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  • Back to Blog  

    Tour De France: Brussels Grand Depart 2019

       Words by David Hicks

       on 31/07/2019 15:44:04

    Steve-Carter-Hero

    Words by Steve Carter - find him on Instagram here!

    It was hard not to get swept away in the emotion of Geraint Thomas’ Tour De France win in 2018. He was so personable. He was relatable. It was a feel-good Tour and I lapped it up. And so it proved too much for me as within two weeks of ‘G’ mic dropping on the Champs Elysees. I had flights booked to Brussels for the Grand Depart of 2019. I hadn’t seen the Tour De France roadside before. Unfathomably, I had missed Le Tour when the grandest of Grand Departs had been in Yorkshire in 2014. It must have been marriage or children related I’m sure. Those are the two things that tend to clip my wings. Not that I’m bitter – much. This however seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It was clear early on that this was to be an important Tour De France. I guess they all are but this one felt special. More of a celebration. Two major things coincided in this years Tour and one of them nailed it to Belgium unashamedly. Firstly, 2019 represented 100 years of the fabled yellow jersey. The maillot jaune worn by the race leader, introduced so that fans could easily identify the leader as he whirred through amidst the peloton. The yellow jersey is the symbol that transcends cycling.

    Most non-cyclists wouldn’t know their Coppi, Anquetil, Pantani et al, but they would recognise the symbolism of the yellow jersey. And secondly, 2019 would be 50 years since a young Eddy Merckx won his first Tour De France stage. The greatest ever cyclist was born in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe on the outskirts of Brussels. That stage in July 1969 finished on the streets of his hometown. Eddy’s first Tour stage win and his first maillot jaune witnessed up close by the cycling crazed Belgian public. It was the start of a period of unparalleled dominance – The Cannibal, as he later came to be known (suggested by the daughter of a teammate upon being told by her father how Merckx would not let anyone else win) went on to win a record 34 stages, wear the yellow jersey for a record 108 days, and win outright 5 times. Brussels had been selected for the Grand Depart to honour Eddy. It promised to be quite a party. I therefore made sure I was on the guest list.

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    I announced my intentions to my mates and before long 1 became a merry band of 5. Three of my oldest and best school mates and one more recently acquired but equally good ‘village’ friend. I’d done a tiny bit of research in accommodation and plumped for a hostel – always risky. I booked us a 6 bed dorm in the Jacques Brel hostel. It seemed to be a good location, only 10 minutes walk from the centre. I didn’t know anything about the significance of Jacques Brel at the time. I had never heard of him. It turns out he was a jazz singer, from Brussels. He must have been a good one too as I later found out his name was everywhere on street signs, his photo in shop windows, and a bronze statue in his honour. He was like Merckx in some ways.

    Belgium is a split country, and Brussels is the epicentre, the melting pot. Half Flanders (Flandrien language) and half Wallonia (French language). Both sides passionate about their own identities and traditions. Both Merckx and Brel bridged this divide. They were unifying figures of their eras. Both sides took a pride in the success of these individuals in a way that the nation has not experienced since. Both are synonymous with Belgium and Brussels. So the hostel seemed to be the perfect choice. It was booked in late August and so the waiting game began. It was to be a long 11 months.

    It was a stupendously early start on Saturday 6th July. Our flight from Birmingham to Brussels was a doze defying 6:05am. So four out of our merry five, jump in my Mini and we wheeze our way down the M69 and M6 towards Birmingham. The motorway God’s however had different ideas throwing an M6 road closure at us to wake us to our senses. We follow the diversion through the sleepy Coventry suburbs and spew out onto the M42 just before Birmingham airport. Our first logistical challenge complete. I drive to the pre-booked parking, up to the barrier smugly. The barrier doesn’t rise. Why does this always happen to me? A shirky conversation with a half-asleep car park attendant through the intercom later and we were in and parked up. We ghost our way through departures and head straight for a coffee and breakfast.

    I was expecting the airport to be relatively quiet due to our departure time but unfortunately it was rammed. The coffee queue was long and snaking its way onto the corridor beyond. I could smell the coffee and see the pastries but had to endure the snails pace queue before I could indulge. I resisted the burning temptation that consumes me at a coffee shop – to give a fake name….sometimes I go foreign, sometimes public schoolboy, but always a challenge for the Barrista. In case you are interested Ptolemy is a good one. This time I just needed coffee so standard true name given. Coffee quaffed, pastry scoffed, and we head off for boarding. We jump on the bus and drive…then drive…then drive some more – way out to a deserted corner of Birmingham airport. The bus stops at what looks like a miniature plane. It’s really very small. No branding anywhere. We board, find our seats and before long our toy plane is heading over the channel towards Belgium.

