The 2022 Tour of Flanders. The start line at Antwerp. Far too early on a Sunday morning for anyone to be anywhere else other than still in bed. But that’s bike racing.
Lotto Soudal swing right away from the river, coming into view of the cathedral and are for the first time in two years greeted by fans at De Ronde.
Florian Vermeersch, the Belgian squad’s oversized and yet babyfaced 23-year-old Paris-Roubaix runner-up, has something in his back pocket. He rolls up onto the podium and retrieves the item he’s carefully smuggled onto the sign-on.
It’s a viking horn. He gives it a lung-busting blast that ricochets back down the street.
“HOOOOOOOFFFF,” the crowd responds in unison. His team-mates look on, slightly bewildered. The Tour of Flanders is back.
But what’s the story behind the horn? Where did it come from? Is Florian Vermeersch okay?!
The answer, he explains, is quite straightforward.
“It’s a little wink to our sponsor Viking Lotto.”
“We describe ourselves as vikings today and we thought it was a fun thing to do, a bit of interaction with the crowd. It was really fun on the stage.”
Admittedly, it was fun, but it’s sad to see this seemingly spontaneous spur of unregulated fun be reduced to a mere yet elaborate sponsorship activation.
But before you write Vermeersch off purely as a corporate shill, bear in mind the answer to this question: How come, with riders like Victor Campenaerts and Tim Wellens in the squad, you were the one who got to blow it?
“Because I am the one who bought it.”
“How much did it cost you?!”
“It’s pretty unique.”
At $50, you’d hope it was one of a kind.
“If we have a good result today it will get a place somewhere in the bus as a memory,” Vermeersch adds, clearly excited by his first Flanders in front of fans, his dreams of riding up spectator-clad cobbled climbs being what inspired him to go pro in the first place.
“I had goosebumps on the podium. Not only from the cold but from the fans,” he continued. “I imagine I will probably have goosebumps a few times.”
Will he be taking the horn with him in the race for a quick toot up the Koppenberg?
“No I don’t think so, it’s not very aero,” Vermeersch smiles. “I think Victor [Campenaerts] will punch me in the face.”