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The man with the tray of Jupiler spilled the beers and the blond girls reached their thin arms out over the road, as if to hold onto the passing air.
Team group message, 2:48 PM
“Is Phinney out of the bike race?”
Sound came up the corridor of fans and over the cobblestones and off the Kappelmuur in a rising wave, rolling over as Tom Boonen led over the top. The moment distorted time.
Sep Vanmarcke was there, where he was supposed to be. As corners before corners decide the classics, days before the day decide these moments. It isn’t destiny. It’s more premeditated than an ethereal map. “Quick-Step will attack on the Muur,” Director Andreas Klier said into the radio during the recon ride. “It’s 100k out from the finish? I don’t care. You will see.”
The teenagers on the hillside saw, same as the statue on the cross above them, same as the man with the spilled beers and old woman with the dog in her arms. Same as me.
I saw Flanders rookie Tom Scully’s empty face as he took a bidon from my hand. I saw the soigneurs running to the cars and the little faces of children given a team bottle. Time came back.
What’s App, 3:41 PM
“Sep give up.”
Ten more text messages, most of them one word only. On the course, the race comes to you frame by frame. You stitch together what you can between sightings.
The club remix of an announcer calling out Tom Boonen’s 2005 Worlds victory is pounding off the brick walls and the VIPs are passing glasses of champagne over the fences to the pretty women dancing at all the corner of the Steenbeekdries cobblestones. They demand to have their photos taken but the color is gone from Flanders for us in the moments after Vanmarcke abandons. The wave of sound comes again and it chases Gilbert out of the corner; he is perfect in those moments, all alone amid the flags.
But the next jersey on the road is green. We’re back.
Dylan van Baarle pushes his pedals over, dragging Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline with him. He takes the left-hander close to the barriers, so close to the fans they could touch him. The fans and racers belong to one another, attached for a tenth of a second but far longer, in memory and photographs. I scream at Dylan, outside of my own body then, too.
COME ON DYLAN. COME ON. COME ON.
He goes, long arms and legs moving over the cobblestones but uninterrupted by their presence. Come on, Dylan.
Klier’s voice comes through the race radio in the same tone he uses over coffee. The signal cuts in and out, but amid the rasps he only gives simple information. Time gap, who’s chasing. A man in a sweater walking by hears the radio and looks at me. “Klier?” he wonders.
Along the roadside, we’re still trying to stitch the quilt of the race: what’s happened, who is where, who can win. Can we still win?
Gilbert again. Then the van Baarle group. His eyes look at the bottle in my hand but his hands don’t move. A quick car ride and a kilometer run and the finish line TVs show what we’ve been guessing all day. Gilbert on the TV, then Gilbert in person, though he’s never seen again, only his comet of pursuers.
Van Baarle, fourth. He folds over his top tube. I touch his back and it’s soaking wet; Salt lines on his face and black shorts, the stories of the day written all over his slender body. How is there blood on his legs?
A bandaged hand pulls the curtains of the bus away, and Sep emerges. He limps to a team car and goes to the hospital. Inside, Taylor Phinney is lying down, smaller than his normal towering self. We talk about concussion protocol. I learn van Baarle had three bike changes. That Sebastian Langeveld was in good position on the Taaienberg, but someone crashed into him. He needed a bike, but the cars weren’t close.
And like this, the still frames of the day come together. In a few days it’ll be an old movie we return to and remember both as it was and wasn’t.
About the author
Matthew Beaudin worked for VeloNews for three road seasons, from 2012-2014, covering the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and spring classics as a journalist. He spent 2015 working for Rapha in content and social media, and is now communications director for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter. His work can also be found on the Cannondale Pro Cycling Instagram and Twitter accounts.