Flèche Wallonne is ALL about the Muir day Hooeee, or as its both pronounced and spelled by the local French-speaking Belgians, the Mur de Huy. Huy is a 1300 meter long & 204 meter tall near-vertical (9.3% avg gradient + 26% max gradient) hill the race goes up three times, in relatively quick succession, after first riding 100km through the farms and hills of Wallonia. Wallonia translates to West Virginia in English; speaking of translations, Mur de Huy translates to The Wall of Huy and Flèche Wallonne translates to The Arrow of Wallonne. Huy (the wall) is the arrowhead. Technically speaking Huy (on a map) kinda looks like an arrowhead—if the arrowhead is the blunt kind used for practice and if the arrowhead is attached to an exceptionally bent shaft. See map below. For serious spectators and racers and sponsors and the institution that is the Spring Classics, Huy is where the race is decided, and Huy, from the-bottom-to-the-top (but especially on the top, y'all!) is where the party at—imagine a sinuous, switchbacky, mile-long, sixty-foot wide, near-vertical, five-hour long party wearing a beer garden and outdoor stadium-sized TV screen party hat. That’s Huy. Basically, Flèche Wallonne is all about the Mur de Huy.


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There is no reason, tactical or otherwise, to watch/spectate/attend/support/view/participate-in/take-in Wallonne from any place other than somewhere on Huy. And that’s why Manual For Speed (me) paid some dude named Stijn1 with UCI Moto Credentials (and a driver's license) 308.00 American dollars to drive me for the day.


"Flèche is my favorite race, it’s all about the Mur de Huy. When everything comes together and you’ve got your momentum going and you hit that climb, you don’t really hear anything in particular, it’s just atmosphere, and everything else except getting to the top of the hill as fast possible becomes irrelevant."

Dan Martin, Team Garmin-Sharp, fourth place


Stijn, who does not speak a “whole lot” of English, and who’s day-job is running N°7even Bikes (former sponsors of Marco Polo Cycling Team Donckers Koffie ), was pretty young, kinda wreckless, a little prepared and totally awesome. Stijn claimed we’d see the race 11 times plus all three laps up Huy; in actuality we saw the race 7 times plus two laps up Huy, which, after four hours (or whatever) of doing 110km down the back alleys and goat paths of rural Wallonia was plenty. In Europe they limit the number of motos with “full” course privileges to something like three bikes. Full course moto privileges go to the same driver-photographer teams they've gone to since the beginning of time. While we were credentialed, we only had secondary course privileges. That meant Stijn and I were allowed to drive on the course ahead of and behind the Peloton but not up through the middle of it, which up through the middle of it is the more common or typical way it’s done, at least in American Races like the TOC, Utah and Colorado. Secondary privileges was mostly fine anyway because Stijn had a semi-sophisticated, quasi-efficient RP (routing plan) in the form of map strapped to his gas tank and a GPS unit mounted to his handlebars.

It felt like storm chasing a spandex herd in pleasant weather.

After the start we raced through Wallonia alternating between the course whenever possible and a vast, amorphous, ever-changing, ever-evolving, sometimes hidden, none-too-specific and sometimes unpaved network of “roads,” in an effort to follow and photograph the race. It felt like storm chasing a spandex herd in pleasant weather. Speaking of pleasant weather, the weather was in fact pleasant—mid 70’s and sunny. For the me the sensation was a little bit like apparating (see Harry Potter) all over Belgium/West Virginia.


fleche_motosticker

There was a lot of farty motorcycle noise, lots of leaning and tilting, lots of skidding and last minute braking, lots of different road surfaces (a lot of them something other than smooth), lots of driveway 180s, lots of lapping roundabouts a few times before finally setting-off in what seemed like a random direction, lots of beeping, lots of watching new growth forests (the kind that go by in hypnotic almost-rows) rush past, lots of squinting into the wind and the sun, lots of smashed Coke cans stuffed into my back pocket sticky and dribbling, lots and lots and lots of punching into and out of invisible clouds of cow shit smell, lots of street furniture near misses, lots of passing (barely!) between cars and trucks and horses and kids on bikes and everything really, lots of reaching into my musette bag for this or that worried I might drop it at 160km/h and lose it, lots of narrow lanes, lots of paved paths cutting and arcing across a recently tilled field on an open and wondrous ridge, lots of small bridges over little creaks and runs, lots of dirt in my teeth, and lots (as in TOO MUCH!) of Stjin reviewing and assessing our RP on his map or GPS for seconds at a time which seconds at a time seemed like minutes at a time while almost driving into various shit like walls and parked cars—and but periodically we’d come out of a dreamlike nowhere onto the course, and with five or ten or whatever minutes to spare, we’d wait, then shoot the race, and then split, again. We did this all over Wallonia deferring the epic party that is Huy until the very last minute.

Photographing a race from the back of a motorcycle may be the single most disconnected and personally-disappointing way to see a race. But, it is an experience.

The race starts in the town Binche (which start is new, as it used to start in the town of Charleroi, a muncipality of Wallonia located in the province of Hainaut, Belgium—the inhabitants are called Caroliregiens or Carolos) and finishes in Huy.

Binche

FlècheWallonne

We are maybe 15k up the road from the start. I'm standing at the base of a short bridge, there is a river behind me. I bought a coke from the store across the street, all they had was cans. My helmet is on the ground on the sidewalk halfway over the bridge.
The first thing you do after pulling up is walk the area. After walking the area I chose the inside of the corner. I sat there on the inside of that corner for about 25 minutes until I changed my mind and walked across the street (from where this photograph was taken) with about 30 seconds to spare. That happens a lot.
We sat in this wide open field for what felt like hours. It was windy. At this point I am exceptionally bored. I wish I had another can of coke. Stijn and I are becoming friends at least. We talk about girls and cameras - wherever you go you can always count on girls and cameras to talk about, regardless of fluency.
I am standing at the bottom of a large hill, there is a roundabout behind me. My favorite part(s) about this spot: 1) Watching some dudes splinter off and swing wide (to the right) of the median - it happens so spontaneously and seemingly randomly, it looks sketchy and rad 2) Moments after this photograph was taken I watched Alex Howes bunny-hop the left edge of the roundabout behind me all Sunday In Hell style 3) The family standing on the sidewalk across the street from me (not shown) is keeping it real - West Virginia style 4) When Stijn and I leave we have to drive down a narrow, busted sidewalk over a bridge because cars were blocking the road because of the race, it was S K E T C H Y, Stijn almost dropped us twice and we clipped a builder van with some part of his bike and my foot.
I walked up and down this road for twenty minutes, "walking the area." I couldn't find my spot. The road was flat, the crowd was flat, the light was flat, everything was flat. My ass felt flat. I need a new Coke.2
Sometimes a bike race just looks like a bike race. This spot is near the end of the Fleche Wallone's (arrow) shaft.
In addition to being a fan of bicycle racing I believe the gentlemen next to me is a Sportsmen (Hunting & Fishing) and a smoker. This spot is on the backside of Huy.
At this point I'm standing next to two ladies, one of the two ladies is holding a dog, a lot of race watchers in Europe bring small dogs to hold while they spectate.
Ryder looks hungry.

Mur de Huy

  1. Pronounced stain, like shit stain, the one in your underwear because you’re on the back of a motorcycle and the dude driving is driving so fast and so hairy. []
  2. NOT a New Coke. []