BELGIUM CLASSIC TT
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE CROISSANT
Too many years ago, when travelling in the Philippines, I met a Belgium traveller, who, in the course of an evening's beer drinking on the idyllic tropical island we were staying, revealed that his main ambition in life was to stay out of his country for as long as possible.
We were too young to question this statement. It was of little importance. But I think of this long-ago incident as I'm biking towards the town of Geddine, in the Ardenne region of Belgium that borders France, to watch the Belgium Classic TT.
In the past few years, along with friends, I seem to have adopted the country as one of my preferred motorcycle places to visit. I've written about the classic and other races from Chimay, Ostend, and Spa for Wemoto News.
Apart from Spa, the events in Belgium have one thing in common: they're held on closed public roads. In a world overburdened with rules and regulations, the informality and relaxed go-anywhere atmosphere is a treat to experience.
Geddine is a small rural town nestling in the Ardenne forest. To visitors, it appears to a be a neat and quite prosperous agricultural area - wooded valleys are interspersed with cattle pastures. But for the past twenty years, the town has welcomed racers and motorcyclists from across Europe. Its race course winds its way around just over five kilometres of narrow road centred on a pastoral valley.
The event is embraced by the whole community. The residents set out food and drink facilities in one of the prime spectator spots where the track passes spectacularly through the small village. Can there be a better way to 'go racing' than sitting a couple of metres from riders who are braking hard from a fast straight into a slow corner, while nursing a cold Leffe and nibbling at warm frites?
The Ardenne forest is high and can be subject to a lot of rain. The quantity that falls on Friday and Saturday turns the low lying paddock into a passable facsimile of Glastonbury in a bad weather year. It's complete with significant quantities of straw to make the place passable.
Volunteers are in the parc ferme, washing the mud off bike wheels before they go out on the warm up lap. None of this detracts from the fun and competitive racing.
I'm with companions, Dave and Phil. This is our first visit. Dave is first out of Saturday morning. Returning with bread and croissant and a report of one section of the track he thought would merit a visit once we'd had a relaxed breakfast. We hoped to link up later in the day with Alistair and Katie, Geddine 'veterans' of some six year's attendance.
Dave's assessment of the viewing area is spot on: a series of fast flowing bends through cornfields. You can hear the riders coming out of the wooded area that precedes this section. We watch two races from here while chatting to one of the Marshalls. He tells us he is a retired dock worker from Ostend. He's spent his summers with his mate, towing their caravan around Europe, volunteering at difference race meetings.
The different bikes and classes entered at Geddine provide a fascinating mix that keeps one's interest honed, whether you're out on the track or mooching around the paddock. There's Manx Nortons, Matchless G50s, Drixton Hondas, Patton, Aermacchi, Ducati. There is also more 'up to date' racers such as the Yamaha TZ two strokes and the big Godier Genoud Kawasakis favoured by endurance racers.
The vintage categories are Vincents, an assortment of BSAs, Rudge, Ariel, Panther. There are the European makes such as Moto Guzzi, Benelli, Mondial, and Kreidler. This two-day meeting is big on sidecar entries. They provided entertainment as well as close racing. With BMWs out front, closely challenged by a bevy of Triumphs and Nortons.
You can watch the races around different parts of the course for free. But Dave rightly insists we utilise admission to the main paddock and start line area. These meetings are run entirely by volunteers and rely on us putting our hands in pockets to keep the whole show on the road.
It costs us twenty-five euros for two days racing. But, despite the abysmal sterling to euro exchange rate, getting up close to smell the hot metal and rubber makes it well worth it.
The UK and Irish riders are well represented in the entry. They do a lot of winning, too. We notice the sidecar list is also represented by a good number of women passengers and a couple of all-woman crews. At the prize giving at the end of the weekend's racing, several are on the podium. Good to see.
This is amateur sport at its best - in a beautiful rural setting. The roads open quickly after the final race. Out come a convoy of tractors and fork lifts to remove the hundreds of straw bales around the course. All the farming population must be involved in this cooperative effort to keep the race show on their roads.
We ride a lap with caution to avoid any agricultural collisions. We decided that, whether you're racing at the front, riding for a good weekend's sport, or just enjoying spectating, this is a great place to visit.
The Geddine races are usually held on the third weekend in August. The area is a comfortable day's ride from Calais or the other French ferry ports.
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