The Lion of Flanders and Being Aero
It’s the classics season and that means two things: lions and aerodynamics.
It’s classics season again and you know what that means. No, not curb to curb crashes, or drunken shenanigans from the locals. I mean the iconic flag that is virtually the symbol of these springtime classics – the Lion of Flanders.
As fans of cycling we’re all familiar with this iconic image, a black lion with red claws and tongue on a yellow background. However, as with all flags there is symbolism behind the Lion of Flanders.
There are two different types of Lion of Flanders flags and as a fan of cycling you want to make sure you buy the correct version. The lion with the red claws and tongue is the flag that is most commonly seen flying at races. However, don’t mix this up with the all black lion. This all black Lion of Flanders is a symbol of a separatist movement of Flanders that wants to remove itself from the Belgian government.
From here the symbolism of the all black lion gets murkier depending on whom you talk to. The all black lion is associated with a right-wing political group. If you wave it around indiscriminately you could be headed for a rather heated political discussion that you want no part of. Today, the red claw and tongue lion is the official Lion of Flanders, but occasionally the all black lion is also used in conjunction with the “official” Lion of Flanders.
Understanding the Lion of Flanders requires a brief lesson on Belgium. The country is basically split into two distinct areas: the northern Flemish part, in which the population speaks Dutch, and in the south we have the Wallons, who speak French.
Tensions between these two groups occasionally flared up and until 1967 the Belgian constitution had still not been translated from French into Dutch, giving the impression to the Flemish that the Dutch speaking natives were second class citizens.
To muddy the explanation even more there is another term used almost interchangeably – Flandrien, which is a derogatory term for the people from the north of France. There was a lot of poverty in these areas at the beginning of the 20th century and the people from Flanders went to work in northern France. The French thought they were taking jobs away from their own people and sarcastically called them “ les Flanderiens .” These Flanderiens were stereotypically considered hard workers. This term was picked up and romanticized to describe the Flemish cyclists.
Many years ago when I traveled to Roubaix, I cheered “Go Belgium” to a bunch of local fans who were waving Lion of Flanders flags. I was told rather brusquely that they were not Belgian but Flemish. Whoops, my bad, and I quickly slunk away before they decided to hang me from the nearest lamppost.
So when you are in Belgium and you spot the roadside vendor on the Muur, thanks to RoadCycling.com you now know which version of the Lion of Flanders flag to spend your Euros on. Oh, and pick one up for me as well.
While we’re on the