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Guest Feature: Fabulous Flanders 2024

Crowd gathered in the street to watch bike race

From conquering the cobbles of Flanders to experiencing the thrill of Paris-Roubaix from the best seats in the house, the 2024 Spring Classics was a journey like no other. Our guest, Patrick Gabrion, wrote about his experience on this year’s Spring Classics bike tour in his blog, Pedal2Page. See the featured posts below and stay tuned for more entries coming soon!

A group of cyclists riding in Belgium

Part 1:  Trek Travel & My New Friends

Right from the start, I realized my cycling trip was going to be special — not even close to anything I’d experienced in the past. The entire time we were based at Hotel Harmony in Ghent, one of Belgium’s oldest cities and the historic capital of Flanders. The location alone certainly set the tone.

A landscape shot of cobbles in Belgium with a windmill in the background

Part 2: Cobbles & Climbs

While intimidating in one sense, these bone-jarring stones were a major reason for deciding to embark on this Trek Travel cycling vacation. Like a moth to a flame, I just needed to experience them for myself — no matter the possible danger.

A group of people watching the Tour of Flanders 2024

Part 3: Tour of Flanders

It’s one of the five Monuments, the most prestigious single-day races in men’s professional cycling. I’ve viewed it countless times on television, but now I was actually there in person for the first time.

The team bus for the Lidl-Trek Pro Racing Team at the 2024 Spring Classics

Part 4: Trip Highlights

There were three other highlights that truly elevated my whole five-day cycling vacation, increasing the “wow” factor to an even loftier level. I’m totally convinced that these particular occasions were additional examples of why Trek Travel earns top marks for its guest services and hospitality.

Part 5: The Belgium Experience

Where does one begin when summarizing such a fantastic five-day cycling experience? It is something I’ve attempted to accomplish through my previous four blog postings — hopefully, with some success. But to bring things to a close, I’d like to offer a few final thoughts.

Ultimate Cobbles: Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Pt I

It starts before I’m even out of the confines of the airport terminal. Airport bars tend to feel like a lawless rip in the space-time continuum (“Sure, I’ll have a morning beer!”), but this particular bar had something else going on. In addition to the 8 a.m. Heineken, the only TV in the bar was showing a bicycle race. On a Wednesday. In March. This must be the place.

Part II | Part III

The place is Belgium. And I am arriving here a couple of days before one of my favorite events on the pro cycling calendar: Ronde van Vlaanderen, or—much easier on the mouth—Tour of Flanders. I catch the train from the Brussels airport heading to my home for the next few days, the town of Bruges, which also happens to be the capital of West Flanders, which in turn, some may argue, is the center of the world when it comes to cycling.

I arrive a bit early as we do not start riding until the next day, so there is not much to do besides walking around the canals and cobbled streets that line the town and stumbling in and out of a couple of cafes and beer shops. Besides riding all of the famous bergs that dot the area, my other mission on this trip is to seek out all of the Trappist ales that Belgium is known for. I strike gold at my very first stop. A quaint little spot called Cafe Rose Red just happens to sell bottles of Westvleteren 12, one of the most sought-after bottles on the other side of the ocean. I proceed to have one or two. This will be a good trip.

Day 1. Shakedown and the Dutch Wind
After breakfast, we head outside to meet the trip guides, Marcia and Wiebe. We go over the bike fits and make sure that everything works and we head out. The cobbles of Bruges are just a preview of things to come as we leave the town behind and head for the flat roads and bike paths that line the canals that criss-cross the area. Dark clouds are swirling around us as we start to feel a drop or two of rain. Wiebe points to the sky: “Every cloud here has a little rain in it.” We ride through a town and suddenly I realize that we are no longer in Belgium.

At some point, we have crossed into The Netherlands. We make our way around the countryside and all the way to the North Sea before turning around and making our way back to Bruges. That is where I experience it for the first time this week: the wind. It is not gusty or undulating. It is firm and constant. And it makes you feel like you are towing a large rock behind you. Everyone feels like a bit knackered by the time we make it back to Bruges. Good thing there is food. And more beer.

Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation

Day 2. Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo-The Citizen’s Race
We wake up early and pile into the van. Our destination is on the outskirts of Oudenaarde, a town synonymous with Ronde van Vlaanderen, or-more palatable to English speakers-Tour of Flanders. We are taking to the start of the Citizen’s Race, a 95-mile loop around the hills, cobbles, and farm fields that make Flanders one of the best and most memorable races on the calendar. We will not be alone. There are more than 17,000 other participants taking to the start line. We roll off into the cold, but sunny morning and make our way out of town and into the countryside.

Less than 10 miles into the ride we hit it. The first of the many cobbles climbs to come. Over the next few hours, all of the tongue-twisting names that have been emblazoned into my brain from hours spent watching racing on TV stream by me in the form of signs along the road and the cobbles under my wheels. Wolvenberg, Molenberg, Padderstraat, Huisepontweg, Kwaremont, and, of course, Koppenberg.

Oh, Koppenberg. We are now well into the ride and our bottles and bodies have been replenished by the Trek Travel feed zone. It starts drizzle right before I hit the infamous climb. It is hard to explain just how tough it is to stay upright on those cobbles while also trying to keep your bike moving forward. All you can do is pedal as fast as you can and hope for the best. Thanks to the rain, the already tough cobbles turn into tiny ice rinks. Yes, it is still possible to keep moving, but if you hesitate for even a second and your foot comes down, there is an absolute zero chance of you getting back on your bike again. And because there is a lot of hesitating and lots of feet (and bodies) down on the hill ahead of you, you have no choice, but to hop off your bike and walk it up the remainder of the way. It is a part of the experience.

And then the climb up Kwaremont, followed by some twisty and tight decents leading into the last climb up Paterberg and the long, flat run back into Oudenaarde. And then it’s over. Hydration? A Duvel (or two) will do.

Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation

Day 3. Ronde van Vlaanderen
I have watched the Ronde on TV more times than I can count, including finding myself digging into the wormhole that is YouTube looking for replays of old races. But nothing quite compares to standing in a muddy field alongside Belgian fans in varying levels of inebriation and watching the race go by. We had access to the VIP tent at the top of Kwaremont and I found myself going in and out throughout the race to get an update from the giant screens inside the tent before heading out to check out the scene outside.

The women’s race went by once with the eventual winner Anna van der Breggen already well in the lead. The men follow, making their way up Kwaremont a total of three times, the final being just a few miles after Niki Terpstra’s winning breakaway move.

Yes, watching the race on TV may give you a better perspective and a better idea of what is happening, but nothing quite compares to standing in mud, drinking crappy beer and having your view blocked by hundreds of waving black and yellow Flanders flags.

Read on for Part II: In search of history and Trappist ales

SHOW ME

Ultimate Cobbles: Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Pt II

We start the next day as we pile into a van and head out of Bruges. Our destination is what the guide Marcia is calling the best gas station in Belgium. She is not wrong.

Part I | Part III

Day 4. In search of history. And Trappist ales.
This nondescript gas stop on the edge of Oudenburg is home to a tiny cafe that serves fresh waffles, espresso, and stocks a bottle of every single Belgian Ale that you could only dream about on the other side of the ocean. But we are not here for beer. Not yet. Our destination today is the famed Westvleteren Brewery at the Trappist Abbey of Saint-Sixtus. It is located in the town of Vleteren, just about 30 miles away. And we hear there are Westvleteren XII for sale today.

So we head out. For the next couple of hours, we make our way into a drippy wind that seems to be a headwind no matter which direction the windy road points us in. We briefly stop outside the town of Diksmuide. The town’s origins go back to the ninth century, however, it was reduced to rubble in WWI and completely rebuilt in 1920. The river we have been winding our way next to—the Yser—played a big role in one of the few early Allied victories against the invading Germany after the floodgates were opened and the river was allowed to flood the area, resulting in the river becoming a frontline throughout the war. This is just one of the first reminders that we will encounter this week about the brutal and tragic history of this area.

 
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We resume our trek to the Abbey and we are faced with even more wind. At one point I stop to take off a layer and realize that the wind is able to push me along the road, albeit in the opposite direction, without me even having to pedal.

The short ride starts to feel like an epic journey by the time we pull into the brewery. Yes, the XIIs were on sale. And yes, I may have bought more than a few to smuggle back home with me.

