Ahead of a weekend that has seen some of the world’s top cyclists in action in London in the Olympic road races, the man many consider to be the greatest of all, Eddy Merckx, rolled into town at the head of a group ride from Brussels, his arrival timed to coincide with the opening of Belgium House and the Belgian Cycling Paradise in Middle Temple.
Merckx may be widely considered as cycling royalty as a result of his long list of victories in the Grand Tours and Classics among other races, but actual royalty was on hand to greet him and his fellow riders, in the shape of Prince Philippe, heir apparent to the Belgian throne, and his wife Princess Mathilde.
Those accompanying Merckx on his ride included his son Axel, while British cyclists including Andy Cook linked up with the group on this side of the Channel to lead them through Kent and into London.
The country’s prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, was among the other dignitaries present and gave the speech that formally opened Belgium House, which has taken over the historic Middle Temple Hall, which for the next fortnight will play host to athletes and sports fans rather than the judges and barristers who have frequented it for more than 400 years.
The building is described on the Middle Temple website as “perhaps the finest example of an Elizabethan Hall in the country” and “virtually unaltered to the present day” since it was built in the 1560s.
Now, however it has temporarily been transformed into a venue to watch Olympic action and enjoy Belgian hospitality including beer, frites and waffles, as well as a big screen to follow the Olympic action and it will also host interviews with athletes - here, Merckx recounts his ride from Brussels.
There’s also music on offer, including from the resident Belgium House Band, who on Friday performed a rendition of the country’s national anthem that began slowly but built into a full-blown power ballad, a bit of a contrast with Lesley Garrett’s rendition of God Save The Queen in Paris last Sunday.
It costs £5 to get in, but be warned, it can get busy – we’re aware that on Saturday, at least one road.cc user who paid a visit after watching the men’s road race was disappointed to be turned away, the venue unsurprisingly packed with people who had themselves been following what is after all a huge sport in Belgium.
If you are planning on visiting, it’s therefore worth keeping an eye on the Belgium House Twitter feed which also provides information regarding various events and appearances from athletes – Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert both dropped in today.
Fountain Court outside Middle Temple Hall meanwhile hosts the Cycling Paradise, free to enter, and where thanks to Tacx turbo trainers you can test yourself on sections of races including Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Flanders.
Belgium House is open from 11am to 2am and the Cycling Paradise from 11am to 7pm daily until 12 August.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.