L'Homme dur d'Ardennes
Four years ago if you wanted to see the spring Classics and ride your bike around Belgium, it would have required heavy amounts of late-night logistics—planning and either an uncanny knowledge of the Belgian countryside or a willingness to fly completely by the seat of your pants. But thanks to one man's vision, the only legwork you now need to do is riding your bike to get in shape for the trip, then picking up the phone and calling a tour director like Brian Rounds.
Rounds, the International Director, personal tour guide, field general, and one-man band for Velo Echappe (Bicycle Escape) Tours, is a jovial 30-something Coloradan with a ready smile, an Irish swagger, and a fastidious preparedness that's balanced by a spontaneous "whatever" attitude.
Then, after two years of flat Flandrian countryside and crosswinds, Rounds decided he needed a change. He began to look south, towards the hilly Ardennes farm region of southern Belgium. The site of some of the heaviest fighting in World Wars I and II, the Ardennes has a flavor all its own. Farms carpet a rolling countryside dotted by castles, and cycle tourists enjoy incredible roads, stunning vistas, and a plethora of creature comforts like four-star hotels and brief forays into Luxembourg. What settled the change in venue for Rounds was the added bonus of some great race-watching, with the Ardennes weekend of Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege providing world-class racing to rival Flanders and Ghent up north.
The idea of tour guides operating trips to Belgium in spring is an auspicious one. Many of the souvenir shops in the capital of Brussels sell t-shirts with the slogan "Belgium: where rain is typical." One of the very things that makes the spring Classics such exciting races to watch is the unpredictable weather that plagues this area of Europe in spring. Situated on the coast of the English Channel, Belgium is a meteorological melting pot, where warm, wet air masses from the south Atlantic trade winds collide with the colder Arctic-driven fronts from the North Sea and continental Europe. The result is often rain, wind, and even snow.
Would people want to come ride their bikes under such conditions? If you listen to some tour participants, the answer is an emphatic yes. "Riding along in the snow on these awesome roads; it's what the spring Classics are all about," said John Pavlat, one of this year's participants and the former national sales manager for VooDoo Cycles. "You feel like a part of the racing, even though it's just you out there motoring along.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication