The Belgian sports media has so much to sink its teeth into right now; the newspaper supplements are screaming football play-offs, Clijsters’ comeback and of course ‘wielergekken’.
The latter refers to people who are simply crazy about cycling. With the Spring Classics in full swing the public are fully occupied with following the form of the top favourites, building their Megabike teams (think fantasy football league but for cycling) and planning their weekends around the crucial race viewing hours; 80% of Belgians viewed the Ronde last weekend!
Of course every true Belgian stands behind a Belgian rider, be it Boonen, Devolder, Roelandts or another, but that is not to say that there is no respect or support for the other contenders; in fact it is quite the opposite.
After the Schelderprijs on Wednesday Cancellera attended his supporters’ ‘feest’ in Koningshooikt where his Flanders fan club is based; the street was shut and the party warmly welcomed the enthusiastic Belgian media.
He is not alone though, many riders are adopted by the Belgians through sheer respect and admiration for their commitment, dedication and resulting top performances. Our own Adam Blythe has been a recent media sensation following his outstanding domestique performances for Gilbert; maybe soon he will have a swelling supporters club!
It is true that everyone loves a winner- the fickle media more so than anyone else, they are the first to complain about the current Belgian victory drought, closely followed by the ex-pros. But the supporters stand by their ‘man’ through the bad times too. It seems that the accessibility of the sport means that the athletes are not raised on a pedestal but viewed as human beings by the majority of the public. You can be forgiven for being a ‘geek’ if you adopt such a mentality when selecting your ‘idol’!
Emma is a professional cyclist for the Red Sun team in Belgium