Flandriens have a justifiable reputation for being the most uncompromising racers in the peloton. A breed that let their cycling do the talking and definitely not one you would expect to be overly preoccupied with the minutiae of their appearance.
As Johan Museeuw observed, when asked what makes a Flandrien: “[As a Flandrien] you have to not be so very correct on the bike. Now everyone is always correct on the bike: a good position; good clothing; nice helmet; nice sunglasses. That’s not a real Flandrien.”
The very notion of ‘cycling chic’ would leave Museeuw and his ilk spluttering into their Duvel, shaking their heads with undisguised disdain, which makes it all the more surprising that a provincial optician, Optiek Van Gorp, based in the town of Beerse in the north-eastern Belgian region of Kempen, has become one of the leading suppliers of customised sunglasses.
This is a geographical area where cyclists are inclined to wear shades not to protect against the glare, but to parry the rain and sand or flying insects, sent hurtling out of control by the fierce winds that whip off the North Sea.
The harsh, flat moorlands of the Kempen is where the Flandrien excels; it’s not a place for popinjays on two wheels, but in 2010 Sanne Cant, a rising star of cyclo-cross, and obviously a young woman who liked to look the part when pummelling her rivals into the Belgian mud, strolled into Van Gorp after a pair of Oakleys, but not just any pair.
She wanted them customised to match the black, gold and red of her recently acquired Belgian national cyclo-cross champion jersey.
“At that time we were already one of the biggest Oakley dealers in Belgium,” says Optiek Van Gorp’s Ruben Vanderheyden. “Our name was widely known, especially in the cyclo-cross and road cycling communities.
“It’s a pretty small world and a lot of famous riders originate from Kempen. Word quickly got around and more and more requests started to pop up.”
Van Gorp were quick to seize the opportunity to extend their repertoire and provide a unique, bespoke service for sportsmen and women. For an optician based in an unassuming Belgian town, they now boast an enviable client list from the world of cycling, including Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Greg Van Avermaet and triple World Cyclo-cross Champion, Wout Van Aert. Tom Pidcock is a huge fan and even Sir Bradley and Lady Cathy Wiggins made a trip across the Channel to order a pair of his ‘n’ hers.
It’s not just the professional cyclists who want to nail those all-important little details and Van Gorp have enjoyed expanding the service and collaborating with customers on an eclectic mix of designs.
“You name it, we’ve made it,” says Vanderheyden. “We’re a small team and all of us have our own speciality. We have two main artists; an air-brusher with years of experience in bike and helmet painting and the other is a custom paint specialist with a background in vintage and custom cars.”
As with all customisation, the more complex or involved the design, the higher the cost and lead time, but Van Gorp have the requisite skill and experience to ensure your shades are painted to your exacting demands.
So whether you wear your shades on the outside or inside of your helmet straps, Van Gorp can transform them to match your bike, club or team colours or if you really want to cut a dash, camouflage and graffiti are perennial favourites.
It’s unlikely the day will come when the Lion of Flanders sports a pair of Van Gorp’s customised shades, but with a clutch of World Champions and multiple Classics winners on their client list, you are in good company . . . but just don’t call yourself a Flandrien.
More details about Optiek Van Gorp’s custom service can be found on their Eyesport website.