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    We barely seem to be in the air for half an hour and we start the descent, landing in Brussels on schedule. We offload and head down to the train station under the airport. We buy tickets to Brussels Midi where we are to meet our 5th companion who is somewhere underneath the channel on the Eurostar. The train pulls in and we board. We chit chat during the short train journey. We pass Brussels Zuid which we correctly assume to mean South. Then we arrive at Brussels Centrale. That must be the same as Midi right? So we jump off and head up to the train station concourse. We have an hour and a half before our No. 5 arrives. Again coffee seems a good idea so we head out onto the streets. Leaving Centrale you know the Tour is in town. The top of the street is lined with barriers, obviously part of the route.

    We follow the barriers for a short walk until we quite unexpectedly arrive at the start line. There are crowds already gathered several deep around the start, but we are comfortably three hours from the roll out. The streets are bustling. Everyone seems to be wearing a yellow cycling cap with EDDY on the upturned peak. I love a cycling cap. To be honest it’s more than that, I kind of collect them. This EDDY one is damn cool and I want one. I take a photo of the start line, thinking how the riders will cope with the demands of the 21 stages and 2162 miles that follow. Neutral service Mavic cars line the street each with numerous bikes hoisted on their roofs. Press motorbikes are everywhere too. We wander around taking in the sights until we see our next coffee stop. We sit outside and order, watching the buzz all around us. It’s close to No. 5’s arrival so I text him where we are. What could possibly go wrong?

    Time passes and No. 5 should now be in Brussels. I call him and he’s off the train. We talk as he leaves the station. I explain what he should see but strangely No. 5 can’t see the land marks I’m describing. No matter, we agree to head back to the station and wait underneath the huge arrivals/departure board. It should be easy for him to find us there. We wait but no arrival. Something odd is going on. We are beginning to get a bit of time pressure too – we have a train pre-booked from Brussels to Geraardsbergen, a great place to see the Tour pass (more of that later). We only have 10-15 minutes now before the train. I call again and No. 5 is walking towards the concourse. It’s big, but not really really big. He should be here by now. I call again. Last resort… our train for Geraardsbergen leaves from platform 5. Change of plan, we’ll meet there. So we head down and find platform 5. We are definitely in the right place – lots of EDDY caps are already there. I have a feeling we won’t be alone in Geraardsbergen.

    Still no sign of No.5. I call again but he says he’s on platform 5. But he isn’t, because we are. Very strange. Train now only minutes away. It’s no good, we tell No. 5 to find a Tour Maker (they are everywhere in Brussels, wearing bright red with a fistful of leaflets) and ask for assistance. I look up at the departures board. Our train has switched to Platform 6. It’s due in one minute. I blurt out ‘follow me’ and we leg it up the stairs, over the bridge, and down the stairs to platform 6. My heart is pumping. We had so much time to catch this train but Lady Luck is testing our metal right now. No. 5 calls – the whole confusion now becomes clear. No. 5 is at Midi. We are at Centrale. They are not the same. Whaaaaaat? Logic dictates you have a South, a Centre (or middle), and a North. Brussels has all four. How can you have a centre and a middle? Let our misadventure forewarn any future Brussels tourists. Please don’t make the same mistake we did. Some hasty internet searches reap rewards. Our train to Geraardsbergen passes Midi next. We call No. 5 again and tell him to stay put. Our train arrives and we hop on. Within minutes we roll into Midi and eureka – No.5 boards! We are united, confused and relieved in equal measure. But united. On to Geraardsbergen.

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    It’s a short 40 minute journey out to Geraardsbergen. The train arrives and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE on the train disembarks. No need for a map, we just follow the masses. As we hit the Grotestraat the crowds are already 2-3 deep. We want to get onto or close to The Muur so we keep walking through the town. The Muur De Geraardsbergen is the infamous cobbled climb used in the Tour of Flanders each year. It’s in all the iconic photographs – the one with the chapel on the top. We know this will be a favourite spot for spectators so we appreciate we are pushing our luck to get a good spot. It should also be an interesting part of the race too as the first King of the Mountains points will be awarded at the top, so whoever crests the climb first will be on the podium and wearing the polka dot jersey at the end of the day. As we keep walking up the hill the ‘caravan’ arrives in town. The caravan is the publicity parade where free tat is thrown at the overly excited and rowdy revellers lining the streets. It’s a cacophony of noise – beeping horns, pumping music, and loud speakers fight for attention. It really is an assault on the senses. We keep walking through the town square. There’s a big screen TV and lots of bars and cafes. The party is in full swing here. On we continue up the gradient when at last I spot a gentleman with a big bag handing out EDDY caps. The five of us bowl over to him to collect our booty. One more for the collection.

