Look, I know we live in interesting times, maybe a bit intense, as evidenced by the fact that I have declared multiple Cycling emergencies already this year — see the Paris-Roubaix schedule change emergency; the Bernard Hinault has an NFT emergency; the emergency retreat hastily scheduled to work through Wout Van Aert’s absence from Flanders; and probably a few others I can’t remember. Those were all legitimate Cycling emergencies, as you all undoubtedly recall. But they will feel like fire drills compared to what may be heading down the pike.
A Belgian might win a grand tour. Not a stage, or a bunch of stages, or the final stage or the team competition. I mean the overall victory. Something that last happened at the 1978 Giro d’Italia.
This emergency has been triggered by the Vuelta a España entering its third week with Remco Evenepoel in the overall lead. Mind you, I am not predicting an Evenepoel victory; only a fool would pick his own FSA DS captain to actually succeed before it becomes officially official. And in fact Evenepoel is giving off any number of signs that he intends to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at some point this week. He spent the past weekend ceding time to his rivals and teetering on the edge of implosion. He dangled off the back today and only managed to save another embarrassing loss by somehow willing his tire into deflating inside the final 3km, “earning” him a s.t. designation a mere eight seconds behind Primož Roglič. He has four more stages to burn off the last remaining wisps of fuel in his tank, or to take his inattentiveness to new levels. He may even find all-new, creative ways of bungling his lead: if you haven’t heard people call his personality or racing style “overly-entitled” or insufficiently respectful of the sport, you may not be connected to the Internet.
Still, he is on track to break a 44-year drought of excellence on behalf of the country that probably cares the most about such things, and if it happens now, or next year, or further out in the future (I’m looking at you, Cian Uijtdebroeks), there will be no excuse available to the rest of us if we fail to prepare for this.
So without further ado, here are some important steps you can take right now to prepare yourselves.
1. Temporarily block all Belgian friends on Twitter
Do you have Belgian friends? They are the best, at least when they are not fighting with your Dutch friends (and by fighting I mean making very lightly coded remarks which sound perfectly normal and are said with a warm, disarming smile). But things could get complicated with them if and when a Belgian ever wins a grand tour.
If you have actual friends, answer their calls when they inevitably want to talk about what happened. This is what good friends do, and they will remember you fondly for it. But don’t mistake Twitter friends for real friends, however lovely they may seem. Not now. Because all of your Belgian Twitter friends will be in full gloating mode. Sure, Belgians are relatively modest folk and don’t really gloat overtly. They tend to take the position (correctly IMO) that they live in a small, pleasant country full of mostly tall, pleasant people, but it’s pretty flat and the weather isn’t great, and they otherwise don’t really have a lot to gloat about. But in putting forth this position about not gloating, they are totally gloating. Which is the absolute worst.
I am not saying you should turn your back on Belgium. I am just saying, you might want to cede the space to the people who need it the most and circle back in a few months when the Dutch win everything at the CX worlds.
2. Do NOT go to Belgium
This one sounds obvious, but let me paint a slightly clearer picture for you, in case you aren’t taking this warning seriously enough. Belgium is, as previously noted, a small country, and its roads reflect this in mostly charming ways... if you are on a bike. If you are in a car, well, like everything else involving replacing bikes with cars, it is not at all charming. Narrow roads originally intended for bikes and maybe farm equipment (outside of classics and cyclocross season) can clog up quickly even under the best of circumstances, i.e. when there are no parades happening to celebrate a cyclist winning a grand tour. Now add in the road closures resulting from a victory parade, as well as the not entirely sober activities of people who are attempting to use the roads in some fashion (e.g. going to the parade), and you have traffic jams of epic proportions. As you stare across the drainage ditch at the field you would like to use to flee the traffic, it will quickly become clear to you why God invented cyclocross bikes.
The other part of this is, how long should the no-go rule apply? I would say at least until the conclusion of the next Tour de France, which if Evenepoel or any other duck-breaking grand tourist fails to win, should reset Belgian expectations back in the “vaguely in touch with reality” zone. Sure, if Wout Van Aert does more incredible things in France it may touch off a separate post-Tour celebration, but at this point those things are like the parades that happen every day of the year in Disneyland: you can only go so crazy so many times over the same thing.
3. Do Not Pick Him In the FSA DS
Whoever sends Belgium into this frenzy will be the subject of much concern heading into the subsequent FSA Directeur Sportif. Should he be your guy now? Not if you want to win. Let’s take Remco. In establishing a price for a rider, we start with last year’s point total and assume that unless we know something about the guy that would tell us otherwise, he should be priced like he will repeat that performance in the coming season. Remco won’t finish first overall, but he will be in the top three, putting him on course for a price at or exceeding 30 points. However, paying homage to the previous season is not the goal of pricing; the goal is to make it hard for people to decide what to do with a rider. For example, if everyone thinks an injured guy is healed and ready to win races, he’s not going to be a 1-pointer and end up on 400 teams. That’s boring.
Think of it like betting markets, i.e. how preseason NFL odds always suggest that the Dallas Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl, not because the oddsmakers actually think that — they remember that Mike McCarthy is still the coach — but because they know a lot of Dallas fans are in a huge hurry to throw away their money betting on the ‘Boys. A (hypothetically) victorious Remco is exactly like the Cowboys, right down to the fan base. So if your less impressionable Dutch friends think Remco is worth about 30 points in the next price list, look for him to be on sale at 42 points. He will still be on 120 Belgian people’s teams. And the rest of us will wave to them from the space above the Jimbo Line.
4. [Limited to an Uijtdebroeks victory] Cancel all subscriptions to American cycling broadcasting
This one speaks for itself. Alternatively, create a Cian Uijtdebroeks Mispronunciation Bingo Game, centered around the excessive consumption of hard alcohol in a short period of time. If Bobke’s a-talkin’, them shot glasses will be a-rockin!
5. Lean Into The Madness
The other thing you can do is straight from the “fuck it” files — go all in on Belgian cycling lore. Celebrate the historic event. Go to the Classics to see Remco (or whoever) play to the home crowds, in full cry, before he moves to Monaco for tax purposes. Tweet or blog about where Remco (or whoever) ranks in the annals of Belgian Cycling. Is he Vice-Eddy? [Do not use the words “next Eddy”.] Buy Belgian beer at the grocery store and figure out how to make your own frites and mayo, none of which is very difficult, I can assure you, even at 4am Pacific Time as the peloton approaches the Koppenberg. There is no downside to any of this, other than your Dutch friends maybe putting you on mute for a while. I guess this can be tricky for Europeans, but since Americans aren’t presumed to understand anything about Europe, even Nederlanders will smile indulgingly like they are listening to a child explain life on the playground. For a little while anyway.
Stay tuned for further instructions as events unfold. Events can be unpredictable and we will try to pass on whatever we hear as quickly as we can. Do not be caught unprepared!