The Lion of Flanders

Have you noticed the cycling media stopped using The Lion of Flanders moniker to describe a rider in today’s peloton? Not even Tom Boonen is honored with the title.

Why is that?

I’m not a Belgian and I don’t live in Belgium so I can only guess why this is. What’s with this title? What’s the deal?

The last guy the press and the Belgian fans called The Lion of Flanders was Johan Museeuw. His last win of the Ronde came in 1998 so it’s been almost 20 years since the title was used.

One might assume that it’s all about how many times a rider won the most important road race in existence. But this is not so.

Both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen won it three times, just like Johan Museeuw, but nobody calls them Lions.

Eric Leman, another three-time winner, wasn’t a Lion either.

Perhaps one must be a Belgian to earn the title, but then Fiorenzo Magni, a three-time Italian winner, was called the Lion of Flanders.

The answer is probably buried somewhere deep in Flemish psyche, that area of social conscience no alien can understand, and expressed, maybe only in part, in its national anthem called the Flemish Lion.

My version of an answer to this Lion of Flanders mystery is this:

It’s not about the wins, although without wins no one will earn the title. It’s about how the Rondes are won.

I’m annoyed when people who point at, let’s say, Cancellara and say he’s a calculating robot who sits all day in the bunch doing nothing, then gets to the front at the right moment, opens the gas throttle and rides away from everybody.

I’m annoyed, yes, but that’s how it is — he does that. I’m annoyed by how meh the race is and I’m also annoyed by couch critics who point this out.

Yeah I know it’s kind of convoluted but I made peace with convoluted thinking long time ago.

As a former rider, I’m annoyed by know-it-all critics who never raced for a living because they don’t know, and will never know, what it takes to win a race.

They will never understand no one cares how it’s won as long as it’s won. And if it looks good on TV, it’s a bonus.

But I’m also annoyed by Cancellaras of modern cycling because, as a couch critic, I want action.

I want Johan Museeuw, I want Andrei Tchmil, I want the crazy Von Hooydonck or even Stijn Devolder (2008-2009 editions).

Which brings me back to the lack of The Lion of Flanders in the peloton.

Do we have one at least in the making?