By Matt McNamara
While there are a host of trips and tours to ride in Belgium, as a racer, the chance to actually race amongst those twisting turning monuments sounds pretty intriguing…
The lure of riding great roads is one of the highlights of being a cyclist. From twisting tarmac to dirt roads, rutted single track to that intriguing strip of serpentine road you saw driving home last night, it’s all on the list. Make that road one of the most famous in cycling and I’m ready to jump a plane. The legendary bergs of Belgium certainly qualify and, until recently, the chance to actually race in Europe has been left largely to pros, U23s and the intrepid solo effort of a focused master.
Into this void steps Immersion Cycling – a destination tour company with a unique masters focused racing program, Immersion offers Belgian racing that includes full logistical support, a home base in the heart of Flanders, and the chance to ride and race some of the most famous routes in cycling. Add to that watching the post Tour criteriums and maybe racing a World Championship and you have the makings of a summer adventure.
The Culture of Immersion
Immersion founder and president Rick Adams has had a long love affair with cycling. A well known racer on the Northern California circuit, he also promoted the highly successful Testarossa Velodrome Challenge pro track race in San Jose, California for several years. The lure of Belgian racing finally won out and in 2011, he headed over to give it a whirl. It must have made quite an impression on this former chef and restaurant owner, because soon after, he set about building Immersion to offer other racers the chance to experience Belgian cycling and culture first hand.
Their house is a comfortable, six-bedroom residence with rustic beams, an open kitchen and living area and French doors that lead to a terrace, lush lawn, garden with rose bushes bordered by boxwood and bike shed.
One of the first things Rick did was secure a home base just outside of Oudenaarde, the finishing town for this year’s Tour of Flanders. The house is owned by a former racer and his wife and has a total of 6 bedrooms arranged for 7 – 10 guests and staff. Meals are ably handled by private chef Mieke Ver Cruysse, a local cuisine specialist. The house is focused on rider support at every turn.
Partnering with local rider Dirk Vervoe, an accomplished regional racer, offers guests the chance to truly explore the area, including all those short cuts and nuances that make local knowledge essential for a trip like this. In addition the small service course on site gives racers access to support and spares.
Their chef, Mie, will insure every meal is a delight. While you will have many opportunities to enjoy the world-famous chocolate, beer, frites and waffles, Mie will balance those opportunities by providing meals that start with a soup of local vegetables, such as tomato & basil or fennel and leek followed by a main courses that is often local in both style and ingredients with such dishes as beef stew or fresh seafood from the coast that is less than 50 miles away. And after riding and racing your bike, desserts are well-deserved and Mie delivers with creme brulee, chocolate in cakes, cookies and more and a few typical Flemish deserts.
Racing Immersion: The Belgian Proving Ground
We’ve all heard about the storied Belgian Kermesses as proving grounds for real racers. Hard from the gun, strung out single file, then the wind comes. Immersion offers the opportunity to experience this mystique first hand. Each trip includes the opportunity to race 7 – 10 days, including two weekends; enough that you can miss a race and enjoy the rolling country side and infamous bergs at your leisure.
As to the racing itself, Kermesse racing is the heart and soul of the Belgian cycling culture. Roll up to the registration table, euros in hand, and get ready for lap after lap of hard charging fun over ranging 5 – 10 kilometer courses packed with cobbles, cross winds and hardened Belgians, all looking for the win. Think of it as a mix of all the technical demands of a super-tight criterium paired with the unyielding physiological demands of a tough circuit race.
Race registration may be slightly more relaxed than you’re used to.
After a promenade through the town, the course heads out onto those narrow, rural farm roads you’ve seen time and again on television. Imagine careening over the 8-foot wide ribbons of pavement in full flight across hill and dale before returning each lap to the town centre for the start/finish.
In these villages scattered throughout Flanders, the bike race is regular entertainment. The locals will be on the sidelines, beer in hand, cheering for whom ever is racing: Kids, Elite, Women, Masters and Pros. Many elite kermesse races are on the same day as the festival of the town’s patron saint and that is always a good reason to get together and party.
This year Rick Adams is offering two trip options built around great racing. The first is July 22nd – August 6th and includes the post-Tour criteriums, while the second is August 23rd – September 4th, a perfect end-of-summer blast. The July trip, in particular offers a unique opportunity that may perk up the ears of masters:
The chance to race a sanctioned World Championships!
Ride The ICF Worlds
Here’s your chance to race in a sanctioned World Championship. The International Cycling Federation is really an affiliation of non-official cycling federations from different countries including Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia, and England. About 20 years ago the different groups decided to create unified World Championship to replace the patchwork of Championships in each country. ICF Federation webmaster and information guru, Lugwid Gladines, noted that the ICF World Championship is a longstanding alternative to the more Elite focused UCI:
“As the UCI national federations in big cycling countries such as Belgian, The Nederlands, France,… are only focused on the Elite racers, they have less attention for the big group of racers who only race for the fun of racing a bike, and who decided that racing has to stay a hobby for them. As a result of the great work that these free federations do for their riders, we have for example in Belgium about 550 road races of those federations this season, when we have only about 10 UCI races in Belgium! You can find all info about Belgian Cycling for Amateurs, Masters and free riders on www.belgiancyclingselection.be”
Gladines went on to note that ““This years Championships are raced in Belgium, in Moorsel, a small town near to Aalst. The championships are every year on the first sunday of August, so this year they are held on the 5th of August. The races are in 4 categories, depending on the age of the racers: <40, +40, +50, +60 years.” Categories can expect to do 5 – 10 laps on a 10.85Km course. Moorsel is about 30 minutes by car from the house in Zingem.
Elite Racers Welcome
While the racing itineraries are geared to Masters, Elite men and women are welcome on Immersion’s trips. Elite men and women races are generally sanctioned by the Belgium UCI Federation, Wieler Bond Vlaanderen. Most master races are sanctioned under the ICF not the UCI and promoted by the master-age Belgium federations of WOAD, VWF, OWVF and ECW. Elite men’s racing is generally divided into two groups, those riders with contracts and those without. If you want to ride elite level kermesse races with support, a house and great food, travel with Immersion.
The Nuts & Bolts
Masters racing in Belgium requires a modest bit of planning. Non Belgians are encouraged to get their national federations UCI International License. In addition many races are run under local organizations that require only a race-day license, available on site.
With the ICF World Championships on the Post Tour Crits summer program there will be additional licensing requirements from the ICF. Ludwig Gladines of the ICF to help clarify the racers responsibility: “To become world champion you have to have a license of one of the ICF connected federations. Everyone who lives in a country who has no ICF connected federation can also take a temporary license to be able to compete in these races. Another possibility is to connect with your local federation to the ICF, with is more interesting if several racers are coming from a non connected country.
Registration for either of the Immersion trips is available on their website. Trip packages range from US$1850 – $2150.00 including lodging and most meals, a truly great value for 12 days of life-changing travel.
• Full details and registration is available at Immersion Cycling’s Website
Contact Immersion Cycling:
• Immersion Cycling’s Website
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org