I got my new club cycling kit this week. There is of course a really nice feeling that comes with opening that bag full of shiny new kit, no scuffs or wear marks to tarnish the glow. And now I will be a proper member of the gang rather than the odd English guy in different gear.
But the acquisition of that bag brings more explanations about how Belgian cycling club life works.
I have always been taken by the fact that the club groups I see out on a Sunday are so perfectly dressed, huge pelotons all immaculately turned out. Now I discovered that my kit for Club Cyclotouriste d’Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve is almost free! Nearly €200 of kit as a handout. Wow, of course I’ll wear it!
I think it works because we have a whole bunch of local sponsors who effectively subsidise the clothing. The catch is that the clothing is only free if you stay a club member for four years because a few freeloaders have over the years joined a number of clubs, grabbed the kit and promptly left the following year. So we pay a deposit which we get back at the end of the four years if we stay. And of course if we ride around in the kit a lot to show off the sponsors.
But hang on a minute – sponsors? For a cycle touring club? Coming from Britain the cycle tourists are considered the less sexy group of riders because the racing clubs and the wannabies are the ones who ride about in colourful lycra. But in Belgium the racing clubs are as much teams as clubs and when the riders stop racing they often stop riding with their clubs. But there is a huge second tier of local sporting cycling clubs in Belgium (and for that matter France) who treat cycling as a club activity and a team sport with a busy national calendar of events and our local club scene.
So it is entirely expected that the cycle touring clubs will look and behave like racing clubs back in the UK, whether it is the expensive bikes, the speed of the fast group or the look we carry off, sponsors and all. If I turned up on my Dawes Galaxy with saddlebag and panniers here I would be considered decidedly odd.
Lastly I was delighted when I unveiled the new cycling shirts to discover the identity of the sponsors themselves. What could be more European than to have a cycling club sponsored by a patisserie and the café where the club enjoys its after-ride beer.
But joy unconfined when I turned the shirt over and discovered the emblem that we will be following for the next four years. A friterie. The chip shop. The national symbol. It doesn’t get any more Belgian than that.