This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Tomas Van Den Spiegel, purchase your first edition in our shop.
If you’re born in Flanders, there’s a bigger chance than anywhere else in the world that you will become a cycling fan. That’s exactly what happened to me.
My earliest cycling memory dates back to the sacred year of 1986. My uncle took me to go and see the Under-23 Tour of Flanders. It was a hectic day in which we did the traditional thing of trying to watch the riders come past as many times as possible, before getting to the finish in time to see Edwig Van Hooydonck take the win. Van Hooydonck would go on to become a local hero by repeating his feat in the professional race in 1989 and 1991.
My education as a cycling fan was further defined, at least in my eyes, by the dominance of the Panasonic team of Peter Post, Eric Vanderaerden, Eddy Planckaert and all the others. Their kit was beautiful and their Mercedes cars set them apart from the rest. And, of course, I clearly remember the great LeMond–Fignon duel at the 1989 Tour de France.
I would have loved to become a cyclist. They’re the real heroes in Flanders. But my talent lay elsewhere, namely on a basketball court. That led to a professional career that lasted 18 years, during which I experienced cycling passively. I was a passionate fan of the sport, and would never miss a big race, especially not the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders.
There was not a single bit of me that imagined that the course my life had taken would one day intersect with the cycling world in the way it has done. But after several twists and turns, I find myself enormously grateful to be in a position where I can help to build cycling. It is something so close to our hearts, something that we in Flanders consider to be a part of who we are. It’s often said that cycling in Flanders is a religion, and that’s not far from the truth. Not a day goes by without cycling featuring prominently in the newspapers. And for most of us the names Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Muur van Geraardsbergen mean so much more than just a series of cobbled climbs to be visited and ticked off a bucket list.
At Flanders Classics we are involved in about 70 to 80 events a year that revolve around cycling. We’re not the biggest professional cycling organiser in the world – we don’t have a Tour de France or a Giro d’Italia, for example – but we do aim to be the most inspiring and innovative for all fans, regardless of their age, race or gender. Sport in general has become part of the entertainment industry in recent years and the battle for fans’ attention is very fierce. That’s a boat that cycling in general simply cannot afford to miss, and we at Flanders Classics in particular owe it to ourselves to challenge one another to innovate, rejuvenate and become more and more inclusive.
The Ronde is by far our biggest event (with the exception of the Road World Championships 2021, but we don’t organise them every year!). We have seen the Ronde grow year by year on all fronts. Every spring around a million people gather by the side of the road to try and catch a glimpse of their heroes.