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Reflections from De Ronde: Learning how to lose and cycling’s visceral delights

Robyn Davidson
4 Apr 2022

Robyn Davidson reflects on another edition of the Tour of Flanders, and how Pogačar learnt to lose

Cycling is so beautiful. Its power sucks viewers in from the fierce grip of their sofa. We undertake an addictive visceral journey of highs and lows, forming parasocial relationships with pixels on a screen.

Except of course, they aren’t merely pixels – they’re humans. That’s what we, and Tadej Pogačar, learned from the 2022 edition of the Tour of Flanders.

De Ronde: Predictably unpredictable

With the announcement Wout van Aert wouldn’t be participating through illness, the script was set for De Ronde. All they had to do was follow it.

After all, we have become accustomed to predictability. The two-time Tour de France champion seems to win by simply showing up, yet we hadn't seen him learn lessons quite like what was witnessed in the finale.

Life's a rollercoaster. So was Flanders.

Should you dare to travel there, one joyous filled section of Blackpool is home to Europe’s first two-track racing rollercoaster.

 

The Grand National's two trains leave the station at the same time and are locked in a battle to the finish against one another, navigating stomach-churning bumps and sharp turns. You ride so close to the next carriage that you can't shake the competition from your peripheral vision.



Just like the trains enduring a rattling trepidation-filled race in the North West of England, two men were engaged in a rough ride over bone-shaking cobbled climbs in their race to the line and Flanders glory.

For so long it seemed a done deal. However Pogačar, the strongest man in cycling right now, remained on Van der Poel's wheel for a couple of seconds too long.

That’s all it took for one of the most surprising finals to a cycling race in recent memory. 

Back to the visceral journey for a second.

You may not be competing at the race, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel like it. We love it because it makes us feel as if we’re there, at one with the athletes in front of us. Getting the roadside experience without moving from the comfort of our homes.

Your heart begins to thump like you’ve just endured a punishing ascent of the Koppenberg.

Minds begin to spiral with possibilities, outcomes flitting through as if you’re the one predicting a rival’s next moves in the contesting group.

Autonomy switches off, and for a second you can even forget how to breathe. This sport permeates and takes over your brain, it's strangely addictive, and it's why this edition of Ronde van Vlaanderen will go down in history.

Or something. I’m not a doctor. I write words, good or bad depending on who you ask.

Back to the race.

The lessons: Always keep pedalling, learn how to lose

Eyes stayed glued to the dance of two cycling heavyweights stalling and sizing each other up.

The chasing group’s dogged determination, clawing back into contention, became a shining example of why you should never give up. Always keep pedalling.

Their two-man group suddenly swelled to four, welcoming back the speeding force of Madouas and Van Baarle, who engulfed the Tour de France champion, flanking him on either side.

Mathieu van der Poel won the race. Just as Tadej Pogačar lost it. A Spurs-esque performance in a two-horse race.

Valentin Madouas surged right as Dylan van Baarle moved left. Pogačar had been boxed in, a caged animal unable to bite back and assert the dominance once so firmly displayed.

Jaws fell. Hands flew to mouths, gasping in celebration, confusion or surprise.

Van der Poel roared with joy as Pogačar’s hands flung in the air. Frustration at being boxed in… or frustration at his own tactics?

It’s not often we see a cyclist made a catastrophic race-defining error, and yet time after time we are reminded of their humanity. Even the best cyclists experience why the hell did I do that?’ moments. Just ask Julian Alaphilippe in the rainbow jersey at Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 2020.

You can learn to win, but there's a humbling and more beneficial experience in learning how to lose. And sometimes those are the hardest lessons to learn.

Especially when one mistimed sprint decision unravels 272 kilometres worth of hard work.

But the dust has settled and the thinkpieces typed out. Now we look towards the next delights in the calendar.

Pogačar at Paris-Roubaix, anyone?

Excited for more racing? Don't miss our complete guide to the 2022 classics season.

All race photography by Chris Auld.