2 April 2017
He was ascending the Oude Kwaremont. There was still 55 kilometres to go in the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders. Boonen told him to to take the lead and he did. When he looked over his shoulder, there was no one in his wheel. Panic. What to do next? Should he wait for the others? Or should he continue on his own? Without any help, just his own legs to count on. In the final there is still the Oude Kwaremont and the Patersberg to climb again. Hesitation. He screamed in his earphone.
“What should I do?”
When they told him to continue on his own, he did. How was he supposed to know that it would become the biggest time trial of his life? He was nervous, he was asking more than once how many seconds the others were behind. Meanwhile, his legs were doing the job.
Woosh, woosh, woosh, woosh.
There goes the national champion of Belgium. His last monument was in 2014. The Amstel Gold Race. This is Flanders. This is different. This is climbing, bad roads, cobblestones, heavy lungs beating in his chest. This was one of the monuments that he was still dreaming about. He suffered on the climb of the Oude Kwaremont. Thousands of people along the road were cheering for him. “You can do it, Gilbert.” He looked over his shoulder again. What happened? How many seconds? He shouted to the man on the motor…
Combien de secondes?
Dis moi, je veux savoir!
Fourty-five seconds. Fourty-five seconds. Sagan crashed, Van Avermaet crashed too and was hurt, but still chasing. He knew he had to keep going. If Van Avermaet got to him, he was not sure about the victory anymore.
Woosh, woosh. Woosh. Woosh.
He suffered, but he kept going. There was not another option. He could almost feel his heart beating in his throat. All those people along the roads waving with the Belgium flag. For him. Only one kilometre to go. Another look over his shoulder. There was no one in his wheel. The finish line was getting closer and closer. It was only a few metres away when he got off his bike. He held it above his head and stepped over the finish line.
The winner of the Tour of Flanders is named Philippe Gilbert, 34 years old. Going to Quick Step Floors was his last chance to win a monumental race again. Last week he already showed that he was not an outsider, but one of the favorites for the win. The victory of today has proven that he was the strongest of them all.
© Joris Knapen