The Man and His Bike by Wilfried de Jong

Read an extract from Wilfried de Jong's award-winning collection of cycling tales, The Man and His Bike, which gets to the poetic core of the sport like no other book

The helicopter is hanging above our heads. A woman with a child waves up to the family watching at home. Motorcycles tear past, sirens wailing.

And here they come, the riders. Like a vast chameleon, the pe­loton continually changes shape and colour. Four hundred tyres sing to us. Music for a Sunday afternoon.

Here they come.

Here they are.

There they go.

It’s all over, consigned to the past once more.

This was Munkzwalm. We can still see the mud-spattered back­side of a straggler, sitting crooked on his bike after a fall. The skin of his elbow has been grazed raw, the dirt of the Tour ground into the wound. But he must go on. The Tour waits for no man.

Café Taxi floods full to bursting.

The mother with child asks if they were on camera. The land­lady saw no one she recognised on TV. Not even her pub. Same story as last year.

We get back to the business of drinking. We eat. We warm our­selves. It feels fine but we know something is missing. TV is a sur­rogate: it shows you everything and that’s a bore. It’s naked flesh without the lingerie. Not seeing everything is at least as satisfying. We, the true believers, would rather imagine our own Tour.

My second glass is empty. I slip the landlady a farewell wink. "See you next year," I lie. She shoots me a gap-toothed grin. I drive my car over the course. The spot where we stood is deserted.

The Virgin Mary has dried her tears. It’s an anonymous land­scape: clay, asphalt, here a house, there a house. Slowly Munk­zwalm goes back to being Munkzwalm.

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