In pro-cycling, the Amstel Gold Race is one of the three Ardennes classics. Despite being in Holland. Not the Ardennes.
It’s a great race named after a s**t beer. It’s also known for it’s ‘bergs’ – a series of short sharp climbs that split and splinter the field and give the race it’s character.
More than a couple of dozen of these climbs punctuate the 200+ kilometres of the race, ranging from the benign to the ridiculous; some are mere bumps in the road, other kick up to 20% and more.
Pre-race, the question on most lips was whether Greg Van Avermaet could continue his stellar run of form?
Would he be in contention for the win just like at every one of his last several hundred races?
Or would the law of averages kick in?
Surely, at some point, Greg’s legs will get tired?
And so it was, with the race approaching the business end, Van Avermaet was rolling around on the bike, seemingly spent, like…well…me exiting the mid-ride café after a particularly large slice of sponge cake.
“Café legs” for me, “won Paris-Roubaix last week” legs for Greg so, on balance, we should probably give him a break.
Which is exactly what Philippe Gilbert has had recently. But still, as far as I could tell, very few people picked him to win.
Due to some painstaking research I knew differently; I was confident I had pinpointed the reason for his success so far in 2017.
Socks.Embed from Getty Images
I’m no ‘rules’ obsessive but there are many ways to wear the right socks. By extension, there is no right way to wear socks in the colours of a flag.
Your nationality or anyone else’s. No matter how long or short.
Call me a snob. Call me an idiot. Call me a fashion icon. Whatever.
Flag socks are wrong.
At E3 Harelbeke in late March Gilbert finished second to Greg Van Avermaet, and at that point was without a win all year.
The sight of a great champion, wearing a pair of Belgian flag socks so ugly as to leave me begging for more adverts to interrupt the Eurosport coverage, moved me to issue the following:
Not the smartest, wittiest, or most interesting Tweet, but I think I made my point.
By the Three Days of De Panne the socks are gone, and Gilbert wins.
Next up is the Tour of Flanders, mercifully the Belgian flag socks remain on lockdown – perhaps lost at the bottom of the Quick-Step washing basket, who knows? – and Gilbert wins.
He sits out Paris-Roubaix and returns for Amstel Gold; the socks are plain and the outcome is never in doubt.
Some may have been screaming at the TV screen as Kwiatkowsi appeared to get the jump in final sprint, but I knew otherwise. I sat relaxed, swigging a cold beer (not Amstel…), confident that Gilbert was correctly socked and a shoe-in for the win.
An unfortunate kidney injury has now ruled him out for the foreseeable, but those three sock-assisted wins provide more than enough evidence for my theory.
Bad socks make bad cyclists.
I know it. You know it. And now Philippe Gilbert knows it.
(Top Image, Merckx winning Amstel Gold: By Peters, Hans / Anefo –  Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (Anefo), 1945-1989 Access number: 2.24.01.05 File number: 927-8337, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51703284)