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In the tracks of legends — Belgian road classics

Billy Dannaut

In the tracks of legends — Belgian road classics

Road Cycling Collection by Jesko

18

Tours

115:29 h

1,454 mi

66,900 ft

No other nation is as cycling-crazy as Belgium. Every spring, Belgian roads become the epicentre of professional cycling. This long tradition is kept alive with a lot of passion and it’s no surprise that some of the greatest cycling talents in the world come from this relatively small country.

In addition to the multi-day Tours, there are plenty of exciting, one-day races. The spring classics are not only legendary, but also notorious, as they’re some of the toughest races around. The unpredictable weather, frequently poor road surfaces, narrow roads and steep climbs are all ingredients for classic races that make history year after year. Many of them have been going for over a century. Not only have the winners become legends, but the roads themselves exude a certain magic for fans of cycling.

One of the most beautiful facets of this two-wheeled sport is that you can ride the same roads and thus experience what these races feel like. The steep and short cobblestone climbs of Flanders are probably the best known, and are part of the Tour of Flanders. But Belgium's landscape is diverse and exciting races are also held in the picturesque Hageland, the mountainous Ardennes and in windy West Flanders. If you follow the tracks of these routes, you’ll breathe racing history at every turn. Unlike the pros however, you have the luxury of stopping to enjoy the sights and treats along the way. It's not for nothing that Belgian frites are world-famous and a stop at a Walloon boulangerie is never a bad idea.

In this Collection, I'd like to introduce you to some of my favourite classics in all corners of Belgium. It's not always possible to ride the circuits one-to-one, as some sections are only open to bicycles on race day and some races go through one-way streets against the officially permitted directions. However, I have always followed the original route as closely as possible. Often the races include local final laps around the finish, which means that these sections are ridden several times by the pros. In these cases, I’ve only put the route along there once, but mentioned it in the text. In addition, some races, especially in Flanders, have confusing routes which overlap. In these cases, I’ve used a slimmed-down version of the route, which is much more practical for cycle tourers. They contain all the important sections of the race, but are often a bit shorter and much easier to navigate.

The Belgian races are notoriously tough. None of these courses are easy to ride. Almost all of them contain bumpy sections on cobblestones that will shake you up or even unpaved, gravel roads. Generally in Belgium, it’s a good idea to put on slightly wider tyres and possibly lower the air pressure. Even the paved roads are often in poor condition and potholes are not uncommon in Wallonia. Many Flemish roads are not asphalted, but consist of large, concrete slabs. Watch out for the gaps between these because you really don't want to get into them on narrow tyres. Even if you follow in the tracks of legendary racers on these routes, please always be careful and use the existing cycle paths, because these roads won’t be closed off for you!

There is no time pressure here; you can stop and enjoy all the benefits of Belgian hospitality. In addition to cycling, people in Belgium love beer, so you’ll find plenty of breweries and pubs. Have fun on the trail of the Belgian classics!

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    08:04
    92.3 mi
    11.5 mph
    3,975 ft
    3,975 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The road season in Belgium is traditionally ushered in with this semi-classic, which first took place in 1945. Before the daily newspaper “Het Nieuwsblad” acquired the naming rights, the race was still called “Omloop Het Volk”. Due to their early place in the calendar, the drivers here often have to deal with cold weather conditions. And that on a lap …

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  • Difficult
    09:53
    125 mi
    12.6 mph
    5,575 ft
    5,575 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne traditionally takes place on the Sunday after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, also very early in the season. Nowadays the route no longer runs all the way to Brussels, but the starting point and name has been retained. It contains some overlap. If you don't want to worry about where to go next, make notes beforehand or - even easier - …

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  • Difficult
    05:15
    74.3 mi
    14.2 mph
    2,200 ft
    2,000 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    José Samyn was a French racing driver born in Belgium. His career was short, as he tragically died in a bike race in Zingem in 1969 when he was only 23 years old. The year before his death, he won a race in the south of Wallonia, which from then on bore his name. The José Samyn Memorial, as it …

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  • Difficult
    06:11
    90.6 mi
    14.7 mph
    1,500 ft
    1,450 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Races are also held on the Belgian North Sea coast. There are no real climbs here, but there is endless wind. Depending on the wind direction, this makes your ride considerably harder or easier. Most of the time, however, it is not a tail or head wind, but a cross wind. Such conditions are not infrequently decisive for a race …

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  • Difficult
    06:34
    79.9 mi
    12.2 mph
    4,200 ft
    4,200 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The curious thing: Contrary to its name, this route neither starts in Ghent nor does it end in Wevelgem. The two places are not even approached. The first edition took place in 1934. Compared to other Flemish classics, there are only a few climbs on the program, but the typical cash desks and even gravel sections ensure that the journey …

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  • Intermediate
    04:18
    49.9 mi
    11.6 mph
    2,450 ft
    2,450 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Every April there is a state of emergency in Flanders. The "Ronde van Vlaanderen" is probably the most famous race on Belgian soil. It has been held since 1913 and is one of the five monuments of cycling today. So it is one of the most important cycling races in the world. In Oudenaarde there is a museum dedicated to …

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  • Difficult
    05:02
    60.5 mi
    12.0 mph
    3,025 ft
    3,025 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The Brabant Arrow has been held since 1961. He is wrongly overshadowed by other major Belgian cycling races, as he doesn't have to hide behind them when it comes to demands and excitement. The course has changed many times over the years. The race leads over some very rough cobblestone stretches of the very rural Brabant region. The climbs through beautiful ravines and the wind-prone roads that meander through wide fields are typical.

