My gateway drug into cycling, like most people, was the Tour de France. The Tour immediately grabbed me – it was colourful, brash, bright and huge, and it combined three of my favourite things: blue skies, warm air and mountains. As a teenager who’d grown up in the Westcountry of England, I’d had scant experience of those exotic things.
Which makes it surprising to me that I’ve also developed an obsession with Flanders, especially the tiny corner known as the Flemish Ardennes, where the aesthetic is antithetical to that of the Tour. The Vlaamse Ardennen tend to combine grey skies, chilly air and muddy hills. The landscape is… ordinary. Rural, with orange roofs dotted around green fields and farmland. It also happens to be home to the greatest bike races in the world – the roads here, owing to a combination of the topography, engineering, demographics, weather and historical circumstance, are perfect for bike racing. And we’ve dedicated Rouleur 118 to the Classics and to Flanders especially.
So what’s in the mag? James Startt interviewed Biniam Girmay, the Eritrean rider who is one of the fastest rising stars of the sport, and who has been smashing down barriers as the most successful black African the sport has seen yet. He won Gent-Wevelgem in 2022, along with a stage of the Giro d’Italia, and he’s aiming even higher for 2023, with the Tour of Flanders on his radar, along with a debut ride in the Tour de France.
We also have interviews with Liane Lippert and Imanol Erviti, both Movistar riders, who are at very different stages of their Classics careers. Lippert left DSM for the Spanish team, who are lining up the post-Annemiek van Vleuten era. Lippert has been there or thereabouts in the big one-day races for a couple of years, and only has the one final step to go to win a big one. Erviti, for his part, is the most experienced cobbled Monuments rider in the WorldTour peloton – with 17 participations each in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, more than any other current rider. He shared the perspective and maturity of his experience with Olga Àbalos, the editor of our sister title Volata.
To complement these three in-depth interviews, we’ve also explored the culture and atmosphere of Flanders. James Startt went to In De Zon, one of the region’s archetypal cycling bars, run by an ex-professional and situated very close to Gent-Wevelgem’s iconic Kemmelberg climb, where you might find winners of the Tour of Flanders enjoying a meal, or Yves Lampaert taking a mid-training-ride coffee. In our feature, What is it about Flanders we explore the landscape, psychogeography and cycling-specific history of the region.
Also in the magazine: How to win the Tour of Flanders, by seven of those who know; an eyewitness account of the final Stadsprijs Geraardsbergen, a race which goes back over a hundred years; the ‘alternative opening weekend’ of the Boucles de l’Ardèche; Monte Rosa, Italian cycling’s best-kept secret; René Magritte; the Mark Gunter Cycling Photography Awards; a lifetime in Flanders; Ned; Orla; and much, much more.