The Tour is back, and so is Les Eaux du Tour! Each day for the next three weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at the waterways that we only glimpse as the cameras follow the peloton along their route.
We begin in Brussels, Belgium, on the fiftieth anniversary of Eddy Merckx’s first Tour win in 1969 and proceed to Charleroi before looping around to finish back in the capital.
Charleroi lies along the Sambre River, which joins the Meuse at Namur. The Sambre-Meuse Valley is the so-called “Sillon Industriel”, the “Industrial Furrow,” of Belgium. Home to coal deposits, this stretch of Wallonia became the center of Belgium’s steelmaking industry in the 19th century. Getting these products from the Sambre to the bustling port of Antwerp motivated the construction of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal, which we joined today at Ronquières as the peloton raced towards Charleroi.
The modern canal is the result of centuries of improvements, including a rerouting that took place in the early 20th century. The larger modern canal departs from the “Ancien Canal” near Seneffe and follows a more direct route to Ronquières, where a massive inclined plane carries boats down a 223 ft hill on their way towards Brussels.
This inclined plane is similar to the one we saw at Montech a few years ago, but the Ronquières inclined plane uses caissons, big tubs in which the boats sit while they are lifted or lowered, while the Montech water slope has a gate that pushes a wedge of water up the slope.