Day 5. Belgian Toothpaste
We gather outside the hotel after breakfast. For a change, we are starting a ride from our front door. The sun is shining and it feels warm for the first time in the last few days. We head out along the bike paths through the flatlands towards the coast. The sunshine and the warmth do not guarantee dry roads, however. After 15 minutes sitting on a wheel, I am covered head to toe in grit and grime. As we make our way back to the hotel we happen upon a group of local Belgian riders and the cruise back turns into a bit of a race along the canal bike path. I make a comment about being covered in grit, one of the locals looks over and says: “It’s just Belgian toothpaste.” Fair enough.

 
 
Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation
 

Day 6. Dutch Wind and a Return to the Ronde
Today’s mission is to ride to the start of the mid-week Spring Classic known as Scheldeprijs. That’s about a 40 mile ride away in the Dutch port town of Terneuzen. Between us and the finish are the windswept North Sea dunes. Holland may be flat, but what they lack in vertical gain, they make up in the wicked wind. It seems to blow from every direction, creating headwind no matter which way you are pointing and making each mile feel like a climb. By the time we get to the start of the race, we feel like we completed a 6-hour ride in the mountains.

Today is also transfer day. We are leaving Flanders and heading down to the town of Kortrijk, which will be our home for the remainder of the trip. Why Kortrijk? Well, it is close to Roubaix without being… Roubaix. But before we leave this slice of heaven we decide to give another go to some of the climbs from the Ronde route a few days prior. There is no rain this time around with balmy sunshine replacing the clouds, so we make a loop around Oudenaarde. We hit them all: Kwaremont, Paterberg and of course Koppenberg. Did I stay upright this time? Yes. If you stay upright on the Koppenberg and there is no one to witness did it really happen? Maybe.

 
 
Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation
 

Day 7. An afternoon in France
We meet outside the hotel in Kortrijk and head west. Our route will cover some of the Gent-Wevelgem course from a few weeks prior. WWI history is seemingly around every turn. Memorial, cemeteries, the rebuilt city of Ypres and of course the hill of Kemmelberg. It occurs to me that we are visiting this site during the month of the 100th anniversary of the battles that took place around this strategically placed hill. All in all, over 120,000 lives were lost near and around this area. It is easy to forget the meaning of this place when all you are confronted with is the somewhat challenging grade of relatively smooth cobblestones. But reminders of this area’s stark history are all around you.

 
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Before we knew it we crossed into France. And with a new country, a new set of hills, including the cobbled climb up to the top of the town of Cassel, where – conveniently – we stopped for lunch. After that a few more sprints before crossing the border back into Belgium and finding a place for a Trappist Ale. Or a few.

Read on for Part III: The cobbles

SHOW ME

 

Ultimate Cobbles: Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Pt III

Today we have a chance to explore a bit of the countryside around Kortrijk. No one is really interested in pushing themselves any more than they have to. Tomorrow is the big day: we get to hit the cobbles of Roubaix.

Part I | Part II

Day 8. A short one before the cobbles
It is almost warm enough to ride in a short sleeve jersey. I say almost because while the sunshine feels amazing after a few days of bundled up riding, every little gust of wind feels like the fridge door being opened.

 

Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation
Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation

 

Day 9. Riding the Cobbles
The day finally arrived. We were hitting the cobbles of Roubaix. To sweeten the deal, the weather played along and a lot of the riders—myself included—opted for short sleeves and no leg warmers for the first time during the trip. The ride, officially known as the Paris Roubaix Challenge covers 145 kilometers starting in Roubaix, heading south before making a u-turn and treating riders to a number of legendary cobbled sectors before finishing at the Roubaix velodrome.

 
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The excitement was high during the first hour as we made our way through the Nothern France countryside. And then it happened. We made a turn onto a forest road and found ourselves facing the first cobbled sector: none other than the formidable Trouee d’Arenberg. I assume that translates to skating rink because that is exactly what those cobbles felt like. Riders falling left and right and doing their best to remount their bikes, before invariable giving up and settling for the footpath that runs along the stones.

The rest of the cobbles come in quick successions. I find a rhythm over the stones and each sector turns into an all-out sprint, making my way past riders on all sides of the road and trying my best not to slow down. By the time I start seeing signs for Roubaix, my hands are a callusy, semi-bloody mess.

The velodrome is packed with spectators and other riders, but as I cross the finish line the only thought I have rolling through my mind is how badly I wish to do the ride all over again. Well, that and a beer. The latter gets solved a few minutes later in a pub just across from the velodrome where we celebrate the last ride of the trip.