    We keep following the road up, passed the VIP tented area, and around the corner onto the cobbles. We can see the foot of The Muur now, but there’s a strange gazebo erected right on the middle of the road. There are a few gendarmes patrolling the area. We head up to investigate. This is a checkpoint, they are stopping anyone who has a rucksack. The Muur is apparently already rammed (we expected that) but they aren’t letting anyone else through who’s carrying a bag. We therefore have to settle for a point on the barriers just short of the gazebo. It’s a great spot though – we can see them come around the corner to our right, then follow them up and onto the foot of The Muur to our left. Even better there’s a bar in the corner. It’s hot now, mid 20’s, and we could do with a beer to cool us down. No. 5 takes one other and within minutes we are sipping our first cold one whilst staking out our barrier space. We are in situ and the leaders should be here in less than an hour.

    We watch the live action on a mobile phone. There is a 4 man breakaway who have a lead of 3 minutes to the peloton. Interestingly Belgium’s classics specialist and Olympic champion, Greg Van Avermaet is in the break. He will be looking to lead the breakaway over The Muur to claim the polka dot jersey, and there’ll be no shortage of support for him in these neck of the woods. As we sip beer and watch the action, the crowds fill out all around us. There’s not a spare millimetre of uncovered barriers now. The crowd several deep all around us. It makes it harder work for the beer run to the pub on the corner, but I go nonetheless. One last one before the riders arrive. I reclaim my spot and the anticipation is building. We can hear the helicopters approaching indicating the breakaway is close. Within minutes they are overhead. A few motorbikes turn off left on the corner (to our right). Only the TV bike and neutral service will follow the riders up The Muur, all other vehicles will veer left and re-join the other side of the climb. It’s too narrow for them to safely follow the riders up. We look right and the red commissaire’s Skoda follows the left diversion.

    Then we hear the cheers of the crowd further down the hill. The crowd cheers get louder heading in our direction, and then around the corner they come. Still four of them but now strung out in a line. Van Avermaet is in 2nd wheel following the Katusha rider closely. The crowd is in full voice with GVA the beneficiary. He’s spurred on by the support and we see him strike out at the bottom of the climb. He was looking good to take the KOM points and the polka dot jersey. The noise coming from The Muur was extraordinary. What an atmosphere it must have been up there. When watching races roadside there’s always a trade-off – in the best location, enjoying the best atmosphere, but overwhelmed with spectators and likely a pretty poor view ….. or not so great location, but a superb view. The only rule I make though is never stand on a downhill, always stand on uphills or corners where the riders will come passed you slower. Today not quite sure we got the trade-off right, but it was the best we could do.

    We don’t have long to wait before another helicopter circles overhead. The peloton are approaching. In a blink of an eye they are round the corner and upon us. The big GC (general classification) teams have positioned themselves well. Always best to be at the front when the road narrows, especially on cobbles. Out front is out of danger. Ineos are there in force – Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Egan Bernal and Dylan Van Baarle all within the first dozen or so riders passed. I’m watching with my eyes (rather than through my phone) whilst randomly taking photos. Clicking every second. Amidst the whir of carbon wheels I pick out some of the big names – Quintana, Valverde, Nibali and the Yates brothers all pass on our side riding very close to our barriers.

    The pace is steady rather than blistering. The breakaway noticeably quicker through this section, driven by the KOM points. The whole peloton is through in 30 seconds. The obligatory Steve Cummings at the back of the pack signals the end of the line. Again The Muur greets the riders with a deafening roar. Before long the crowd around us begin to disperse. Our band of 5 have two choices. We head back to the station and try to catch the sprint finish in Brussels or we stay in Geraardsbergen and chill out watching the finale on the big screen. We choose the latter. Better to have a bite to eat and a few beers here, than fight amongst the crowds for a fleeting glimpse of the expected sprint. I take a few moments to check my photos. I’m shocked with how lucky I’ve been – some really clear photos of big name riders. A total fluke, but a welcome one nonetheless.

