Antwerp Cyclist

I’m spending the next few days over Easter in Antwerp. For those of you who don’t follow pro-cycling, Belgium is the epi-centre of most pro racing and cyclocross racing and the Belgians are obsessed with the sport. Every race is televised and everybody, from small children to the old folks, has their cycling hero.

The spring classics season is well under way, with the latest race, the Amtsel Gold, being run last weekend in Holland. On the 14th Sunday of every year, the Belgians run one of the most famous of them all, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or the Tour of Flanders, a 258km race from Brugge to Meerbeke, famous for the punishing pave or cobbles en route. The two most famous cobbled climbs are the Koppenberg as the race passes through Oudenaarde and the Muur-Kaplemuur in Geraardsbergen. The Muur is where the race is usually won, or lost, this year being no exception as the favourite, Fabian Cancellara, lost it here to the Belgian rider Nick Nuyens.

This is all shorthand for me saying that I’m off to look at the Muur today, not to ride it you understand, just to have a look. I know what it feels like to ride over the cobbles. You can’t get away from it here. This photograph was taken in the centre of Antwerp. You’ll see that they very kindly put a cycle path over these cobbles but the whole city is cobbles. It still feels bad enough on a 35mm tyre on a hybrid. I can’t imagine what it feels like on a drop bar, on slicks. It must be hellish. So, I’m just going to have a look. Maybe drive up it. Maybe have a go at some later stage. I’ll see if I can can get some shots that do it justice. Has anybody been, ridden it, got any tales to tell?

Everybody cycles everywhere here in Antwerp. It’s the recognised form of transportation, the car coming very much second. I just thought I’d share this shot with you, a father ‘portaging’ his child in a Bakfiets, with space for a younger one on the seat at the back, while the older one cycles on his own bike at the front. I was cycling the opposite direction and just had to stop to take this, just to show this guy and his kids cycling the wrong way up a one-way street and it seeming perfectly ok! I don’t know how they all stay safe but they all seem to.

It was the Antwerp Marathon on Sunday and I have honestly never seen so many people cycling in my life. Bikes everywhere, young and old, sport and recreation. My children and I were on our bikes and one of them got lost. I got a call from some random person to say that they had my daughter and would bring her back to me if I let them know where I was. I was quite surprised at the calm poise of my 10 year old daughter, who remembered my mobile number and the country code to dial, and the kindness of those who called me.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll have some interesting shots for next week plus a discussion about

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3 Responses to Antwerp Cyclist

  1. Filippo Negroni 20/04/2011 at 10:49 am #

    In the town I come from in Italy, Bergamo, we have a small section of the town centre, and the whole of Citta Alta, covered in cobbles.

    I used to ride there with my old ’80s Moser race bike with 20mm tubulars.

    It ain’t that bad once you get used to it. Honest!

  2. charlie_lcc 20/04/2011 at 11:55 am #

    If you want really tough cobble cycling try Chance st and Columbia rd on the London Cycle Network route 8 in Tower Hamlets. The Victorian cobbles were dug up about twenty years ago and put back with wider gaps and flaky cement.. They jump and move, grabbing your wheels and shaking your teeth out. No wonder most people prefer mixing it with the lorries and buses on Hackney road.

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