This week I am sipping a coffee surrounded surrounded by memories of Flemish cycling. Perhaps fittingly it is grey and raining outside which matches the grainy black and white photographs which decorate most of the walls.
This is the Brasserie des Flandrians, the nice bar and restaurant in the Tour of Flanders Centre in the town of Oudenaarde. I had been expecting to write you a rant about how the Belgians were stupid enough to close a tourist attraction on a public holiday Monday because their web site said the museum was closed. But when I arrived to meet some friends who are cycle touring across Belgium to spend a few days with us I was delighted to see the lights on and I could immerse myself in a hundred years of history while I waited.
No need to write much, the pictures and images do most of the talking, but a few of my personal picks are underneath this pictorial homage.
The museum guide is a familiar face to local fans, former Tour of Flanders winner and world champion Freddie Maertens was putting on a very animated performance to a coach party of adoring fans who doted on every word and anecdote, I only wish I spoke Dutch because it sounded like fun. Here he is today and in the 1970s.
For British fans and old bike geeks Tommy Simpson is remembered, both by his 1962 Gitane with its Brooks saddle, and by a bust next to his Flandria cycling shirt.
Breaking away from the impression that this was as much about Flanders as it was about the race was hard, the introductory film was great for atmosphere but its roll call of double and treble winners managed to ignore anyone who wasn’t Belgian! Similarly buried in a corner was a small section which acknowledged to a small extent that women exist with some photos of the recently introduced women’s Tour of Flanders. I was delighted that its principle star was Nicole Cooke, I have a feeling her “all or nothing” riding style endeared her to local fans.
The interactive elements were popular with kids large and small, especially a static bike mounted on some asymmetric rollers which were supposed to simulate riding on the cobbles. Very funny expressions, lots of noise and plenty of cheering and egging on when the coach party got to that section.
Oudenaarde itself is not a town known for much else but it has an attractive market square and a very impressive church towering over the centre. For the cyclist it is however at the heart of a massive network of cycle touring routes, not least the three Tour of Flanders waymarked routes which if done as a complete set would give any of us a good workout. The steady stream of riders through the brasserie obviously thought so too, although the number of bikes on cars in the market square rather suggests that the weather was playing havoc with riding plans on this particular day.