Flanders is the paradise of cycling. Its undulating landscape with its hills and cobbles has been the backdrop for our Flemish spring classics for decades. This is the basis for Flanders’ deep love of cycle racing; a love that doesn’t stop when the leaves start falling — that’s when road cycling is swapped for a different form of this sporting heritage: cyclo-cross.
In autumn and winter, Flandriens compete on other fronts. This is when riders force their way through the loose sand. They trudge through the mud. They fight their way through the mire, bicycle on shoulder. Downhill, uphill, maneuvering through the trees and obstacles. And they keep on doing so until the end of the race. Unlike road races, cyclo-cross takes place on a closed circuit. The riders complete the same lap over and over again, until the strongest rider has won, and the rest humbly bow their heads.
As tough as these races are for the gladiators on the field, they are wonderful to experience as spectators. On a day of cyclo-cross, you see a succession of races: the amateurs, the men, the women, and various youth categories. This top-level sport is coupled with a good deal of folklore. The crowd stands in deep rows, Wellington boots on their feet, winter coats all zipped up, a delicious beer in hand. It’s an amazing experience.
You will find a similar experience in mid-November in Ghent, albeit without the warm coat and wellies. That’s when the legendary Het Kuipke indoor velodrome prepares for the equally iconic Six Days of Ghent, a race that dates back more than a century. Over six days, a dozen pairs of riders compete for victory in the final standings and the often-spectacular side events such as the derny race, in which riders have their pace set by a moped (in recent times, often an electric one).
Just like the cyclo-cross, the Six Days of Ghent race has the great advantage that spectators are physically close to the riders. From the stands or the atmospheric inner circle, you can almost feel the sweat of the riders. The Six Days race is many things: national heritage and top-level sport, spectacle and noise, emotion and folklore. How do you define the intersection of a sporting event and an unbeatable popular festival? At Het Kuipke, you will find the answer.
In the meantime, gravel racing is also on this impressive list. This fairly new discipline in cycling happens on partly unpaved roads. The sport is experiencing hype worldwide and Flanders is contributing to it. In October, the Belgian and European championships were held in the beautiful Brabantse Wouden forest region. Next year, this will be the setting for the world championships — to look forward to eagerly.
Even as the days grow shorter, Flanders’ cycling heart continues to pound. Both the field and the track guarantee top-level sport, a thrilling atmosphere. Want to be part of that boundless charm? Cycling in Flanders puts you on the road to a Flemish cycling trip. It will be one you’ll never forget.