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Brussels celebrates Tour de France Grand Départ with 100 days of festivities
Belgians' enduring love affair with bicycles is confirmed by Tour de France stats: France is the only country to have won the Tour more times (35) than Belgium (18). Eddy Merckx won more yellow jerseys (111) than anyone else. Of the 105 Tours, 47 have travelled through Belgian territory, including 10 incursions into Brussels.
This year is the 106th edition of the race and it's the 100th anniversary of the yellow jersey as well as the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx's first yellow jersey victory. To celebrate all of that, the Grand Départ this year will take place in Brussels - the first Brussels Grand Départ since 1958 on Saturday 6 July (Brussels-Charleroi-Brussels 192 km) starting in Molenbeek, followed by a time trial in Brussels on Sunday 7 July that will travel through Brussels, Etterbeek, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Auderghem, Watermael-Boitsfort, Ixelles, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Schaerbeek.
The weekend's festivities will start on Wednesday 3 July including the inauguration of a Fan Park and the finale of the Belgian Championship of the Eddy Merckx Game. But you won't have to wait until July to get in the spirit since the festivities start 100 days before - on 28 March.
On that first weekend, there will be ceremonies and events across Brussels including many appearances by Eddy Merckx, the inauguration of Square Eddy Merckx in his home borough of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, a vintage car exhibition, a sneak preview of the movie La Grande Messe at two UGC venues followed by a plethora of activities on the Place de Brouckère that will continue all weekend including a 50m circuit staked out for hand bike, slow bike and wheeling races.
Daredevils will be able to try their hands at extreme biking with introductory sessions on a pumptrack. There will also be pedal carrousels, roaming musicians, street artists, a vintage market selling retro cycling articles, and food bikes will be serving food all day long.
Two official interactive exhibitions which will run until 14 July will also be inaugurated. On Saturday 30 March will be the 33rd edition of the Great Loop 24-hour Bike Race in which 6,000 participants take part in the relay race on customized bikes in the Bois de la Cambre, with the starting gun to be fired by Eddy Merckx.
On 26 April a special foot race will take place between Grand-Place, Brussels and Binche, where the third stage of the Tour is due to start on 8 July.
Starting on 17 May, with only 50 days to go, Brussels will have another weekend of events highlighted by a musical retrospective and dance party on Place de Brouckère on Saturday and a celebration of International World Bicycle Day on Sunday at Cinquantenaire Park. Even Manneken Pis will get into the act by wearing his yellow jersey for three days in a row whereas normally he wears a costume for only four or five hours.
Among other events throughout April, May and June which will have special tour related accents are Belgian Pride, Cyclonudista, Roller Bike Parade, I Love Science Festival, the Brussels Short Film Festival, BXL Tour and the European Cycle Messenger Championships.
The Tour (the third biggest world event in terms of spectators) is looking for 3,000 volunteers aged 16 and up to join the Tour de France family and make sure everything runs smoothly for the Grand Départ. Sign up at www.brusselsgranddepart.com/letour/tour-makers
If you would like to enjoy the event in special comfort, there are various VIP packages available. For all details on all events, see www.brusselsgranddepart.com