België Is Een Zeer Mooi Land!

Words by Ria Roberts and images by Luke Batten

After spending the day watching de Ronde, eating braadworst, and drinking Ename, Luke and myself, accompanied by our oft-befuddled GPS unit, made our roundabout way to Ninove to pay a visit to our old friend Dean Goessens. We arrived in true Hero fashion—just in time for dinner.

Dean, his friend Nicholas, and his father Jan, a retired pro cyclist (Lotto-Eddy Merckx, Weinmann-Eddy Merckx, etc), were sitting down to plates of meat, cabbage and potatoes. They offered us food and bottles of Duvel. Dean and Nicholas had ridden 135 km and ate impressively. Their kitchen looks out on to a hyper idyllic yard, featuring baby lambs engaged in what can only be described as frolicking. Taking all of this in while sitting in the warm evening light, which gently ignited the boys’ golden Flemish hair, made me contemplate transcendence as well as the acquisition of a Belgian visa or the possibility that Jan would want to adopt a 23 year old daughter.

We talked about the race. The boys had stayed home to watch it on TV so that they could get full coverage. Luke and I knew that Tom Boonen had won because of the shouts of “Tommeke! Tommeke!” we heard in the streets on the way back from the Oude Kwaremont. Dean and Nicholas filled us in on the details in a way that only good Belgian boys who grew up steeped in cycling could. Dear Heroes, we recommend Belgian boy recaps over blog recaps any day—qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

Jan was a bit quiet at dinner, as his English is not quite fluent—though much, much better than our Dutch—but endlessly charming and funny nonetheless. He brought out old photo albums from his pro days, full of him looking spry and handsome with victory wreathes around his neck. He talked about riding with Merckx and Armstrong, showed us his trophies, and gave us two of his old jerseys. When we said we couldn’t accept, he grinned and said “I have tons!”

After dinner, Nicholas left to ride some more, inspired by the day’s race. Dean and Jan—who is a very good cook, by the way—gave us a tour of their house. Jan told me that once he retired from cycling he started keeping birds. He showed us the parakeets and those aforementioned frolicking lambs and we went down the road to his neighbor’s house to see two massive, beautiful pull horses. Jan petted them affectionately and referred to himself as their horse whisperer.

Luke and I were sad to leave the house on Volckaert street, drugged as we were by all of its good-naturedness and pastoral treasures. We feel quite lucky to know these fine athletes, gentlemen and Heroes in every sense of the word. Until next year, Jan Goessens!