The local media ensure that every year a million spectators gather along the 273 kilometers of a course strewn with nineteen cobbled mountains (the "berg") transformed into as many stadiums. That's almost one Flemish in six.

These astronomical statistics are difficult to verify, but according to the authorities they are not very far from reality.

The looping route in the provinces of West and East Flanders is suitable for short trips. It is easy to go see the runners pass by before joining his living room or a party room to live the end of the race in front of a screen.

The Quaremont, which the riders will cross three times (in addition to the passage of the women's race), the last time at 17 kilometers from the line, will alone welcome 40,000 fanatics along the 2200 meters of ascent. Five thousand of these aficionados will pay their place to be sure to attend the front row to the fight that will not fail to engage in particular Wout Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar.

The organizer Flanders Classics sells 10,000 VIP tickets ensuring their holder, often businessmen, to be transported to a strategic place where they will talk business or remake the world around a champagne buffet.

"We put these tickets on sale in October and at the beginning of December, everything is gone," says Thomas Van der Spiegel, former international basketball player and CEO of Flanders Classic. Many Belgian and foreign companies want to be involved. It's the race of the year."

-- 'Logistical miracle' --

Before giving way to the pros, thousands of amateurs participate in the Fan Ride. Those who wish can actually make the last hundred terminals of the race on the closed circuit.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar of the UAE-Emirates gets back in the saddle after a fall in front of spectators massed along the route of the Tour of Flanders 2022 on April 3, 2022 in Belgium © DIRK WAEM / BELGA / AFP / Archives

Le Ronde is also an audience success for Belgian television, Sporza on the Dutch-speaking side, RTBF for French-speakers, which accumulate nearly two million viewers in a country with eleven million inhabitants.

The public television VRT, which provides the broadcast, relies on an army of nearly 300 people to make the event an extraordinary audiovisual spectacle.

Five cameras at Vieux Quaremont, four at Paterberg, four at Koppenberg and five at the finish at Audenaerde in addition to the three motorcycles and the helicopter.

Live from 9 a.m. to 18 p.m., director Gunther Herregodts must "make sure he drinks and eats" because he "does not have time to go to the bathroom," he told the daily La Dernière Heure. "This race is a logistical miracle," he said.

A popular success, the Ronde obviously attracts politicians looking for visibility. On Saturday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo appears on three pages in The Last Hour where he proclaims his love for two wheels. In 2017, it was the mayor (admire) of Antwerp who had managed a masterstroke by attracting the start of the race in his city for five years while the Ronde traditionally started from Bruges.

The Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever understood the impact of the event in view of his independence ambitions by getting his hands on this symbol of identity.

Five years later, the Ronde is back in Bruges, on its traditional lands. What does it matter for the nationalists who will continue to distribute along the roads this flag bearing the Black Lion (on a yellow background) symbol of their demands.

© 2023 AFP