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Feb 6, 2016 – At the end of March, one lucky peloton reader will be heading to the Flemish Ardennes to take part in the 100th edition of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Also included: a heaping helping of the cycling culture so endemic to Flanders.
In order to win, all you have to do is Ride like a Flandrien.
Just uttering the name Flanders brings images of gnarled cobblestones and faces twisted in agony, mud splattered faces, and jerseys littering cobbled country roads as a breakaway punches its way up those vicious bergs. The term Flandrien is a special designation, one of honor and prestige reserved for those who have earned it, the hard way.
Once a term reserved for the hardened native sons of East and West Flanders, the moniker has been adapted to be less about where you’re from and more about how you pedal a bicycle. Each year, the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad awards the Flandrien of the Year to a professional rider. It’s an award voted on by riders and its first winner was the Italian Paolo Bettini. Fabian Cancellara is considered a Flandrien despite his Swiss heritage and of course there’s three time Ronde winner Fiorenzo Magni, who along with Flemish three time winner, Johan Museuuw, is called the Lion of Flanders, or in Italian il Leone della Fiandre.
Will the 100th edition of the Ronde crown another Lion or perhaps reveal another Flandrien?
To ride like a Flandrien, though, you’ve got to eat like one, and if there’s a signature dish more important than those famous Belgian frites (blasphemy?), it’s flemish stew, known in Dutch as stoverij.
A proper stoverij is a combination of choice cuts of beef, caramelized onions, and Flemish beer, along with rosemary, bay leaves and thyme, for flavor. It can’t be just any beer though, it’s got to be an oud bruin, or Flemish Brown Ale, is classically brewed and aged in older wooden casks to encourage wild native yeasts like brettanomyces to impart sweet and sour characteristics in the beer. It’s this signature element that drives the flavor of stoverij.
There’s plenty of good choices for sourcing the main ingredient but I favor the Oud Bruin from Liefmans brewery in the East Flanders town of Oudenaarde along the River Schelde, the same town where Ronde number 100 will finish. Let the mixture stew and then pour it over a plate full of frites. Briek Schotte would be proud.