As a sport, professional cycling attracts some interesting characters. Unfortunately, in recent days the sport lost one of those characters, on his 91st birthday.
For many, Belgian Lucien Blyau’s name is one they were unaware of — understandable, given a scarcity of coverage in English-language media.
However many in the professional peloton knew him well, and respected him greatly. Blyau was a dedicated and passionate cycling fan, a man who went far beyond simply cheering from the roadside.
Hailing from Everbeek, Belgium, Blyau was a welcome sight to the riders of the peloton — and especially to the grupetto of the Tour de France. Dressed in the green and yellow of the now defunct Colstrop team, his campervan flying a huge flag adorned with “Cri! Qui? Les Lions,” he was easy to pick out.
As riders rode by, Lucien Blyau would hand up miniature cans of Coca Cola to all who needed them. He was a roadside presence the peloton could rely upon. This was his summer holiday tradition, and had been since 1975. It was his way of interacting with the professional peloton after injury scuppered his own chances of a contract.
The 91-year-old from Everbeek sadly passed away on August 16, his 91st birthday.
— Benoît Vaugrenard (@benvaugrenard) August 17, 2016
— Peter SagFan (@Peter_SagFan) July 19, 2016
The Tour’s roadside is the prime place to catch the colour and action of the sport’s biggest race. Many fans flock to the French roads year after year, eager to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Lucien Blyau was one of these, though he was also different, cut from a different cloth. Perhaps it was his age, or the era in which he grew up, but it’s clear from reading obituaries and articles on Blyau that he held a greater respect for the riders than what we see on TV from some supporters today.
— Ilse Hindryckx (@hinland) June 25, 2016
— conderaertshugo (@tbrakeltbe) June 24, 2016
Every cycling spectator has seen the small percentage of “fans” that run alongside riders, dressed in costumes, having their own little bit of TV time. Maybe they are wrapped up in the excitement, or perhaps they desperately crave a small piece of the limelight.
The huge frustration and danger that these people can cause to riders has been viewed many times, with riders pushing and even punching these fans at times, shoving them back in to the crowd.
Lucian Blyau, though, was on the other side of the spectrum. He was not a man who lusted after a fleeting moment of fame. Rather, his presence at the Tour, and other events, wasn’t about him at all, but about those he helped. He attended the races to aid riders in his small way when they needed that extra little bit of energy, not for the adulation or attention.
Because of that, he was greatly appreciated and many paid tribute to him after his passing.
Former Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) was among them.
“I sure knew him. He was hilarious. Always there at the right moment, exactly when you needed him,” he told CyclingTips. “My thoughts are with him and his family. He is somebody which I will always remember. He had passion for cycling.”
New Zealand’s Greg Henderson (Lotto-Soudal) was in agreement.
“I can tell you he always saved a few cans of Coke for the grupetto,” Henderson said. “He knew we were suffering to make the time cut. Not one person in the grupetto in the Grand Tours has not grabbed a life-saving can of Coke off him.”
Although he wasn’t flashy or as memorable to fans as Didi The Devil, he was still a part of the patchwork of colour of the race. He’d use his own money to pay for the huge numbers of Cokes he handed out each day, sometimes as many as 60. His reason? He was passionate about the sport and happy to give a helping hand.
In a modern era where tainted beef or a spiked bottle of energy drink can ruin a rider’s career and a team’s image, the fact that so many riders were ready to take a drink from a (relative) stranger speaks volumes for his character and the trust he built up with riders through the years.
— Cafe Welkom (@CafeWelkom) July 23, 2015
— Sep Vanmarcke (@sepvanmarcke) August 17, 2016
Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) was another rider who valued Blyau’s small but important role in the cycling world.
“Although I did not know Lucien personally, I can really say he was an emblematic figure in the world of cycling. A real passionate person who seemed to love cycling and cyclists.
“For Lucien there were no differences in team colours. And I can’t recall how many times grabbing a can of Coke from him has made my day.”
— Fabian cancellara (@f_cancellara) August 17, 2016
Australian Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) joined Degenkolb, Roche, and his teammate Henderson in paying tribute.
“I knew him. He always had the flag. He was at every race. I’ve had at least 50 cans of Coke off him,” Hansen said.
With the Belgian gone, is there anyone who might take up his mantle? Is it even possible? Has today’s generation of riders grown too suspicious? Has today’s generation of fans, so intent on taking selfies and getting themselves on the screen, grown too self-centered? Is there a face in the crowd that can earn trust to the level that Lucien had? While we hope so, it’s hard to imagine.
Either way, it’s safe to say that the roadside will be less colourful without his presents, and the riders a little more weary at the finish line without that miniature can of life-saving Coke.
The staff at Cyclingtips would like to extend our sincere condolences to Lucien Blyau’s family and friends, as well as to express our gratitude for his contributions to the sport we all cherish.