DEINZE, Belgium (VN) — America’s WorldTour cyclists have historically based themselves in Northeast Spain or the French Riviera due to each region’s balmy climate and mountainous training roads.
That’s not the case with Logan Owen.
Owen, 24, has chosen to live in West Flanders, where gusting winds take the place of climbs, and the region’s circuitous road network is challenging to navigate. The region’s unglamorous weather and terrain, however, has helped churn out world-class bike racers for decades. And Owen believes that living in Flanders is a recipe for his future success.
“The weather is similar to where I live in Seattle,” Owen (EF Education First) told VeloNews at the start of Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, which was located just 10 kilometers from his house. “I’ve grown up racing here and I just feel comfortable and at home here.”
Owen lives in Meulebeke, a village located between Kortrijk, Roeselare, and Waregem, with the family of Franky Verhoye and Chantal Reynaert. Owen has a history with the two: They hosted him six years ago when Owen traveled to Belgium to race the UCI World Cup of cyclocross as a junior.
Owen said he stayed with with Verhoye and Reynaert in subsequent years during his various cyclocross campaigns, and the two became close friends. When Owen married his wife, Chloe Dygert Owen, in 2017, his Belgian hosts even attended the wedding.
“When I first got to [Meulebeke] it was a real shock to the system. I was super nervous because I was getting immersed in this whole new life and I was just 17. It was insane,” Owen said. “And then I got to know [Verhoye and Reynaert] and I felt really at home. I had a really good experience.”
Owen is a member of EF Education First’s Classics squad, and he completed last week’s E3 Binck Bank Classic and Sunday’sGent-Wevelgem. Owen said his local knowledge of the road gave him a valuable advantage during E3 Binck Bank. Midway through the race, his cycling computer popped off of his bicycle and skittered into the grass. For many riders, the bike computers provide valuable information about upcoming roads and features.
Owen, however, knew the Flemish roads by memory.
“If I didn’t know the roads I would have had no idea what I was doing. I would have been completely lost and useless to the team,” Owen said. “Because I knew the roads, and I’ve ridden these roads so many times, it helped with the positioning. I knew there was a pot hole on the inside of a left-hand turn, and some of these other guys don’t know stuff like that.”
Owen’s personal ambitions lie in the hilly one-day classics in southern Belgium. And since this is Belgium—a country about the same size as Maryland—the roads of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Fleche Wallonne are just a two-hour drive from Owen’s house.
American cyclists often spend time in Flanders with USA Cycling’s junior and U23 development teams to race the region’s kermesse series and a collection of challenging road races. For years, USA Cycling maintained its development house in Izegem, a town located just minutes from Meulebeke.
Over the years, a few Americans have based themselves in Belgium. Tyler Farrar — also a Washingtonian — based himself in downtown Gent during his European career. Farrar even became fluent in Flemish, a move that earned him a local following. During an interview to commemorate his retirement in 2017, Farrar told Peloton that he settled in Flanders because the region was home to his favorite races.
“For some reason, just culturally, that is where I always seemed to feel the most at home,” Farrar said. “The Belgian fans and people just adopted me. It’s fun always traveling, but I needed to feel as though I had a home base, and I got that in Belgium. Coming back to Gent was like coming home.”
Farrar even learned Flemish, and often gave interviews to local media in the tongue. Owen said he has yet to take a Flemish language course, although it’s on his to-do list. He has picked up some of the language from his host family. But while knowledge of the Flemish roads may come naturally, learning the language may prove to be a tougher hurdle.
“I can understand most of what they’re talking about in casual conversations,” Owen said. “When they start using words that they don’t just use around the house, that’s when I’m lost.”
Of course, being lost in Flanders is just part of the experience.