 
 
Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation
 

Day 10. Paris-Roubaix
But we are not done yet. Today is our last day in Europe and it will be a special one. We have front row seats to one of the best races of the year: Paris-Roubaix.

We pile into the van and drive about two hours south of Kortrijk over a highway and through some farmlands until we reach a quiet stretch of cobbled road surrounded by wind turbines. This will be where we wait for the peloton to pass. The hours go by and the sides of the road get more and more spectators. There is plenty of singing and plenty of beer. By the time the caravan starts rolling through, the crowd is murmuring with anticipation. And then it happens. The first batch of riders rolls through in a flurry of dust and drunken cheers. By the time the rest of the peloton rolls through a few minutes later, the crowd feels like it is about ready to burst.

 
[trek-fullwidth-img src=”https://s45708.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Bokanev-TrekTravel-0108149.jpg”]
 

 

Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation

 

 
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The excitement may have lasted only a few minutes, but the party will keep going into the night. But we do not have time for that. We have somewhere to be. Specifically, the Roubaix Velodrome.

We pile back into the van and make our way back north. We take our seats in the Velodrome not far from the finish as the jumbotrons announce that the race is only a few minutes away. Silvan Dillier enters the velodrome, followed in close second by Peter Sagan.

 

Trek Travel Spring Classics Ultimate Cycling Vacation

 

 
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The crowd responds with a roar. The last lap lasts probably all of 30 seconds, but at the moment it feels like an eternity. Sagan crosses the line to take his first Roubaix victory to finish an amazing race. We all look at each other and without saying a thing know that we are sharing the exact same thought: we need to get back here again next year.

 

 

Claim your spot at the Spring Classics

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Ultimate Luxury:

Savor some of the most spectacular, 5-star properties in the world. Exuding luxury and elegance, these one-of-a-kind accommodations offer the chance to rejuvenate at award-winning spas, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, and more.

Luxury:

Enjoy luxurious accommodations handpicked for a refined experience. From signature spa treatments to delicious local cuisine, you’ll be more than provided for; you’ll be pampered.

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These handpicked hotels provide relaxation and fun in a casual and comfortable environment. Delicious cuisine and great service mix perfectly for a memorable stay.

Combined:

On select cycling vacations, you’ll stay at a mix of Explorer and Luxury hotels. Rest assured, no matter which hotel level you’re at, our trip designers carefully select every accommodation.

Activity Level

Level 1:

Road: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 25 mi (40 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Gravel: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 20 mi (35 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 1-3 hours of hiking. Up to 5 mi (8 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Level 2:

Road: 2-4 hours of riding. 20-35 mi (35-60 km). Up to 2,500 ft (750 m).

Gravel: 2-4 hours of riding. 15-30 mi (25-45 km). Up to 2,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 2-4 hours of hiking. 4-8 mi (6-12 km). Up to 1,500 ft (450 m).

Level 3:

Road: 3-5 hours of riding. 25-55 mi (40-85 km). Up to 4,500 ft (1,500 m).

Gravel: 3-5 hours of riding. 20-40 mi (35-60 km). Up to 3,000 ft (900 m).

Hiking: 3-5 hours of hiking. 6-10 mi (9-16 km). Up to 2,000 ft (600 m).

Level 4:

Road: 4+ hours of riding. 40-70 mi (60-110 km). Up to 8,000 ft (2,400 m).

Gravel: 4+ hours of riding. 30-50 mi (45-80 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

Hiking: 4+ hours of hiking. 7-15 mi (11-24 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

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Savor the finer things as you relax in luxurious 5-star accommodations and wine, dine, and ride in some of the most unforgettable destinations around the world.

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Explore beautiful destinations by bike, enjoy extra inclusions, savor delicious local cuisine, and enjoy the perfect mix of accommodations.

Classic - Discover:

Enjoy a casual cycling vacation with fantastic routes and comfortable accommodations.

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Train like the pros in some of their favorite riding destinations.

Pro Race:

See the pros in action at the biggest cycling events of the year.

Cross Country:

Tackle an epic adventure that takes you point-to-point across mountains, countryside, and more.

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Enjoy a bike tour on your schedule with just your chosen travel companions.

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Sometimes it’s more convenient and comfortable to have your own room while on vacation. We understand and that’s why we offer a Single Occupancy option. The additional price guarantees a private room all to yourself