‘Love Flanders, love its cyclists’


In the run-up to the Flanders in Dialogue event for expats, minister Ben Weyts talks about why the region has a love affair with two wheels

‘A special connection’

Cycling in Flanders is the topic of the next Flanders in Dialogue – a series of talks in English about Flemish politics and culture – and Ben Weyts couldn’t be happier about that. “There is no better way to learn more about the Flemish than to learn about their love of cycling,” he says.

It’s a pretty bold statement, but he goes even further. “Actually, you can’t understand Flanders at all unless you understand its special connection with cycling.”

He’s Flanders’ minister of tourism and of mobility, so he ought to know. “Some of our pro road races are like national holidays here,” he continues. “The more famous riders are like folk heroes; they’re worshipped by everybody. There are even songs written about them.”

Weyts (pictured) – a cyclist himself – is one of the speakers at Flanders in Dialogue: Cycling in Flanders. The event on 26 March is the second in series launched by the government of Flanders last year. The idea, spearheaded by the department of foreign affairs, is to inform expats living in Brussels about different aspects of Flemish culture and policy.

This spring edition takes places just a week before Flanders’ biggest cycle race of the year: The Tour of Flanders. “Every year the Tour of Flanders is seen by 45 million people around the world,” says Weyts (N-VA).

Holiday bucket list

Its prominence in the global cycling circuit is such that tourists come to Flanders specifically to try their hand at its gruelling course. Weyts’s cabinet conducts polls around the world among potential tourists of all sorts. “Nearly 70% of those who go on cycling holidays would like to book one in Flanders someday,” he says. “My goal is to put Flanders on the ‘bucket list’ of every cycling holidaymaker, next to places like the Stelvio Pass or Mont Ventoux – real pilgrimage sites for any self-respecting cycle tourist.”

Other Cycling in Flanders speakers include Geert Joris, the director of the Tour of Flanders Center in Oudenaarde – in the Flemish Ardennes, not coincidentally one of the region’s cycle Meccas – and former pro cyclist Peter Van Petegem.

Some of our pro road races are like national holidays here

- Minister Ben Weyts

While the Tour of Flanders Center assists cycling tourists who are already here, Weyts’s office works to bring them here in the first place. “We organise trips for the international cycling press, contests in foreign media and focus on cycling communities on social media,” says Weyts.

But tourists include daytrippers living in Belgium, too. “There are so many cycle routes to explore, and along many of them you find cycling museums and an endless series of cafés, many of which are hotbeds of cycling culture.”

Flanders in Dialogue: Cycling in Flanders, 26 March 19.00-20.00, followed by reception; Herman Teirlinck building, Tour & Taxis, Havenlaan 88, Brussels. The event is free, but advance registration is required

Photo courtesy N-VA

Flemish cycling

Flemish cyclists have played a dominant role in the history of European bicycle racing. With the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), the region also has a classic cycle race.
Flandriens - The legendary pioneers of the Flemish cycling tradition are called “Flandriens”. They include Roger De Vlaeminck, Eddy Planckaert, Johan Museeuw and Walter Godefroot.
Eddy Merckx - Having won 525 races in his career, Brusselaar Eddy Merckx, nicknamed “the Cannibal”, is considered one of the greatest cyclists of all time.
Trophy - The annual Flandrien Trophy honours the best Belgian cyclist of the past season. Professional cyclists choose and vote for the nominees.

number of times Merckx won the Tour de France

1 913

first Tour of Flanders

1 969

Merckx becomes first Belgian to win the Tour de France in 30 years