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3 April 2024   |   Cycling   |   

Mad, chaotic and insanely brilliant – The Tour of Flanders by David Millar

When ex-pro David Millar enlisted Sports Tours International to bring the Never Strays Far podcast to the Tour of Flanders, he asked for the bona fide fan experience. Going back to his roots, this is David’s story of jumping cobbles and cheering from the roadside for a day.

I’ve been to hundreds of bike races as a commentator, and hundreds more as a racer, yet I can count on one hand the number I’ve been to as a fan.  Which is surprising, because at heart I’m a fan. Always have been and always will be.

Ned Boulting and I had been talking about going to a race and podcasting from outside the ropes for a while. Normally the Never Strays Far podcast offers post-race analysis after we’ve been working. I was too quickly immersed in the sport to practice the art of being a bona fide roadside supporter, until now.

The Tour of Flanders is a mad race; chaotic and bonkers. The course criss-crosses itself numerous times in the final 130km. It’s as if a child has been let loose with a map and a crayon. That means you can see the race pass by more than once. Unfortunately, it also means there are a lot of unknowns – when or where road closures would be, what access would be like, and how many people would be there.  Fortunately, Ben from Sports Tours had created a military-like plan for us. We targeted the first cobbled section which was far enough from the finish to give us a buffer to make it to next viewing spots.

Tour of flanders

Immediately we understood the vibe was chill – after all, we were in Flanders, the home of bike racing.  Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing, especially the fans. We absorbed this attitude as if by osmosis and decided to go with the flow.  It didn’t take us long to acquire some Flandrien flags – unbeknownst to us they were representative of the separatist movement! The father and small boy who gave them to us had slyly recruited us as freedom fighters.  We found that out later, by which point we didn’t care.

After watching the breakaway and peloton fly by, we headed to Zotegem and found a fan zone with a big screen and hotdog stand, that covered the next 45mins. We then modified our plans in accordance with our new local attitude and headed to the Kruisberg, where we planned a double hitter as the race passed by twice.

The rain was falling by this point, and although the temperature was dropping the race was heating up. Mads Pedersen had fired things up, somewhat inexplicably as it was such a long way to go. We watched him come by with what was left of the peloton hot on his heels, then we followed the masses up the hill and down a path and found ourselves in another fan zone with a big screen and beer tents.

Tour of flanders

The big screen allowed us to witness the carnage on the Koppenberg which led to Matthieu van der Poel breaking free with 45km still remaining. With 26km to go the race passed us by again on the Ould Kruisberg, so we followed the masses again as they start streaming out the fan zone. Within a couple of minutes we were battling through bushes and undergrowth before sliding down a muddy bank holding on to tree branches and somehow coming to rest roadside, a piece of string holding us back from touching the riders as they passed.

This was the spectating spot of the day, and we didn’t have to wait long until the race came flying by. We got to witness the World Champion and eventual winner, Mathieu van der Poel, come storming by like a freight train with the rest of the race in desperate tatters behind.  It was the perfect conclusion to an insanely memorable day.

Once the last rider and vehicles came by we extracted ourselves from our ditch and joined the hundreds of other fans walking down the cobbled road the race had just ridden up, getting to appreciate fully what we’d just seen and empathise a little with what the racers must have been going through.

I cannot recommend highly enough going and seeing it with your own eyes. Bike racing man, you have to see it to believe it.

Pre-register for the 2025 Tour of Flanders now to benefit from exclusive early-booking access including guaranteed sportive entry and VIP hospitality options. You can also listen to David and Ned’s Never Strays Far dispatch from Flanders on Apple and Spotify.

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