    Landscape-Steve-1

    We slowly wander back down the hill towards the main square. It’s really hot now and I’m keen to get out if the sun for a while. On top of that I’m starving. We arrive in the square. There are bars and restaurants all around, many of them full to the rafters with EDDY cap wearing enthusiasts. We scan around and can only see empty seats in one café. It’s called Best Grill, a rather bold claim. However, we are out of the sun and the menu is massive. We all order a beer and a Coke – the waiter must have thought us very odd indeed. Perhaps thinking we were weird English people that might mix the two. The food is ready quickly and I devour a Falafel and salad pitta. All was good until I bit into it and a dollop of mayo deposited itself on my denim shorts. I’d travelled light on this trip, very light – so I was stained for the rest of the weekend. We paid up and moved back into the square in front of the big screen. A trailer was parked up serving beer which we made good use of for the rest of the afternoon.

    To our left was Bar Gidon. This was the centre of the party. Full of locals, playing Euro pop through loud speakers into the square. A crowd of hammered Belgians sung every word although sung may be a strong statement. The bar had a banner outside declaring that it was the base of the Remco Evenepoel fan club. Remco is cycling’s hottest young prospect, who went from Juniors straight to a world tour team this season, skipping the U23 stage. I checked and Remco isn’t riding the Tour De France this year. Can you imagine Bar Gidon if he was….? I’d rather not. We watch the action on the big screen whilst all around us teams of workers clear away the remnants of the Tour’s passing. The stage does end in the sprint finish we were expecting, although there was a crash in the final couple of kilometres resulting in some sprinters being AWOL at the pointy end of the race. One absentee was Dylan Van Goenewegen from Jumbo-Visma, one of the favourites for the stage. This though only freed up his lead out man Mike Teunissen to sprint for himself, edging out Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan to take the victory and the first maillot jaune of this years Tour. Teunissen was to become the first Dutchman to wear the yellow jersey for 30 years. After the stage had finished, we drank up and walked back to the train station. We caught the next train back to Brussels – Centrale this time, not Midi!

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    Back in Brussels we head to the hostel. It’s a short walk and we check-in and head up to our room. It’s a 6 bed dorm so we all shotgun the bed we want. Bottom bunk for me…. I don’t like heights! After a quick freshen up we head out for an evening meal. Thankfully pretty close to our hostel we settle upon Garden City, a cool looking restaurant on the corner of a pretty square. Tables fill the street in front of the restaurant. We pick one and rest our weary legs. The beer menu is exhaustive. I pick one purely based on a sensible alcohol content. There wasn’t much choice based on this criteria. We are in Belgium after all. One of our group opts for a beer with coke. This was legitimately on the menu. A beer with a coke – in the same glass. No wonder the waiter from Best Grill didn’t bat an eyelid. I ordered a basil and tomato pasta dish with dauphinois potatoes. Double carbs. It was tremendous. I normally get food envy when eating in groups, but not on this occasion. I sat back very content with a fine first day. We paid up and decided to head on to find another bar for a night cap. We walk around locally, but everywhere seems to be either shut or shutting.

    We stumble across an obelisk monument which we cross over to inspect. It’s Congress Column, the tomb of the unknown soldier. In front of the column is a fire urn which is kept lit constantly. We watch as a middle aged man approaches it, looks closely at it, then bizarrely puts his hand just above it. He quickly whips his hand away, shaking it fiercely. I wonder whether this could be a contender for the Darwin awards (awarding individuals that have contributed to human evolution by removing themselves out of the gene pool by death by ridiculous incident), although I guess ‘death’ is the key word here. Anyhow, we were all impressed with this guy’s incredible stupidity. We carry on but decide the only local place where we can guarantee a drink is back at our hostel. We return then to the Jacques Brel and order more beers. The only downside was that we had to suffer a big screen showing reggae music for our last waking hour of what had been a very long day.

