To the casual once-a-year-Tour-de-France-watching-armchair fan I can see why the Tour of Flanders might need some explanation.
“Why is the background so ugly?” that casual fan might be asking. Followed by “where is Chris Froome?”, “why are some pro cyclists walking up that hill?”, and “why does everyone keep talking about food?”
To which the answers are that this is Belgium, and the cycling is tough, gritty, and visceral (I would add the words “epic” and “brutal” but I fear the cliché police will be on to me). Stunning Alpine scenery and sunshine are in short supply here.
Chris Froome is probably on a volcano in Tenerife.
The hills are steep, narrow, and cobbled. If you come to a halt in a bottle-neck you would need to defy the laws of physics to jump back aboard, clip in, and ride from a standing start. Hence the walkers.
And as for the food…well, for those watching the race the chance to gorge on burgers, hot dogs, and frites, is all part of the occasion. It is also written into every commentator’s contract that they must refer to the fact that a cyclist riding close to the baying hordes at the roadside can smell the beer and sausages on their breath.
I’m still waiting for SIS to produce their first “Belgian hot-dog breath” flavoured energy gel. Rapha, of course, are ahead of the game on this. I’m pretty sure if you join their exclusive club you can buy a tiny jar of genuine Belgian breath.
A bargain at £29.99.
And within the race itself you’d be forgiven for wondering why the commentary team were referring to gateaux every five minutes.
Was the sight of Greg Van Avermaet’s brutal suffer-face as Sagan sat coolly on his wheel literally whetting the appetite? Was that tinkling crockery sound in the background evidence of epic Flandrian hospitality in the shape of a dessert trolley rolling repeatedly through the Eurosport commentary box?
Are Eurosport’s Matt Stephens and Carlton Kirby sponsored by Dr Oetker?
Ahhh, wait a minute.
As in Oscar Gatto.
Team Astana’s Italian nearly man featured prominently at the head of the race until his legs turned to jelly (that dessert trolley again?) when things heated up.
A quick Wikipedia reveals that Gatto’s nickname is “Oscar the Cat”. I enjoyed the explanation that: “his surname is the Italian word for cat, and his first name is Oscar.” Personally, I’d figured out where the “Oscar” bit of the nickname came from, but full marks for completeness.Embed from Getty Images
And talking of Italians, it was Vincenzo Nibali who made the decisive move of the race; with nearly thirty kilometres to go the “Shark of Messina” (because he’s from Messina, and he’s actually, biologically, half-shark) made a bold attack.
Niki Terpstra reacted and jumped on Nibali’s wheel. Nibali faded – “quick, someone give him a waffle” a spectator almost certainly shouted from the roadside – and Terpstra rode away, caught and passed the leaders, and delivered twenty-seven calm, clinical, spittle-flecked kilometres to take the win.
As the journalists at the finish bustled for a word with the Dutch winner he staggered around, as if drunk, no doubt suffering from his epic (sorry…there’s no other word) race-winning effort.
Either that, or he took on board one too many gulps of Belgian beer breath and was actually slightly pissed.
Which makes the win all the more impressive.
(Top image: Muur van Geraardsbergen by Tom Cuppens via Flickr)