Lampaert on Flanders: ‘It’s something that defines us’

Lampaert talks about the pain of the Kwaremont and his love-hate relationship with Belgium's national obsession, the Tour of Flanders.

When it comes to Flemish riders, Yves Lampaert is pure pedigree. Born in Flanders and raised on the family farm outside of Ingelmunster, Lampaert grew up training on the narrow roads and along the canal so characteristic of this corner of northern Belgium.

A key member of the mighty Deceuninck-Quick-Step team, Lampaert has twice won the prestigious Dwars door Vlaanderen, a key warm-up race to the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders. And after finishing second in Het Nieuwsblad earlier this year, Lampaert was one of the up-and-coming favorites for the Ronde this weekend.

Unquestionably one of the main attractions of the year, the Ronde van Vlaanderen is more than one of cycling’s most sought after races. It’s also a national obsession, an event where champions are born and legends are forged, with Flanders’ demanding bergs offering the perfect backdrop for some epic fights. It is nothing short of a race of legend, and for a local hero like Lampaert, the fact that the race will not be held for the first time since WWI, is particularly frustrating. The 28-year-old discussed De Ronde on his team’s website, Friday.

Lampaert training amid the cabbage fields of his family farm. Photo: James Startt

Q: Yves, what does De Ronde mean for a Belgian?

Yves Lampaert: For me and for many others, it’s not just the biggest goal of the year, it’s our very own world championships, as it carries the same significance and prestige. It’s the day an entire country stands still, a national day which draws hundreds of thousands of roadside fans, who want to see the peloton pass even if it’s just for a brief moment. De Ronde is part of our identity, it’s something that defines us.

Q: Do you remember the first edition you saw live on TV?

YL: Not really, but the race which is the most vivid in my memory from when I was a kid is the one Tom Boonen won as world champion [2006]. That gave me goosebumps, it was truly inspiring.

Q: How was your debut at the race?

YL: It wasn’t easy. I was in my second year as a pro, and had a puncture, then managed to come back in the peloton, only to crash pretty hard just before the second time up the Oude Kwaremont. But overall, I still enjoyed that day. That’s the thing about Flanders, you have a love-hate relationship with it. Last time up the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg is one of the hardest moments of the cycling season and it makes you suffer and dig really deep. But on the other hand, just being on the start line gives you a lot of pride and getting to enjoy that fantastic atmosphere makes you want to give 110 percent.

Q: Talk us through the iconic climbs of the race.

YL: Well, you have the Muur-Kapelmuur, which despite featuring early on the course, stirs things up, making everybody nervous, because they all know you’ve got to be in a good position there, as almost every year something happens on that hill. Then, with around 50 kilometers to go, you take on the Koppenberg and its uneven and grueling cobbles. It’s the steepest climb in Flanders, it’s also very narrow, and you’ve got to do it at your own pace. Another hot point of the race is the Oude Kwaremont, which is also my favorite climb. Steep in the beginning, then a very fast middle part, and again quite steep towards the top. If you are good on the Oude Kwaremont, you will be good also on the Paterberg, which has a 100m section at around 22 percent, where it’s really important to put in a really good effort, while being careful not to blow up.

Q: How does it feel not having De Ronde this year?

YL: It’s more disappointing by the day, as we get closer and closer to Sunday. I talk with my neighbors about it and knowing there will be no race this weekend makes you understand how strange everything is. On the other hand, people’s safety is the most important thing now, and all you can do is hope this whole situation will soon pass and we’ll get to race again this year. What helps a bit is knowing we’ll have the Virtual Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday, which although it will be very different, still motivates you to do good.