18 April 2017

Once a year, Munkzwalm has a place in the world. Once a year it has cause for celebration. Once a year Munkzwalm appears on TV. World fame for Munkzwalm, kilometre 128 of the Tour of Flanders.

Waiting for riders is an art. Unless you’ve stood at the side of the road during the Tour, you don’t know what the Tour is…

Here comes the helicopter. The sound of the rotor blades cata­pults Munkzwalm into a state of war. Yellow flags bearing lions are thrust into the air like bayonets, banners proclaim love for a cycling hero. The people of Munkzwalm fling themselves like cannon fodder onto the asphalt. The lenses of their cameras are trained on the distance. That’s the place. Surely, any moment now, the lads will appear. 

A single camera leers in our direction. The man nods. Clicks. Let him get on with it. Right now, we cycling folk are too busy craning our necks.

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.

Related articles