    After a restless night sleep we awake with hungry tummies. Restless for two reasons. Firstly, with five grown men sharing a room you can guarantee one is a snorer. Statistically that was correct. And secondly, we were treated to someone shouting and singing at 4am just in the square below our bedroom window. It seemed to go on for ages too. So I was wide awake by 7am. I showered then left the rest of the guys to get ready. I went for a walk. I was trying to hunt down a newsagent. I wanted to buy L’equipe, the French newspaper. I thought it would make a nice memento, full of photographs from the opening day of the Tour. I found supermarkets, hotels, cafes, but no newsagent. I returned back to the hostel to find the rest of the gang ready. We head downstairs for breakfast. We greedily fill our boots on the buffet and chat through the days plans. Today’s stage is a Team Time Trial, first team due to roll down the ramp at 2:30pm with teams then following at 5 minute intervals. It meant that we had the morning to please ourselves before heading off to get a good spot roadside. We decided to spend the morning seeing some of the sights of Brussels – being a regular tourist, rather than an EDDY cap one. We finish our coffees and return to the room to pack up. By 10am we had checked out and we were heading into the city to explore.

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    The first stop was the Grand Place (or Grote Markt), a stunning town square surrounded by opulent guildhalls including the immaculate Town Hall. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was the location for the teams presentation the previous week. What a setting it must have been for that. We snap photos from every angle we can. The square is already very busy. We spot a pop up Tour De France shop in the corner of the square. A few of us attempt to browse but it’s shoulder to shoulder in there, like a London tube at rush hour. You can’t get close enough to see the items on sale so I leave and my wallet breathes a sigh of relief. Our next stop is the Mannequin Pis statue. This is probably the best known symbol of the people of Brussels. It’s a bronze sculpture of a naked boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. The original statue was put in place in 1618. The current statue is a replica dating back to 1965. There are numerous legends about this statue from the boy putting out fires to urinating on invading troops. He’s a popular tourist attraction, swarms of people mill around the streets trying to find him. All stop for a photo – as we do. The little statue is currently dressed in his own maillot jaune, cycling cap and sunglasses. He looks quite the part for the Tour. I didn’t realise they dressed the statue. Up the street from the boy there’s a museum to him that shows some of the outfits he’s worn over the years. He’s been a fireman, a priest, a knight, and all sorts of other roles. We carry on with the intention of sampling the delights of a real Belgian waffle. It doesn’t take long before we are sat in a sunny street with a huge rectangle slab of calorific waffle with cream and chocolate sauce for good measure. It’s absolutely devine and I savour every mouthful. It’s late morning now and time to get back to our cycling. We pour over the map and decide we should head to Place Des Palais, the large square where the team buses are based to get our fix of shiny top end bikes. So off we head back into the crowded streets. Enough culture for one trip.

    We’re not the only ones with the idea of walking through the team buses. We are soon in a scrum of people meandering our way around the back of the line of team buses. The crowds are noticeably bigger around the French and Belgian teams. Ineos though appear to be the only team with security, two burly gentleman staring blankly into the crowd. Media people walk between the buses trying to find a rider or DS for a sound bite they can use. Turbo trainers all set out in lines for the riders to warm up on in due course. Mechanics busily prep bikes, checking gears, wrapping new bar tape on. It’s a frenzy of activity. We are over 2 hours away from the start time though. The crowds get suffocating so we decide to head out and onto the Team time trial (TTT) course. We shuffle passed the starting ramp and out onto the streets. We veer off the course and wander down an adjacent street to avoid the crowds. We inadvertently pass a newsagents and I dash in to buy L’equipe. The cover price states 2.70 Euro, but the gentleman on the counter asks for 2.90. I politely point to the 2.70, thinking smugly that I ain’t falling for that one sunshine. He then advised 2.70 Euro in France, 2.90 in Belgium. How does that work? I thought this was a single common currency. I pay up and admit defeat. Once far enough down the adjacent road we turn left and head back to the course to stake our position. We cross under the subway to get on the left side of the road. Rumour has it this could be a record breaking course for average speed. Certainly looks like it from here. It’s a long straight road and slightly downhill. We estimate we are just over 1km from the start. It seemed a good position. We’d see all 8 riders here (later they may be done to 7, 6 or 5 – the minimum they need to collect a time), and they’d be absolutely flying. Setting agreed we make ourselves as wide as possible along the barriers as the streets will soon be bursting once again.

