Apr 07, 2017

BEER, FRITES AND RINGSIDE SEATS

  • Photo — AP Sports Photography
  • Photo — AP Sports Photography
  • Photo — AP Sports Photography

The Belgian cycling season opens every year in March with a double header weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuune. After a winter drought and the ‘pre-season friendly’ atmosphere of races Down Under and in the Middle East these races mark the true start of the cycling year.

Cycling fans of Belgium, and neighbouring northern European countries, have been warming up their cheering muscles for weeks already at this point. A busy cyclocross Winter will have seen enough beer and frites to break mere mortals but only serve to whet the appetite of the cobbled classics fan.

With the famous Paris-Roubaix coming up at the weekend, and our own team going over to experience both the riding and the supporting, we had a look at the fan culture of these great races. Sports photographer Andrew Peat shared his wonderful reportage photos with us to illustrate the scene. In his racing days Andy used to train near our Devon base and we're big fans of his work.

“It’s a circus, and I don’t want to be one of the clowns” Chris Boardman

The Famous ‘A Sunday in Hell’ film of the ’76 Paris-Roubaix shows the race from the perspective of riders, fans and organisers. A group of fans listen to the radio commentary whilst quaffing Belgian beers, patiently awaiting the arrival of their heroes or another round in a cosy bar. Singing breaks out with the enthusiasm of a football crowd before a cup game whilst families at tables smile back at the camera. This is much more than a chance to see the pros ride through your home town, it’s a party and a chance to revel in the atmosphere together.

A Sunday in Hell by Jørgen Leth

Photo — AP Sports Photography

These days things are a little less sedate with fans lining the route long in advance of the race, choosing the best vantage points and creating their own mobile bars. Motorhomes, vans and rucksacks are packed with bottles of the finest Trappist ales in admirable volume, helping to create an atmosphere along the route of electric proportions.

Photo — AP Sports Photography

Photo — AP Sports Photography

Whilst the riders on the road battle cobbles the participants on the roadside gobble hot dogs in fan zones at key areas such as the Arenberg Forest. Fancy dress is commonplace, mayonnaise compulsory and sound systems constant. In some places there are giant screens to keep you to up to speed with proceedings, they seem to be seldom glanced at. More an early warning system to get in place than something to study. The important thing here is to enjoy yourself (get drunk) and be with like minded people (other drunks) and maybe catch a glimpse of a rider sliding on his arse along the cobbles when the time comes.

Photo — AP Sports Photography

Photo — AP Sports Photography

Cobbled classics season. Don’t try to over analyse it, order yourself some chips, sink some beer and try to join in with the singing.

Andrew Peat is a UK-based photographer working mainly in endurance sports, with journalists, online/paper media, teams etc. All images in this article are © 2017 AP Sports Photography, all rights reserved.