The Flemish High Mass is called and the cleanest of all classics. In East and West Flanders the gardens were riped, the sidewalks and the windows washed, and nothing else will be spoken in the weeks prior to the first Sunday of April. The course. The Tour of Flanders. Already more than a hundred years old but still alive and kicking.

Karel Van Wijnendaele was a bad rider, but a great entrepreneur and editor -in -chief, and a man with ideas. His magazine The sports world could use some promotion and at the beginning of 1913 he started the first round. "It started in 1913," he wrote, "with 37 participants and five followers over more than three hundred kilometers of bad stone roads."

The founder was a master of thickening and dramatizing, he wanted to make a character competition from his round to the romanticized image of the Flemish of that time: hard -working, struggling people in fight with the elements. "The better," he shouted when rain was predicted, "the round needs bad weather. In rain, wind and mud she thrives best."

Karel Van Wijnendaele had long died when Johan Museeuw won the third time in 1998, but the words of the rider could have been his: "Was guys, men of one piece, with thoughts in the head and crumb in the legs . "

Because whatever happened in those hundred years, the character of the course remained unchanged. The Tour of Flanders is a competition for experienced, tough riders. In 2000, winner Andrei Tchmil was 37 years old. After a flat, well -paved run -up of one hundred kilometers, the asphalt increasingly makes way for unharmed cobblestone strips. Then the rugged, steep slopes come and start turning and turning. Whether it is dry (dust) or folding of the rain (mud) the uneven lying, some convex stones hurt the wrists and legs, and ravish the seat. The roadside is littered with water bottles that are taught from the holders. And on the slopes with illustrious names such as the Paterberg, the Steenbeekdries, the Kruisberg and the Oude Kwaremont, it is sometimes so steep (up to 22%) that even the pros come still and bounce against the stones.

It became a famous picture of the Tour of Flanders when the Dane Jesper Skibby appeared on the Koppenberg in 1987. As a leader in the race, he tried to climb the dramatically bad and narrow strip of cobblestones near the Oudenaarde brewery. He barely got ahead and understood why they called this part of the course the Martelkamer of Flanders. Behind Skibby the driver of the radio car hurled, he did not want to block the slope for the pursuers. Skibby almost fell, was then tapped by the car, which then drove over his both wheels. Skibby could barely pull his feet out of the clips. They were dramatic images and the Koppenberg disappeared from the race for fifteen years.

The images of the 1985 round were also shocking. Winner Eric Vanderaerden had to be lifted and half frozen from his bike. It had been fresh but sunny at the departure, but soon it started to storm and rain heavily. Far too thin dressed only 24 of the 173 participants finished.

The Tour of Flanders is also the race in which the spectators on the slopes looked full of bewilderment to Eddy Merckx who stumbled up the last two hundred meters up. The big champion, the cannibal on foot, they had never seen that.

On the Saturday before the real round, that is a more common image, riders who have to go from their bike. Then cycling tourists fill the hills and the cobblestones and the hills with cobblestones. Around the twenty thousand riders, including nearly five thousand foreigners from thirty countries, ride the entire (more than 250 kilometers), the half or a quarter round of Flanders. A wonderful one chaos Is it, a folk festival, and from behind the fences and from the cafés where the mayor drinks a beer with a factory worker, the brave enthusiasts are encouraged. On to the next church village. Zingem, Zottegem, Zulzeke, Kruishoutem, Knetter Gez. The riders in the heart of Flanders, in the heart of cycling, will become the riders, but in the end the finish will be in Oudenaarde and life will never be the same again.