A world championship for the ages: Peloton left in awe of the “stadium-like” crowds in Flanders

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MECHELEN, Belgium (VN) – Crazy, amazing and unbelievable – these are just a few of the words runners use to describe the crowd in Flanders for the road racing world championships.

The UCI estimated that a million screaming fans dressed in their finest costumes – from the painting of the Flanders lion on the face to the coming dressed as a bottle of beer – to cheer on the elite male peloton on Sunday at the race for the rainbow jersey.

The runners said they had never seen anything like it before.

“It was an amazing race, and it was like running in a stadium on roads,” said Tom Pidcock, sixth. “We weren’t doing a road race, we were running in a stadium. It was amazing, singing, singing was unreal. It was like a football [soccer] meet.”

In fact, there were so many that some had to be diverted from certain sections of the course because there was no more room.

The atmosphere was so hectic in Flanders that it almost felt like fans were sometimes jumping across the TV screen.

Read also : Flags & Beer & Beer & Flags – 2021 World Road Championships Fans

After more than a year of small crowds and “behind closed doors” races, the stages of the world championships were a sort of sensory overload.

“It was crazy, I have never experienced anything like this,” said Slovenian Matej Mohorič. “It was as if half of Belgium was here today. I was super proud to be here and also saw a lot of Slovenian flags. It was the best race of my career in terms of atmosphere.

Fans from all over the world flocked to the roadsides in Flanders (Photo: Alex Broadway – Pool / Getty Images)

Fans flock to Leuven, tripling its population in one day

The easing of Belgian COVID-19 restrictions shortly before the world kicked off just over a week ago, coupled with unusually warm, springtime weather, ensured that the whole week has been well attended.

Officials estimated that 1.4 million people watched the races throughout the week’s time trials and road races, and nearly all showed up to the party on Sunday. Some 350,000 people crowded the streets of the city of Leuven, more than triple the city’s population.

“I know we have to respect what is happening with the pandemic crisis, but it feels good to go back to the good old days,” Mohorič said.

Men’s road racing provided the immense party atmosphere that the cycling world associated with watching bike races in Belgium.

There couldn’t be a better place for the 100th anniversary of the World Championships and unrestricted edition. Even the local runners, used to the passionate fervor of their fans, were in awe of what happened on Sunday.

Read also : Massive crowds flock to Flanders to cheer for thrilling global race

“The crowd was incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it, not at the Tour de France or the Tour des Flandres. It was really great, ”said Belgian Yves Lampaert.

“I am proud of my country and of my flag, and wearing the jersey that represents it is the greatest honor any athlete can have,” Remco Evenepoel wrote on social media. “I really gave it my all. I tried to convert the decibels of your cheers to watts! The crowds were amazing! Thank you Belgium.

“Additional motivation” for Julian Alaphilippe

Remco Evenepoel goes on the attack, to the delight of fans
Remco Evenepoel goes on the attack, to the delight of fans (Photo: Getty Images)

Evenepoel and the Belgian squad tore up the men’s road race on Sunday, with the 21-year-old launching several searing attacks that signaled an endless barrage of movements of just under 200km to go.

While the Belgian team walked away with just a fourth place to show their efforts, fans showed their appreciation for the Belgian cycling star, chanting “Thank you, Remco” as he returned home within minutes of the winner.

It was Julian Alaphilippe, with his characteristic swashbuckling style, who planted the dagger in the hearts of Belgian fans. As they had done a week before when Filippo Ganna beat Wout van Aert to win time trial gold, they tried to slow Alaphilippe down.

Read also : Julian Alaphilippe defends the rainbow jersey with a flamboyant run in the World Championship

There were also boos and a few choice words which Alaphilippe deemed wise not to repeat during his post-race press conference.

However, that only gave the Frenchman more momentum to move towards the line to win a second consecutive world title.

“The fans were so loud and it was amazing to feel so many people on the road,” said Alaphilippe. “In the last lap, the Belgian fans asked me to slow down – and a few other things, I won’t say more – and I think that gave me even more motivation.”

While relations may have briefly deteriorated as Alaphilippe attacked for the win, Belgian fans quickly brought him back to their hearts with a boisterous celebration on the podium in central Leuven.

In a wise move, the organizers of the world championships set up an official medal presentation podium before a second ceremony in the heart of the finish city where fans could rock the medalist festivities.

Video footage showed Alaphilippe leading a sea of ​​fans to cheer and cheer which looked more like a Queen concert at Wembley Stadium than a bike race.

Nathan Haas entertains the crowds
Nathan Haas entertains the crowds (Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP via Getty Images)

On the course, the biggest scenes occurred in the Wijnpers and Moskesstraat climbs with fans climbing on just about anything that was solid to get a view of the riders.

Despite the brutal run up front, runners let loose at the back were happy to entertain the gathered crowd. Quinn Simmons gave fans a high-five, and Nathan Haas pulled a wheelie on the climb for a delighted response.

Even those who are in the thick of it could not fail to soak up the atmosphere.

“It was the best atmosphere in the race,” said bronze medalist Michael Valgren. “On the last steep climb it went like this – zooooorrrrooom! – like a jet. This is cycling. It’s nice to come back to some kind of normalcy.

It’s going to take a lot to beat what we saw on Sunday.

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