A guide to the Tour de France
TheGrand Départ of the Tour de France 2019 is in Brussels, with a road stage starting and finishing there, and a team time trial within the city.
Christian Prudhomme notes that the Tour de France has visited Belgium on 47 occasions. (It has started in Brussels on four previous occasions - in 1958, 1975, 2004, and 2012 - and visited Brussels 10 times before).
This is the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the yellow jersey (Tour of 1919), and some great riders have taken it in Belgium. Jacques Anquetil took it for the first time in 1957; Eddy Merckx wore it for the first time in 1969, in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre; Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have also worn yellow in Belgium.
Philippe Close, Mayor of Brussels, notes that the Grand Départ 2019 is an opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first of Eddy Merckx's five Tour de France victories.
On a stage of the 1969 Tour de France from Luchon to Mourenx, Eddy Merckx beat his competitors by more than 8 minutes. He went on to win the GC that year. It was the beginning of the era of 'Merckxisme', and the rider they called 'le Cannibale' went on to win the Tour five times, winning 34 stages along the way.
Saturday 6th July 2019
The Grand Départ in 2019 is in Brussels, Belgium. On Stage 1, the riders head west out of Brussels via Anderlecht, reaching the Muur van Geraardsbergen after 43km. The Muur is rapidly followed by the Bosberg. The route continues on anti-clockwise tour south of Brussels, reaching Charleroi (geographical 6' o'clock). Then it's north via Waterloo and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, on the way back to the finish in Brussels.
Read about Stage 1, Tour de France 2019.
Stage 2 is a team time trial in Brussels, starting at the Palais Royal de Bruxelles, and finishing at the Atomium. The teams will be on wide streets, with sweeping curves rather than tight, technical corners. There are 'false flats', but no steep hills. The course should therefore favour a team of powerful rouleurs.
Read about Stage 2, Tour de France 2019.
Stage 3 of the Tour de France 2019.
Read about Stage 3 of the 2019 Tour de France.
Grand Place, Brussels
Brussels is a City in the Brussels-Capital Region. It's called Bruxelles in French, and Brussel in Flemish. It is neither part of French-speaking Wallonia, nor part of Flanders, but is an enclave within Flanders. In this way, it is a 'neutral' capital for both parts of Belgium.
Historically, it was Flemish-speaking; in the late C19th, there was a shift to French; technically, it is bi-lingual.
Brussels is on the river Senne. The name of the city probably derives from the Old Dutch broeksel, meaning marsh.
It is home to most of the institutions of the European Union, as well as the HQ of NATO. It's also a financial centre.
Brussels began with a chapel on an island in the Senne around 580. In 979, Duke Charles built a permanent fortification on the island. It was on a trade route between Bruges and Ghent, and its population expanded as a result; it specialised in textiles.
In 1183, Brussels became part of Brabant, within the Holy Roman Empire. In the late C15th, it lost its independence, but became capital of the Burgundian Netherlands, under the Habsburg Emporer.
In 1695, King Louis XIV of France bombarded Brussels, and much of the city, including the Grand Place, was destroyed.
From 1713, Brussels was part of the Austrian Netherlands, under the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family. In 1795, it was conquered by Napoléon, then after the Corsican's defeat in 1815, it joined the Netherlands under William of Orange.
Belgium became a country in its own right in 1830, and King Leopold I reigned from 1831.
Brussels was occupied by German troops in World War I and World War II.
Among the sights of Brussels is the Royal Palace, where the King of Belgium performs his functions. The Royal Family actually live in the Royal Castle of Laeken.
The Grand Place is at the heart of Brussels, and it's surrounded by impressive, historic buildings, with a mix of styles including Gothic and Baroque. The Grand Place is given a flower carpet in August.
The Manneken Pis is a small, bronze statue of a boy peeing.
The Atomium is outside the centre of Brussels, at Heysel. It was built for a 1958 Expo, and has nine steel spheres connected by tubes. It represents an iron crystal. Nearby is the Mini-Europe park, with models of famous European buildings.
Museums include the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Musical Instruments Museum. There's also a Comic Strip Centre.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire has an impressive triumphal arch at its eastern end. This is part of a U-shaped complex of buildings commissioned for the 1880 National Exhibition, commemorating fifty years of Belgian independence. (The current arch was only put up in 1905). Either side of the arch are museums - the Royal Military Museum on the northern side, and Autoworld and an Art & History Museum to the south.
The EU institutions based in Brussels include the European Commission (Berlaymont building) and the Council of the EU. The European Parliament holds many of its sessions at the hemicycle in Brussels, although it also meets at its formal seat in Strasbourg.
Brussels is well-known for chocolate, waffles, and chips and mayonnaise. You can also enjoy moules-frites.
There is a wide range of beers in most bars, including the traditional lambic - fermented in brewery attics with naturally-occurring yeasts. When cherries are added to lambic, you get kriek. There are also many strong beers originally developed and brewed by monks.
Anderlecht is a suburb of Brussels. Delhaize, the biggest supermarket group in Belgium, has its head office in Anderlecht.
RSC Anderlecht (a football club, not an acting troupe performing Shakespeare) has its stadium in Astrid Park. It's the most successful Belgian football team. The lowest point in their history may be a UEFA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in 1983-4 season, when the referee awarded an extra-time penalty, but there are suspicions of skullduggery.
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