Cycling the best climbs in Flanders is "like an orgasm", according to One Day Classics legend Johan Museeuw. Speaking at a Visit Flanders promotional event, the three time winner of the Tour of Flanders and also Paris-Roubaix waxed lyrical about the joys of Flemish cycling.
Museeuw, who is known as "The Lion of Flanders" for his palmarès in the Monuments of the 1990s, still rides around 30,000 kilometres a year and often leads Belgian and foreign visitors on rides around the best roads of Flanders.
Describing the short, sharp climbs such as the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Oude Kwaremont, he said that for many riders they were "bucket list" targets and that the expression on the faces of their riders when they reached the summit was "like an orgasm", to the amusement of most guests (and a few red faces among others).
Museeuw also said that it was only after he finished his riding career, in which he dominated the Tour of Flanders for over a decade with three victories and eight podium positions, that he came to appreciate the beauty of riding in Flanders. He described his thrill of showing people the roads of the region and how much riders from around the world could appreciate the surroundings. He also emphasised the importance of being able to eat and drink well, citing the excellence of the cuisine and that Belgian produces some of the best beers in the world.
The evening was accompanied by plenty of Flemish beers, including bottles of Kwaremont, which has a 6.6% strength to reflect the steepness of the slope at the start of the famous climb.
Riding in Flanders: Come try it for yourself
For cyclists keen to experience Flanders' legendary roads for themselves (and, after Museeuw's comments, who wouldn't) there are plenty of options.
Flanders is host to the six Flanders Classics pro races each spring, namely:
- Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
- Dwars door Vlaanderen
- Tour of Flanders
- Brabantse Pijl
Several of these races have official sportives organised alongside, allowing amateur cyclists to tackle the same route as the pros, usually on the day before the race.
It makes for a fantastic weekend, with locals turning out in force to cheer on both amateurs and their heroes in the pro race the next day.
By far the biggest and most popular of these sportives is the Tour of Flanders (or in Flemish, Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo), a magnificent experience and a must for any true cycling fan.
A choice of four distances is on offer, ranging from 74km to 229km. All but the longest distance start and finish in Oudenaarde. Personally, we'd recommend the 139km option: this includes all the iconic cobbled sections and climbs, but skips the (often relatively tedious) commute from the rotating host city, which is currently Antwerp.
The 2019 Flanders sportive takes place on Saturday 6th April, and entries are open now. For more information and to book your place, visit www.sport.be/rondevanvlaanderencyclo.
Our reporters have made a few trips to Flanders over recent years, you can check out their stories here:
- Keith Gilks' 2016 Tour of Flanders ride report
- Ben Carlson-Oakes' 2015 Tour of Flanders ride report
- Oisin Sands' 2014 Tour of Flanders ride report
- Tips for riding the Tour of Flanders for the first time
- Our Tour of Flanders news page
Another excellent option for sportive fans is the Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo. Traditionally held on the Sunday between Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, the race is perhaps less well known among UK cyclists - but rest assured the Belgians take it seriously.
With recent winners including Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet, it's a prized scalp for the peloton too - and with a parcours that includes a healthy dose of the region's most infamous cobbles, it's well worth the short trip by ferry or Eurostar.
The 2019 edition takes place on 30th March. Entries are not yet open, but you can check out how our reporter Andy got on this year here: Gent Wevelgem Cyclo: Andy tucks into a Flanders Classic
Whichever event you choose, make sure to sample some of Flanders' other specialties while you're there. OK, so beer, frites, waffles and chocolates may not be the healthiest fare - but after eighty-odd miles over broken cobbles and farm tracks, you'll have earned every mouthful!