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  • Difficult
    08:18
    104 mi
    12.6 mph
    7,550 ft
    7,325 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    The Walloon Arrow route changes from year to year. The only constant is the finish on the legendary Mur de Huy, where the race is decided almost without exception. In 2019 the start was in Charleroi, this route is also based on this edition. Both the Charleroi-Ouest and Charleroi-Sud train stations are just a short distance from the start in …

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  • Difficult
    13:39
    169 mi
    12.4 mph
    13,975 ft
    13,975 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The classic among the classics: Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been held since 1892. It is not only because of its long history that it is one of the five monuments of modern cycling. The route is also considered to be one of the toughest ever. It changes only slightly every year. The distance of more than 270 kilometers would be a real …

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  • Difficult
    05:24
    69.7 mi
    12.9 mph
    2,400 ft
    2,200 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    There are also cobblestones in the eastern part of Flanders - the province of Limburg. These sections may not be as well known as their western counterparts, but not necessarily any less challenging. The Ronde van Limburg should not be confused with its Dutch namesake. Its history goes back to 1933, when people drove a lot around Sint-Truiden. Nowadays it …

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  • Intermediate
    03:14
    32.6 mi
    10.1 mph
    825 ft
    825 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Dwars door het Hageland is sometimes compared to Strade Bianche in Italy. In addition to the typical Belgian cobblestone passages, the special feature is the long gravel sections. When the caravan of drivers and cars races over the gravel stretches, it throws up an impressive cloud of dust behind it. The route from Dwars door het Hageland has changed a …

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  • Intermediate
    03:16
    45.3 mi
    13.9 mph
    625 ft
    700 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    The Heist Arrow is not as well known as some of the other races in this collection, but it looks back on a long history. The first edition took place in 1927. Until the 1980s, the race was a criterion. After that, the event disappeared for a few years. The city of Heist-op-den-Berg took the celebration of its millennium in …

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  • Difficult
    05:38
    74.6 mi
    13.2 mph
    975 ft
    975 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The Eleven Cities Tour of Bruges should not be confused with the traditional long-distance ice skating that takes place in the Netherlands. It is a relatively young bike race. In 2016 the start of the Tour of Flanders moved from Bruges to Antwerp. In Bruges they remembered that there was already an Elfstedenronde in earlier times and they were planning …

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  • Difficult
    08:42
    113 mi
    13.0 mph
    4,700 ft
    4,800 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The Brussels Cycling Classic race has been held since 1893. At that time, however, it still started in Paris, was almost 400 kilometers long and was called Paris-Brussels. It was not until 2013 that the start was moved to Brussels in addition to the destination. The former winners include such illustrious names as Eddy Merckx, Franck Vandenbroucke and Tom Boonen. …

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  • Difficult
    06:32
    70.4 mi
    10.8 mph
    700 ft
    675 ft
    Ferry
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    The Antwerp Port Epic is still a very young race, but it has good chances of becoming a real classic at some point. With hard cobblestone passages and some gravel sections, the flat route is anything but easy. In terms of landscape, you can also expect an exciting mix of industrial port facilities and a surprising amount of green. Outside …

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  • Intermediate
    03:12
    40.7 mi
    12.7 mph
    1,900 ft
    1,925 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The Flanders Circuit is the heart of the Road World Championship 2021. As is typical in Flanders, it runs over one or the other hard cobblestone section. Some of these are known from other races such as the Brabantse Pijl. The route is defined by many short climbs in quick succession. In some places the route can be a bit …

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  • Difficult
    06:39
    82.6 mi
    12.4 mph
    6,450 ft
    6,375 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Unlike most of the lines in this collection, the Famenne Ardenne Classic does not yet look back on a long history. The first edition took place in 2017. What it lacks in tradition, it more than makes up for elsewhere: it leads through a part of the Ardennes that is wrongly often overlooked. The starting point Marche-en-Famenne has a train …

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  • Difficult
    05:40
    78.8 mi
    13.9 mph
    3,950 ft
    3,950 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The race in the western Ardennes has been around since 1911. The start and finish have always been in Binche, but the turning point back then was in Tournai. In the 1990s there was a break and when the race came back on the scene in 2010, the turning point changed to the picturesque town of Chimay near the French …

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    18
  • Distance
    1,454 mi
  • Duration
    115:29 h
  • Elevation
    66,900 ft

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In the tracks of legends — Belgian road classics