It’s the end of a long day. Three friends are celebrating at their local pub in a small Flemish town. They’re discussing the day’s big event, De Ronde van Vlaanderen, Belgium’s Super Bowl. They saw the race come through town before watching the final few hours on the pub’s TV.

Josh, the oldest of the three, is a big fan of Tom “Tomeke” Boonen and his teammate Phil Gilbert. His buddy Marc, a little worse for wear, has been rooting all day for native son Greg Van Avermaet. While the youngest of the three, Jean-Pierre, has been a huge Peter Sagan supporter ever since the Slovak rider won De Ronde a year ago.

Like thousands of other Belgians, the three friends put bets on their favorites that morning. Josh, who came up trumps with Gilbert, is paying for the drinks tonight. And he can’t stop talking about his hero’s amazing long solo breakaway that won him the race.

“I knew it was going to be a good day for me when Tomeke made that attack on the Muur,” says Josh. “and Phil was right up there!”

“That’s true,” admits Jean-Pierre, “but remember what the commentators said? They said Peter couldn’t get through because there were a couple of crashes on the steep part of the Muur. He did try to catch the Boonen group on the descent, but no one would work with him. And he had to wait for some teammates.”

“Well, there were still about 100 kilometers to go,” Marc joins in, “so it was too early to panic. And Greg was in that chase with Sagan. He’s pretty smart and had some of his BMC teammates with him.”

“Yeah, the gap was less than a minute when they reached the Oude Kwaremont,” Jean-Pierre says. “And when Phil dropped all the others in that lead group, it seemed a crazy move with so far to go. I still felt Peter would come through.”

“Well, he did look strong,” admits Josh, “especially when he accelerated on the Taaienberg. You know, just after Tomeke’s chain jammed.”

“Yeah, Greg was also looking strong,” Marc chimes in. “I was sure that working with Sagan they’d catch Phil. And the gap was still less than a minute when they hit the Kwaremont again.”

“I thought Peter was just waiting for those last two climbs,” says Jean-Pierre. “Remember how he jumped away on the Kwaremont last year and then dropped Vanmarcke on the Paterberg?”

“Well, he was sure going the fastest up the Kwaremont today,” Josh says. “Phil also looked strong there, even though he’d been out on his own for so long.”

“And then everything fell apart!” Marc shouts over the din of rising voices and clinking glasses. “I still can’t believe that Sagan crashed like that and brought Greg down.”

“We’ve seen the replays a million times and I still don’t know what happened,” Josh says. “Did Sagan’s bars get caught by that jacket? Or did he just clip the foot of the barriers? It all happened so fast….”

And we’ll never know whether he and Greg would’ve caught Phil,” adds Jean-Pierre.

Images: Chris Auld

Words: John Wilcockson

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