Monday morning and I felt sleazy. I was desperate. I had left Belgium just as the race ended and arrived in St Quentin late in the evening. After breakfast I slunk back to my room. I turned the key in the door and drew the curtins. A quick search using the usual reliable search terms drew a blank and I was forced to draw a route blindly using Strava explorer. I felt dirty and out of my depth. It was like using Tinder for the first time after a long term relationship has broken down.
Two hours later I was 40km from St Quentin surrounded by beautiful rolling hills punctuated with small clusters of trees. The sun was warm and I stopped at a field that commanded beautifully views of the countryside. I came accross a fellow Irish man, J McClurry. I sat and told him about the race…
Cycling had brought me and hundreds of Brits, French and Belgians with a scaterring of Candians, Australians, Yanks and a handful of Germans to an unremarkable but strategically significant field in Flanders. We all chatted, drank, sang and cheered as the Tour of Flanders unfolded before us.
‘Gilbert!’ a voice cries behind me. I turn. A man-machine darts from the woods on the Oude-Kwaremont like a missle. In profile Phillippe Gilbert’s Belgian jersy shines bright as a ray of seemingly divine sunlight pierces the clouds and lights him like a floodlight as he plumpets down the shaded country lane. There was no hesitstion, no pause in his peddaling as he distances the motorcycle that is shadowing him.
He disappears behind a house and emerges on the Patterberg to the roar of the fans. Head up, face grimacing , his eyes are fix on the horizon, his bike points skyward, the hill at 12 percent. Heart,lungs, legs, cranks, chain and wheels all one.. Man-machine drive up the hill. Pure phlogiston.The Dancer inseperable from the Dance.
He passes, the Belgian champions Jersy fixed forever in my mind.
Then I hear the hounds. Van Avermaet at the head. Nostrils flaring, salivating at the scent. 53 seconds Tally ho! More hounds pass. Sagan head bowed and determined. A bloodied Luke Rowe seemingly unaware that he had left a piece of his jersy, half his bibsorts and some of his ass somewhere on the Flandrian cobbles.
Then the rest. Their minds already on the next race. They are urged on by the inpatient brightly dressed masters of the hounds. Horns blaring and engines reving. A car stalls unable to deal with the gradient. Retired hounds dash out of team cars and swarm on the stricken vehicle. Each shouts a different instruction as to how best the others might push start the car. The drivers lean and shout through open windows. They seem the most confident that the solution is easy and that no delay is necessary. It stuck me as terrible ill luck that all the best car pushers had been designated to drive team cars for the day.
Something else brought J Mc Clurry, hundreds of Brits, French, Belgians, a scaterring of Candians, Australians, Yanks and a handful of Germans (1379 in total) to this other unremarkable but apparently strategically significant Flandrian field 100 years ago and they have remained here ever since.
And so it is with the great gratitude and respect and no sense of sarcasam that I say
Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria cycle
Bravo Gilbert! Meci Mc Clurry!