“I’ve done several sports, but I am not one for hanging on long. This is a good test, for my condition as well as my character,” says Louise Ailliet. She has just finished secondary school and is looking forward to her studies in linguistics and literature in Leuven. But before that, she will be one of more than 3,500 Flemings cycling up the Col du Galibier on 1 September in theClimbing for Life charity ride.
Climbing for Life, which was launched last year, raises funds for affl ictions such as asthma and cystic fi brosis (CF), from which Ailliet suff ers. “Some CF patients are hospitalised up to three times a year,” she says. “I’ve only been in the hospital twice in my whole life. I’m one of the lucky ones. But it is good that more awareness is created about CF, as it is quite common but unknown to most people.”
Raising funds is just one on the organiser’s list of 10 reasons people should take part. Many of the other motivations have to do with the Col du Galibier, altitude 2,645 metres. The Galibier is a classic stage in the Tour de France and, for the Flemish, an essential part of cycling history.
In 1969, the legendary Eddy Merckx made it to the top first, in a stage won by Herman Van Springel. Lucien Van Impe, the last Belgian to win the Tour, did the same in 1979. Merckx, Van Springel, Van Impe... names like these are enough to make many a cycling heart in Flanders jump.
Incidentally, Van Impe will take part in Climbing for Life, as one of the patrons of the event. Other Flemish participants are musician Sioen and radio DJ Roos Van Acker, who will report on her feat for Studio Brussel. Other patrons are cyclist Philippe Gilbert, musician Piet Goddard (known as Ozark Henry) and Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters, one of the founding fathers of the event.
“It is very important that we spread the message that someone with asthma should not remain passive but get in shape,” says Peeters. “The participants with asthma and CF will demonstrate that they can take on activities most people would think twice about.” In 2010, Peeters took part in a similar expedition, climbing up the Aconcagua mountain in Argentina with asthma patients.
The success of Climbing for Life illustrates the renewed popularity of cycling in Flanders, among both participants and spectators. In fact, it is sometimes claimed that cycling is the new golf: an excellent way to network while exercising, with the competitiveness extending not just to the performance but also the gear. Peeters, TV tycoon Wouter Vandenhaute and economist Geert Noels are well-known examples of this.
Ailliet, meanwhile, is confident she will make it to the top. “I’ve had plenty of training in the Ardennes. My boyfriend, my father and my physiotherapist will be there with me. I’m ready!”