As a symbol, 19 years after their last visit to Zolder, the hundredth edition of the road cycling world championships is taking place in Belgium this year. Between Antwerp and Leuven, the atmosphere promises to be suffocating this Sunday for the men’s race.
You only have to question all the riders of the France team to fully understand. Because in the evocation of these world championships in Belgium, Julian Alaphilippe and others all speak of a true “happiness” to be found to run the most prestigious race of the year in the “Country of the bicycle”.
Thousands of spectators on the side of the roads, crowded terraces from 10 am in the cities, the beer flowing freely, the intoxicating smell of fries and fricadelle. This is the traditional picture of a great bicycle race in Belgium. A painting in “black-yellow-red” colors adorning the flag of this country, already 26 times winner of the supreme title among boys. To spice it up, imagine all the fans who give voice to the point of scratching the record and exploding their vocal cords.
Among them a few days ago in Bruges just before the time trial, the most fervent supporter of the young prodigy Remco Evenepoel, his father Patrick, could only rejoice for his son from Brussels to compete in the worlds at home. “It’s extraordinary, special. It might happen once in 20 years in Belgium. I told him to take advantage of the moment. I told him that there were 100 other Belgians who would like to be in his place. So that he takes his chance, works, and rolls for his country. “
Work and ride in particular for its leader, flahute among the flahutes, the favorite of the race on Sunday, the inevitable Wout Van Aert, aerial at the moment. In particular, winner of three stages on the last Tour de France. For him, playing these Worlds in Belgium obviously has a very special flavor. “I’ve been training for this for two months. It’s my only goal since the Olympics. I have good legs. I am very motivated by the idea of going for the gold. The supporters are ready, the team is ready, we can see the atmosphere starting to rise, it gives a lot of emotion. “
Alaphilippe: “Really nice for cycling lovers”
An atmosphere that will be at its peak this Sunday when madness should therefore take hold of the roadsides. A particular emotion for the Belgians. An atmosphere particularly fond of Julian Alaphilippe, the French, reigning world champion. “A world cycling championship in the land of cycling is going to be a big celebration. It’s going to be really cool for cycling lovers. “
Also impatient, his teammate for the year in brand teams, Florian Sénéchal, in love with Belgium to the point of having established his place of residence there for the year. He is a specialist in Belgian races, known as “Flandriennes” (with cobblestones and mountains), used to this crazy atmosphere. “They know how to party for the bike. It is an audience of enthusiasts, of connoisseurs. It’s incredible the craze here. It’s a bit like a World Cup. It’s a cycling world cup. There is going to see a crazy world. I have the impression that the Belgians were deprived of their bicycles by the roadside for a year with the Covid, and there they will make up for it in a day. It’s going to be the bike party. “
Deprived of a bicycle for a year, the Belgian supporters. But not deprived of ambition. A bit chauvinistic, by the way. With this feeling of déjà vu in the flat country, where passion quickly prevails over reason, whatever the subject. What to encourage the observers to calm and to measure. Samuel Grulois, journalist for the Belgian national radio, remembers a number of football competitions where the scenario went badly for the Red Devils. He knows the even more random nature of a bicycle race. And all the demands of modesty that go with it.
“Because world championships are sometimes a lottery. Remember the Pedersen surprise in 2019. It can happen here given the proposed circuit. There is pressure for the Belgians. There is this horrible expression which says that no one is a prophet in his country. So we will have to manage this enormous media pressure. There is media pressure on Wout Van Aert. For the first time, he feels it. Despite all his experience, he had never felt that way. There is an undoubtedly important mental approach to a successful performance. “
Start at 10:00 am this Sunday of the road race. The camper vans and the tents of the most fervent supporters are already set up by the side of the road. The burst of madness announced will undoubtedly be reminiscent of the Tour of Flanders, which takes place each year at the beginning of April in the north-west of Belgium.