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July 05, 2004

Battle of the Belge

Guardian Unlimited Sport | Special reports | No end in sight to Belgian cycling's 28 years of hurt

A column in the UK Guardian outlines what the author calls the "sorry state" of Belgian cycling. He points out that the cycling-mad country hasn't won the Tour since Lucien van Impe in 1976, and that there are only 8 Belgians in the race (initially 7, bolstered by Peter Farazijn's emergency start).

There are high hopes of a young man called Tom Boonen, riding here for the Quickstep team, but his rather lame attempt to win the final intermediate sprint of the day suggests he is some way from fulfilling them.

If he was a football coach talking about my team, this comment would go up on my bulletin board. I'm picking Tom Boonen to win tomorrow's stage; he's got plenty of talent, the motivation of home turf, and it's a slightly technical finish that I think works against Alessandro Petacchi.

Of Belgium's welcome for the Tour:

The hamlet of Saint Denis la Bruyere had put up a huge model of the Titanic, although they did not make it clear what it symbolised: possibly the apparently unsinkable Tour foundering on the largely unseen iceberg of doping - of which the current cases are merely the visible tip - or the painful shipwreck of Belgian cycling in the post-Merckx era.

Interestingly, the same topic came up during OLN's coverage, and the best reason Bob Roll could come up with was the pressure on young Belgians with cycling potential.

I would make the case that Belgian cycling has suffered a latter-day Flanders Fields, and have lost a generation of competitors to “unexplained heart attacks” widely attributed to EPO use.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 5, 2004 in About the Tour | Permalink

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