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Cyclists compete in digital Tour of Flanders from home
The legendary Tour of Flanders road cycle race did not happen on Sunday, but a new kind of race emerged: A digital Tour of Flanders.
The race across Flanders, and especially the Flemish Ardennes, takes place on the first Sunday of April ever year. Half the country either lines the 250+ kilometre route or watches the event on TV.
Thirteen pro cycle teams selected one rider to participate in the Tour of Flanders: The Lockdown Edition. Each rider was supplied with a stationary bike and screen to ride in a digital race. A sophisticated system was developed to monitor their speed and send it to a central database. Several international cyclists, including Italian Alberto Bettiol, also joined in on the virtual race from their own homes abroad, and the entire thing was broadcast live.
The riders could see on the screen when they were faced with cobblestones and when they had to take on a hill, for instance, during their 32-kilometre race – a digital version of the final 32 kilometres of the real Tour of Flanders route. The stationary cycles were programmed with the hill gradients, so became tougher to pedal, just like on the real hills in the infamously gruelling race.
Flemish Olympic gold medallist Greg Van Avermaet ultimately won the Lockdown Edition title. He was one of the favourites in the race because of his ability to power up steep hills like the Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremont.
Many of the cyclists noted that the race was a lot tougher than they had expected. “In the beginning, I was shocked by the speed we were riding,” said Avermaet after his win. “My heart has not raced like that in a long time.” He also added that “it felt strange to put out that kind of effort without the feeling of being in the actual race”.
The Tour of Flanders organisation did not arrange a virtual edition for the women. It did include a few women riders in the Official Unlikely Tour of Flanders, a fully fictional digital race featuring cycling stars of today and yesteryear. One of them was Eddy Merckx, who (naturally) won the race.
The organisation hopes to schedule the real Tour of Flanders for men and women later this year.
Photo: Nathalie WIllems/Belga