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It may not have the storybook sights of Bruges; it may lack the prestigious headquarters of the European Union like Brussels; but, for the cyclist, humble Oudenaarde is the capital of Belgium.
East Flanders (or Oost-Vlaanderen) is flat. Many of the features that define it are predicated on that fact—endless canals, giant wind turbines, crosswinds and lots of bicycle commuters—so it’s rather ironic that its cycling has become world renowned for cobblestone climbs. A small spine of hills called the Flemish Ardennes run through the southern portion of East Flanders, just across the River Scheldt from Oudenaarde.
This unassuming escarpment—its highest peak is just 145 meters (475 feet)—essentially holds every major climb in the Tour of Flanders, inspiring its circuitous and overlapping route. It’s this proximity that makes Oudenaarde the gateway to the cobbled climbs of Flanders, the home to the Ronde van Vlaanderen’s finish since 2012 and the race’s museum.
But much more than cycling history can be found in Oudenaarde. An ancient city, it has been a world center for tapestry since the 15th century; it boasts the Church of Our Lady of Pamele, which was built in the 13th century; and the imposing Gothic town hall is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
So Oudenaarde, as it was for the riders in the Tour of Flanders, was our destination after a day of smashing ourselves upon the cobbled climbs of the Flemish Ardennes…
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