It takes a flandrien...

“Thomas De Gendt was the only one who dared. The others were mainly afraid: afraid of each other, afraid of the mountains”
                                                                                                                                          - Eddy Merckx

Yup that's right, it takes a Flandrien.  To produce the attack the tifosi were longing for.

Un uomo solo, al commando.  Il suo bici e celeste...  Il suo nome... Thomas DeGendt!
Saturday Thomas DeGendt produced a 'numero' that, for a dramatic half hour or so as the gap climbed, looked like it might just put him in the Maglia Rosa.  Just like Coppi, the first time the Stelvio hosted the Giro in 1953.

Now THAT wielersupporters, was an old school barrage.   Somewhere in the heavens, I'm sure Coppi was looking down in approval.  Another rider on a celeste Bianchi, soloing up through the snowbank walls to reach the top of the Stelvio, solo al commando.  So what if the favorites pulled back the gap in the final k.   It didn't matter, really did it?    Thomas DeGendt was the hero of the Giro.  In one day, he turned a modern cycling tactical chess-match back into an old fashioned bare-knuckled brawl.   Converted a high stakes, big budget game of radio-controlled marginal gains, into a good ol' blue collar kermesse.

Bedankt Thomas.

In an era when top level pro cycling is scientifically calculated to the millimeter, it did my retro heart good to see an attacking, unheralded rider from a smaller team just throw caution to the wind, put his back into it, and go for it.   I mean no disrpect to Ryder for a magnificently ridden Giro.  He did exactly what he had to do to win it, hats off to him.  But for me, DeGendt put the excitement and the passion into the grande finale.   He didn't wait for the final 2k to accelerate.  He flippin' went for it.   And it was the attack that defined this Giro.

Belgium's been waiting a long time for a Grand Tour podium contender.  Too long.   And, dare I say it without jinxing him with the same expectations that have dashed scores of other plaatlander hopefuls over the past 30 years (from Willems to DeWolf to VDB) 'Thomas 'DeGenerous' might finally be the guy that brings excitement and grand Tour hopes to wielercafes from Ooostende to Aaalst over the next few seasons.  I hope so.  Like the kid, and his attitude.

It's been a long time cafesupporters.   Not since the days of Michel Pollentier, Johan DeMuncyk and Lucien Van Impe has a flandrien been on the podium of the Giro - or any other Grand Tour for that matter.    To me, those days seem like yesterday, but they're actually over 30 years ago now.   Yikes.  
Like Ryder yesterday, the last Belgians to win the Giro shadow did so in the shadow of the Duomo.
Michel Pollentier in 1977 (left) and  Johan DeMuynck in 1978  (center).   
Seeing Ryder put on the final maglia rosa with the Duomo as a backdrop Sunday, brought back memories of two other times I'd seen an unheralded flahute vie for..and take...victory in this grandissimo tour.

In 1977 it was Flandria's Michel Pollentier, clad in rosa, waving to the crowd.  When his leader Freddy Maertens crashed out with a broken wrist, the loyal first lieutenant Pollentier simply stepped up and took the Giro from Francesco Moser and Gibi Baronchelli.

Or the following year when Johan DeMuynck beat eternal-second homeboy Baronchelli to yet again bring the pink back to the plaatland.   And the last Belgian to really vie for the Giro was an afro-permed Lucien van Impe, dancing up the dolomites in a green mountains jersey in 1983.   Those were the days when it seemed that a Belgian at the top of a grand tour was almost a birthright.  And with the notable exception of Johan Bruyneel's 3rd in the 95 Vuelta, if somebody suggested back then that Belgian pros would have a grand tour podium drought, you'd have laughed them off the court.

That drought has been 17 years now.  Too long for a nation so rich in cycling talent, and cycling culture.

I think I heard the Italian TV announcer said DeGendt had the fastest climb of the Mortirolo.  Then he pressed on to the early part of the Stelvio.  It seemed suicidal.   You expected the gap to come down.  But it kept going out.  Old time cycling jongens.   He said the Stelvio was like his backyard, having gone there to ride the mountain over and over in training.   It's something Lucien Van Impe himself always said was the primary reason no Belgian had been up there in the grand tours.  Developing the ability to ride up climbs with souplesse, spending days and days just pedalling up the climbs, getting the rhythm down, the climbing legs.  You need to go live and ride in the mountains he says.   It appears to be advice that DeGendt has taken to heart.

It was the kind of assault I expected would come from Purito Rodriguez actually.   Where were the repeated surges of a natural climber to try and break Ryder before the TT?  One attempt on the Mortirolo was all I saw... surely he must now rue a missed opportunity?   I couldn't help but but watch that explosive ball of climbing acceleration just waiting, riding tempo behind the Garmin boys.  I couldn't help make the comparisons:  What would Jose Manuel Fuente have done?  Or Bahamontes?  Or Perico Delgado?  Lucien Van Impe?   Or Pantani?    Can you imaging any of them not hitting out with body blow after body blow?  No, I'm afraid Purito had plenty of chances to explode the Giro on his best terrain.   Fact is, he just waited to too late to even try.    Rocky Mariciano couldn't wait until the last round to win his title fights.

No, it took a flahute to bring the real excitement to this Giro d'Italia.  So raise your glasses cafesupporters to Thomas De Gendt.   Thomas De Generous.   After his wedding, he'll be back for more at the Vuelta.

Can't wait.

Comments

  1. Just a thought...Purito isn't able to sustain his attacks past a few k. So even with his great acceleration, he would eventually fade and might have been pulled back. On the Stelvio, the gradient wasn't steep enough where he could hurt Ryder. He could have tried to go out further than he did but after the initial burst, he doesn't have to power to keep it going.

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  2. Bruyneel, 1995: 3rd in the Vuelta.

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  3. Thanks and right you are! I stand corrected...forgot about that one!

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