The Dorpen van de Ronde are a feature of every Tour of Flanders — it means the villages of the race, and the point is to shine the spotlight on some of the small towns along the route. I love that they do this, it’s a subtle reminder of how the original point of the race, like many others, was to do a tour of Flanders, the place, where people live. As cool as the Koppenberg may be, it’s not really a neighborhood, and has only one small pub at the base, unless you go around the corner.
By the way, you can tour these places from the comfort of your home via Google Street View, of course, and I can report that it is still fun to do. Here’s the Koppenberg.
Wait, is that a professional cyclist in Google Street Vieeuw? Debatable:
It’s not like you can’t buy that kit in a store. But this being Flanders, it’s not like professional cyclists don’t show up in Google Street Vieeuw either.
Pretty good cyclists too. But I digress.
The Dorpen van de Ronde has been expanded over the years and they are now up from singling out just one special hidden treasure in the Flemish countryside to a half-dozen spots the race org now suggests not passing by next time you are in the area.
Official: Sint Niklaas hosted the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen for 20 editions, from 1977 to 1997, before yielding to the awesome belfries of Bruges. The lure for the race start was having the largest grote markt in Belgium, which is like having the largest mall in suburban Dallas. Not too shabby!
But also: The town traces its origins to a church founded in the 13th century and named after the Saint Nicholas, not the fictional character, but one who nonetheless had a reputation for giving out lots of gifts in his hometown of (present day) Demre, Turkiye, back in the fourth century.
Tom Steels is from here! The town is a bit west of Antwerp, so it’s an easy swing through this lovely town square for the peloton while riders contemplate shedding their leg warmers.
Official: Cyclocross fans know it as Hamme-Zogge, although they mean the patch of green space between the two towns. Hamme is the next village of consequence south of Sint-Niklaas, and Zogge is an even smaller hamlet just west of Hamme. All the FlandersClassics folks can muster up about Hamme is that it’s Greg Van Avermaet’s hometown and if you go there on race day, you can eat some snacks and watch a big screen TV. Super helpful. Also Van Avermaet is maybe from Lokeren.
But Also: OK, this is big. Do you know about the Hamse Wuiten? NO!? OK, I am here to help you. A wuiten is basically a blue jay, or maybe just a jay because they aren’t that blue. And the Hamse Wuiten is the jay bird of Hamme, which comes from a local legend which goes like this. A Hamme person caught a wuiten and taught it how to clap. [Don’t ask.] Anyway, one day a Viking ship sailed down the Schelde — Hamme sits on the confluence of the Schelde and the Durme rivers — and people understandably lost their shit, fleeing the town without stopping to gather their belongings. The Vikings did their Viking thing to the town (pillaging, fire, etc.) and moved on, whereupon the Hamme folk returned to town. But before leaving one of the Vikings grabbed the clapping wuiten in its cage and sailed on.
Eventually the bird was sold to another ship captain as a clapping wuiten, but it refused to perform, taking a dim view of its predicament. Until one day, the captain sailed up the Schelde. And when the wuiten spied the church spire in Hamme, it suddenly began to sing, and I quote, “Kwek kwek I see Hamme!” And then it never spoke again.
Now of course, the town is decked out in tributes to the Hamse Wuiten. There is a brand of gin. There are various sculptural depictions of wuitens around town. There is even some sort of local event, maybe a parade, where people dress up as the Hamse Wuiten and flee from the people who roll in on a Viking ship. So you should absolutely visit Hamme.
Official: Apparently this town, according to the Powers that Be, is home to the Naesen Brothers, although Wikipedia says they are from Oostende. And apparently people like to have a good time, involving food, because as the RvV.be site says, “nothing is too crazy for Berlare.”
OK then. they also mention the Donkmeer, a lake just on the north end of town between the outskirts of Berlare and the village of Donk. Apparently that’s where the running race up above happens.
But Also: Berlare is where the Peasants’ War of 1798 (de Boerenkrijg) began, before raging across the Flemish landscape. The main beef was between the common folk of the region and the French government, which had annexed the “Southern Netherlands” which is an area that goes slightly beyond modern day Belgium and Luxembourg. France took charge of the area following the French Revolution in 1789, and began to act kind of assholish to the local burghers by requiring priests to swear an oath of allegiance to the French state, and conscripting dudes into the army if they were between 20 and 25. And just generally being French, which was more of a problem back before the EU.
Rebellions always start off sounding cool, but this one was crushed after two months. So the above and below paintings are your “how it started/how it’s going” meme.
Berlare is also home to Preben Van Hecke. Top that, Herzele!
Official: Herzele has no clapping birds or regional conflicts to its name. The best the Ronde organizers could do was to say that you can buy food there during the race. There will also be a demonstration of kids showing off their bike handling skills. I have seen these kids in Harelbeke picking bidons off the ground and dropping them on tables, standing upright. This is why America can’t win the cobbled classics.
But Also: Err... not finding much. Herzele hosted a stage of the Tour of Belgium six years ago that was annulled in mid-race due to a big crash. That’s why everyone looks so thrilled in the photo above. It’s got a pretty cool castle, though it was probably a lot cooler before the Spanish shot it to pieces in 1579.
Ah, now we get to a racing town.
Official: Clearly the Flanders Classics marketing department was getting close to lunchtime when they wrote up their Dorpen van de Ronde page, because all they can come up with here are a couple sentences about how you can watch the race and eat some food here on Sunday.
But Also: Zottegem has quite frequently hosted starts and finishes of Driedaagse De Panne. Under the old format when Three Days of De Panne took place over... wait for it... three days, Day 1 would start in De Panne on the coast and end in Zottegem, by way of a few significant cobbled climbs like the Kemmelberg or maybe something in the Vlaamse Ardennen closer to the finish. Real Flemish racing would happen, selections and such, and Day 1 would largely decide the overall. Then Day 2 would depart from Zottegem and stay pretty flat heading for the presumed sprint. Day three would be a circuit race around De Panne, again a sprint, plus a short ITT which might clean up any questions left over for the GC. Now that Bruges has lost the start of De Ronde, it has assumed the role for De Panne, which is now a one day race known as the Oxyclean Classic. Just makes you want to breathe in the fresh ocean air, right?
Official: More things about eating food while you watch the race. At this point in the development of this page, it is safe to say that the Flanders Classics marketing department has largely gone to lunch and asked an unpaid intern to complete the job. Also they note that the race is passing through Haaltert for the first time, which means the marketing department has never been there either.
But Also: COBBLES! OK, not very important ones. I have some sympathy for the intern here because I have scoured the internet for anything more to say about Haaltert. Maybe there’s a reason de Ronde hasn’t bothered to come through.