Today sees the Scheldepriijs race, aka GP de l’Escaut, take place in Tom Boonen’s backyard, near Antwerp. He got a huge welcome and needed a police escort to get from his home to the start. Now not everyone in Belgium cares, but a lot do.
Tom Boonen is already a massive name in Belgium. So much that he struggles to cope with life in Belgium and spends a lot of the year in Monaco. Whilst low income taxes must also play a big part in his move, Tommeke is simply so popular that he can’t live in Belgium. A training ride turns into an autograph session, a visit to the shops sees him trailed by the paparazzi. The pressure on him is huge.
It’s worth noting that his second place last weekend has only endeared him more to the Belgians. Cycling is a sport where even champions don’t win often: Boonen took seven wins last year*. There’s a paradox here: winning is extremely rare but still the public often prefer the guy who finishes second.
The public don’t like a loser. More that second place is highly respectable: Laurent Fignon once said “no one who finishes second is beaten“. The sight of Boonen gritting his teeth to chase Cancellara proved to an expectant public that he was giving his all, a podium in Flanders is still an excellent result and “their” man gave his all.
Car hire company Avis used to have a slogan saying “We’re number two. We try harder” and perhaps this explains why large sections of the public in places like Belgium and France love the second placed rider as much, if not more than, the winner.
* Boonen took “just” seven wins last year from a racing season that lasted from Qatar in January to Paris-Tours in mid-October.