02 April 2012

A day on the Kwaremont

Being a fan at the Tour of Flanders
The day far exceeded my expectations, which I had lowered to nothing because there was so much unknown for me as a first time fan at the Tour of Flanders. Even if they had been high, yesterday would have blown away even the highest expectations. Yesterday at the Tour of Flanders was the best day as a fan I have had since my first day at the Tour de France in 2001.

Perfect weather, friendly relaxed people, atmosphere galore, fantastic race viewing, delicious food and drink.

Thanks to everyone who has inquired about my travels and wished me well. I wish each of you had been there with me yesterday, in my heart you surely were, but traveling alone to these races is completely worth it to make the dream come true. In fact I met another English gentlemen at breakfast this morning who was doing the exact same thing I was here to do. His friend had cancelled last minute, "I decided to come anyway," he said. After watching the race for years at home on TV, he too had wanted to come in person to be a fan. He then told me, "I can't believe I never came before, it is so easy, next time I'll fly over and come for the weekend." 

Yesterday I started my day at the VIP area in Brugge, I then drove (and walked) to the Kwaremont. I found a nice spot very near the end of the long pave section, standing on the right side of the grassy embankment. I was wearing a white jacket, I'm sure you saw me out of the thousands of fans, I was the one waving a small yellow flag of Flanders.  
Being here in a year when Tom Boonen won the Tour of Flanders was phenomenal.
I had the greatest day on earth as a fan of cycling, so good that I kept the day to myself and did not blog or tweet. WOW. The VIP area in Bruges was impressively well organized, the breakfast was good, the rider area fun, the fans gracious, the teams accessible. When I entered the t'Zand parking structure from an alternative route, I met a very kind father and his young son in the parking area, who were so gracious as to come back and lead me to the ticket taker to ensure I parked correctly. Of course they only spoke Flemish, but I fully understood and appreciated their direction.
the early morning trip to Brugge. I had decided to try a new experience as a fan - I purchased a VIP ticket. This was the first time in my life I have ever paid for VIP. But I wanted the experience, which turned out to be totally worth the time and money. I arranged the ticket from the United States through the Flanders Classics Ronde Van Vlaanderen website. They couldn't have been more professional and courteous. The trick was wiring the payment to them (they will invoice you, you need the Bank name, BIC, and IBAN information from them) and asking them to please mail the pass to my Hotel in Kortrijk. 
I now have tons of photos (will add many later) of the riders and teams preparing for the race. Also a side note for any women cycling fans - this area was basically a pen of incredibly handsome men. Not just the riders, but the support personnel and Belgian fans. I could not have been more pleased at any other place on earth on that Sunday in April.  
I skipped out of town after watching the riders race by and jumped on the Autoroute south towards the heart of Flander's cycling bergs. I took the autoroute far south to Dottignes, exiting onto the small country roads east to the area near the famed Kwaremont. I parked in a farm field, happily paying the local children €3 for their help in providing me a nice parking place where I could walk a beautiful road toward the Kwaremont. It was a nice walk to a perfect spot on the hillside with a long view north down the cobbled climb.  
Sitting next to me on the hillside happened to be Chris, the supervisor of warranty with SRAM (an American living in Netherlands) and his friendly partner Maureen. He told me he has sat in that same spot on the Kwaremont for 7 years. I felt fortunate to have happened upon his lucky spot on my first year, and also to hear his stories over the course of the day. There was a nice group of locals and Germans near us and a very cheery clan from a University just across the way. We all had fun with the flags and clappers handed out to the fans. I was offered spice cake from a boisterous group of Belgians, who commented that they "liked my pat," (pat, I'm sure they meant hat).  
We were treated to 3 race laps on the Kwaremont.

After starting in Bruges, I felt as if I had watched 4 races by the end of the day. It was thrilling to hear the sound of the bikes rattling across the cobbles and to see the expressions on the rider's faces as they passed. Especially on the last lap as Boonen came by looking strong, while so many other rider's faces were grimaced with pain. After the race the crowd moved in mass toward the large screen TV in the center of the farm field. At the edges stood the friets stands and beer stands which had fueled the fans throughout the day. There I watched the final kilometers of the race with 100s of Belgians as Tom Boonen won the sprint. A huge cheer filled the air with arms raised in a magical moment in Belgium. The sound and atmosphere sent chills up my spin. 
The day did not end there, although everyone certainly went home happy. I returned to my car, walking peacefully across the fields of Flanders, heading west then north to avoid the return traffic to Kortrijk. I looked at the clock, it was exactly 12 hours after I had started my day and I was back at my hotel; I was so exhausted by this point but euphoric. I showered and went out for the most fantastic 4-course dinner at Bistro Bellino, 5 courses if you count the Westmalle Triple as the first course.  
It was an absolute perfect day in Belgium.  
I have been a long time fan of cycling in France, now I am happy to report, I am in love with Belgian cycling. And honestly, none of this was planned or a known to me before, I just went for it, every minute of it. I am so glad I am here - wish you were here too! 
A surprise in the morning in Brugge when Tom Boonen passed by so closed to me he nearly ran over my toe. 
Tom Boonen before the Tour of Flanders start ©Photo by PedalDancer.com
Race viewing on the Kwaremont
Look it's Tom Boonen on the Kwaremont  ©Photo by PedalDancer.com
A walk in the countryside of Flanders (to my parked car)
©Photo by PedalDancer.com
I will add pictures in the future, I need to get going on my next day in Belgium..... Follow-up: PLEASE ALSO READ: Stories from Belgium