Cycling legends: The Lions of Flanders
The latest in our Cycling Legends series of ‘Big Reads’ is a tribute to Flemish cycling, and a documentary of obsession with the cobbled Classics. With the help of exclusive interviews and stunning photography it profiles ten men over four generations who have made their names on the rugged cobbled roads and hills of northern Europe.
They are heroes of Flanders, true Flandriens, a term used to express admiration of an individual from this small region of Belgium, with one tenth of the population of Britain but it a huge place in cycling.
Eighteen Belgians have won the Tour de France, only the French have won more. Twenty-six Belgians have won the men’s elite world road race title, Italy is second with 19. And in the great single-day races, the Classics, Belgians have amassed 214 victories to second-place Italy with 150. And the vast majority of these winning Belgians are from Flanders.
The flag of Flanders is black lion with red claws standing against a vivid yellow background. It’s seen as a symbol of strength and character, and it occupies a huge place in Flemish cycling. Go to any race and you will see these flags; some big some small, but all carried with pride and waved with enthusiasm.
The lion is a Flemish bike fan’s standard, and they apply its power to riders they hold in highest esteem. They are the Lions of Flanders; the best of each generation in the cobbled Classics. They won other races, they were so talented it was inevitable, but the cobbled classics were where they truly expressed themselves, where they were most Flemish, and where they raced like Lions.