I have to admit I am an absolute ignorant about cycling, I hardly discern a city bike from a mountain bike. Still, fate took me to the Belgian Flanders on a weekend trip about the two-wheeled sport. In a vintage fashion.
Strangely enough, I never felt misplaced. Maybe it had a bit to do with my surname (Magni, like the cycling hero also known as the Flanders’ Lion), but the point is somewhere else. We are used nowadays to link this kind of events with the sad discussions about doping, but true cycling is something different. And here I saw it with my eyes.
I saw a world of amateurs lead just by their passion. A world which doesn’t stay confined in a chronometer or behind a finish line. Instead what really matters here is the satisfaction after the efforts taken to reach the goal, the sincere enthusiasm and nothing else.
Last March, the Tour of Flanders ended in Oudenaarde, one of the most challenging bicycle race in the world, the hundredth edition of it. And every year, on the last Sunday of March, the Retro Ronde takes place, a vintage race which attracts fanatics as well as lots of people interested in past times atmospheres.
In Oudenaarde’s strict alleys one can really experience the Flanders’ pride. It is clearly felt in the city centre’s roads or over the famed Muur where the most exciting cycling duels take place; it shows in the Flanders’ eyes, in the wind carrying grey clouds which will only quickly cover the sky before allowing the sun to shine again.
What to do in Oudenaarde?
First of all: relax with a good beer. I had a surprising encounter with a very unique one, the cherry flavoured Liefmans, whose factory organizes guided tours ending in a typical pub for a first had taste of the product. And once you found out which is your favourite Flemish beer, couple it with some frites (‘chips’, or ‘Frech fries’ if you are from the US), Belgium’s national dish: here in the Flanders their taste is a complete new experience, especially if you get them in one of the many frietshop. They are double fried in lard, which makes them soft inside and crispy outside, and gives them their peculiar flavour.
In the centre of Oudenaarde there is a beautiful square surrounded by the typical northern buildings: every house is different from the other ones, every one has its personal trait. Showing on the square is the Town Hall, with its colourful windows and its wooden ceilings. The Town Hall also hosts a museum of the town’s history, told to kids and grown-ups by a funny mouse.
This is Oudenaarde, the cycling loving city where also walkers can feel comfortable, where you may sit down in a pub and hear how the guy beside you once won against cycling champion Giuseppe Saronni and still rides his bike today, just because it’s fun.
Further information about tourism in the Flanders: VisitFlanders.