    Not long after we’d arrived we saw flashing lights and heard loud speakers coming around the corner to our right. It was the caravan again. One by one the procession comes passed us. Freebies are thrown from each passing vehicle into the crowds. I had a particularly successful time with four direct catches including a second EDDY cap. Those years of playing cricket clearly not wasted. I also caught a green Skoda cap but a young boy next to me tried to catch it too. I gave it to him much to his obvious delight. Now I’m not trying to come across as uber generous but my ‘village’ friend did witness a woman stand on the hand of a young child as they reached for a key ring tossed onto the pavement. The lady apologised, but I’m not sure that really suffices in that situation. How can you want a key ring so much you’d be willing to stand on a young ones eager hand? Shameful really. By the time the last vehicle was through, we had just under an hour before the first team would be off down the ramp. It was now or never for lunch. From our position we see a Spar on the underpass road below us. We dash there and grab what we can. Once again we are not alone, but we time it tight. As we queue to pay the queue gets longer and longer snaking around the store. The staff look horrified. Maybe they didn’t know the Tour was in town and thousands would be lining the streets 200 metres from their door. We nosh roadside and wait, not long now.

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    The clock ticks 2:30pm. Team Ineos are off first – usually a disadvantage as you have no comparisons at each time cut. However, Ineos were placed last in the team classification after several of their riders were caught behind yesterday’s late crash. They are one of the favourites for today, but have never previously won a TTT despite their Tour De France success as previous incarnation Team Sky. Within seconds of the 2:30 start we see lights flashing around the corner again. This is it. We watch them come down the long straight towards us. They are really motoring. They zoom passed us in a flash, just a blur of skin suits and aero helmets. It’s incredible to see this up close. Eight riders each just millimetres from the one in front, rotating the lead so they share their time with their nose in the wind. I record Ineos in slo-mo and it is honestly poetry in motion. We have 5 minutes before the next team are through, Arkea-Samsic who are noticeably slower than Ineos; then Astana with their hotly tipped Jakob Fuglsang; then Groupama FDJ with big French hope Thibaut Pinot. I’ve never seen a TTT roadside before but it’s a good spectacle. Unlike a usual road stage we will get to see all 22 teams over a two hour period, but each passing is gone in a flash due to the fast nature of this course.

    Next up are AG2R with France’s other big GC hope Romain Bardet, then Movistar with their much heralded trident of Quintana, Valverde and Landa. The first time is in and Ineos have set a superb marker of 29:17 for the 27.6km course, averaging a mind boggling 56.5kph. The teams continue to zoom pass us – we give Katusha an extra cheer as they contain British time trial champion Alex Dowsett in their line up, and Mitchelton Scott also for the Yates brothers. The early teams continue to finish but Ineos retain their lead. Katusha go fastest at the half way split but can’t maintain it finishing just 6 seconds down on Ineos. We’re getting through the 22 teams now, not many still to go. Deceuninck-Quickstep absolutely fly past us, they could be on for a good time. And finally it’s Jumbo Visma, the team of the yellow jersey, the last team to speed passed us. We’ve got just 28-29 minutes till we find out who’s won the stage. No point staying roadside. We need a pub, and quick.

    Thankfully we are only a short distance from The Wild Geese Irish pub on Avenue Livingstone where we find at least a dozen TV screens showing the final moments. We order 5 beers and claim bar stools in front of a TV. EF Education First are just finishing – they’re close but miss out by 8 seconds. Deceuninck-Quickstep are next through. They’ve smashed the course and were up on Ineos until the last kilometre, but finish an agonising 1 second slower. By this time the Ineos boys had been sat in the hot seat for approaching two hours. Only one team can now knock them off that spot. Jumbo-Visma have been up at each time cut. They finish in front of the iconic Atomium with a time of 28:57, 20 seconds faster than Ineos. A fantastic time. 20 seconds clear from 28km time trial, when places 2 to 10 were separated by 21 seconds in total. There’s a few Dutch guys in here and they chant Mike Teunissen’s name like he’s a footballer. The yellow jersey will stay on his shoulders for another day. We order another beer and congratulate ourselves on a memorable weekend.

    Our time in Brussels is coming to an end. No.5 is the first to leave. Hugs all round. He heads to Midi for his Eurostar train back home. The rest of us take a leisurely stroll back to Centrale. The sun is still shining but the streets are quieter now. Brussels seems to be getting back to normal. A lot less EDDY caps around now. We re-trace our steps through Centrale and onto the platform. The train rolls in and takes us on our merry way back to the airport. Our return leg passes without incident and we finally arrive back home at 11pm. Our weekend was over and what a weekend it had been. Just the right mix of city break and bike racing. Just the right mix of good food and great beer. Just the right mix of banter and laughs. Thanks to the four guys that made it happen. And let’s get Nice booked asap for The Grand Depart 2020. See you on the Promenade Anglaise!

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