I’m skipping Easter brunch at the in-laws to go cycling with a bunch of guys I’ve never met before. How did I end up here?
Two years ago, we opened our bicycle bar in Mechelen, and during those first crazy days we met a crew of writers and photographers from peloton magazine at our bike shop. They were making a special issue about cycling in Belgium. The crew spent a couple of days in our hometown and, in the end, Vincent, my partner and bike mechanic, guided the journalists during a shoot through his heimat, his birth region, the Flemish Ardennes. So when they were about to make a new story about this region they found their way back to us to help out.
That’s why I was out and about on this Easter Sunday, cycling through the beautiful countryside around Oudenaarde, up and down the hills that we all know so well from watching the spring classics. And peloton would not be peloton if it had not ordered some typical Belgian weather to complement our “Cycling in Flanders” experience: sunny at first, but crispy cold with a strong wind, topped with a downpour or two.
We started our ride through the Vlaamse Ardennen by crossing the Mariaborrestraat cobblestones before climbing the Taaienberg, Eikenberg and Koppenberg. Vince told me once he never gets out of the saddle on the Koppenberg. This information paralyses me every time I pass this way. So once again I faced my demon and once again I did not ride up the Koppenberg. William, my companion during this ride, did; and everyone who rides up this beast gets my deepest respect! Its funny that a lot of Americans, Aussies and Brits actually pay good money to be slaughtered by this beast and the region’s other cobbled climbs—though I do realize they have a legendary status. After my defeat, it was time for a lunch break and, as it happens, we enjoyed our food while watching early television footage from that day’s Ghent-Wevelgem.
When I think about the riders going full gas on these climbs, which I’ve struggled up myself, you realize what a tough job pro bike racers actually have, and how hard the classics are ridden. We continued our ride and a sunny day slowly turned into a typical Belgian one. We got soaked—so riding the wet cobbles became even more difficult. We were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful rainbow above the green hills of the Flemish Ardennes. But we decided to call it a day and agreed on coming back here soon for another ride—and maybe a beer or two.
Images: Marshall Kappel
Words: Wendy Janssens