more about what makes the Ronde so special.

At the entrance, you buy a ticket (6 Euros) and specify an alter ego, a Tour of Flanders hero that you’d like to be (I chose Eric Vandaraeden) you can be Merckx too if you want. This ticket is scanned at certain points around the exhibition and a fact about your chosen rider will be displayed, it’s a simple idea but very informative.

Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Jan Raas

On display are several bikes, including Johan Museuuw’s Time that he rode to his final and most devastating victory at the Paris Roubaix. He was a three time winner at the Ronde and a national hero because of it. A video of all the finales of the race will keep you occupied for most of the afternoon, especially good was Gianni Bugno’s amazing finish and to watch Van Hooydonck hammering up the Bosberg and his emotional victory puts a lump in the throat. Marvellous stuff.

Oudenaarde has several excellent restaurants and inexpensive but pleasant Hotels. The riding in the area is classic in the extreme, you are only a few kilometres from the course and you can happily take in the main muurs of the Ronde including the Grammont and Bosberg. It’s only two hours drive from Calais so take the bike and have a few days in cycling heaven (as long as the weather is good!). We stayed at the Pomme d’Or on the town square and can highly recommend the restaurant, especially for lunch!

Belgium is very close to the UK and yet we forget how good the cycling is there, forget the Alps and the Pyrenees you can have a great week’s cycling and just a short drive away, take in the Ardennes too and you can sample some of the quietest and cycle-friendly roads in Northern Europe. This museum is a must see for all fans of Classics racing, tie it in with a local race or even one of many bigger pro races in the area all year round and you’ll definitely have a memorable trip.

www.crvv.org



Team car 70’s style

Roof racks haven’t changed much

Try calling up Tom Boonen on this

Try riding the cobbles for yourself – weird

Different types of stones – I kid you not

The wall of winners

The shop – loads of great books

The first photo-finish 1954

Team riders made by a local artist

1930’s Index shifting

Try riding the cobbles and drinking from these!

The weather in 1985 – the worst ever

Tom Simpson – Ronde winner – local hero

Familiar clothing brand?

Dura Ace 70’s style

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