As a relative newcomer to road cycling, I really didn’t know anything more about professional cycling than the Tour de France takes place in July and I didn’t get a lot of work done during last summer’s Tour. When Mallory and I decided to go to Germany, I checked to see if there were any spring road races we might be able to attend. Sure enough, a spring classic–La Fleche Wallone–was going to take place during our time there. I knew nothing about it until John Trotter gave me link to video of the finish on the iconic Mur de Huy. The mur is a bitch of a hill and the riders ride up this 1300 meter incline three times during the 200 km race, finishing on the Mur de Huy’s summit. If you take the outside on the curves, the grade is 23%. The inside of the curves is a mere 19%.
Teresa, Mallory and I grabbed a train from Eutin, Germany to Huy, Belgium. After about 8 hours and a bunch of transfers, we were there. It was amazing to see thousands of people line the Mur de Huy for 5 hours. On the riders’ three passes, you get to see the riders for maybe 10 minutes total. Between passes, it’s a huge street party. You can buy sausages from people selling them out of their homes lining the mur. And beer, too. Belgian pride is evident every where. Folks are wrapped in Belgian flags to cheer on their countrymen in the race. People bring their dogs, their bikes, and many other things to the race. Anything to kill the time while waiting for the riders. Kind of like a Belgian version of the Kentucky Derby. Instead of mint julips, you downed Belgian beers. If you were lucky enough to make it to the top before the police closed the sidewalks to the top, you could view the race on a huge TV. Otherwise, you got race updates in French from a public announcer. I only know about 20 French words and can order in a restaurant, so I had no idea what was going on until I found a gracious Belgian race fan who spoke impeccable English. We chatted for more than an hour about cycling (especially doping) and he kept me informed about who was leading, etc.
It was a unique experience and I hope this won’t be my last spring classic. It was certainly worth the trip to see the race and the spectacle, eat a fine sausage and drink a Belgian beer, and share in the Belgians’ joy when their countryman, Phillipe Gilbert, won the race. I include a few of my images from both the mens’ and women’s 2011 La Fleche Wallone. I’m certainly not Graham Watson, but I like my images nonetheless. I hope you enjoy my look at the 2011 La Fleche Wallone. Maybe the Tour of Flanders or Liege-Bastogne-Liege next year.