How do you know a bike race is coming? Roadside fans often wait for the audible rumble of TV helicopters to indicate the race is approaching.
But in Belgium it’s different. Instead you know the race is coming thanks to the call of Rodania.
If it’s your first time to a bike race in Belgium you could be forgiven for thinking rodania is Flemish for “stand back” because ahead of almost every race a car horn blares out four notes and then you hear the yodel-like call of “Ro-dan-i-a”.
Rodania is a Swiss watch company from Lengnau, in the heart of the country’s watch making area – and minutes away from the BMC factory too. The Swiss company wanted to expand and in 1947 opened offices in Caracas, Montreal, New York, Brussels and London. For an unknown reason Brussels became the international base of the company in 1951 and the company’s association with cycling began in 1954 when it started sponsoring bike racing.
By the 1970s Eddy Merckx was a brand ambassador and the company was almost Belgian in brand, sponsoring cyclists, bike races and others in Belgium. But if the visible associations paid off, the brand struck gold with the audible jingle played by the lead car that drives ahead of every race. I challenge you to find anyone in Belgium who is not familiar with the four notes and “Rodania” call. Like the theme of The Simpsons or the tunes of an ice cream van, it is instantly recognisable… to Belgians at least.
Sporza did a great interview (in Dutch) with the man behind the jingle, Manfred Aebi. They use the term oorworm to describe the jingle, “ear worm” because of the way the notes bury themselves in your ear. Play the clip above and it is memorable… and annoying. Aebi, a Swiss immigrant and manager of the company’s offices in Brussels at the time explained that he was driving along one day and heard Beethoven on the radio and this is where he got the idea. The opening notes of the fifth symphony are very similar. Aebi just borrowed them and simplified them into the Rodania jingle.
The jingle is dead! Long live the jingle!
But little is sacred in the commercial world of pro cycling. Just as the Tour of Flanders can drop the Muur van Geraardsbergen from one year to the other, the Rodania theme is about to be laid to rest.
But the tradition is not finished. Instead a new jingle has been created and Rodania is holding a competition with Het Nieuwsblad to pick a new oorworm.
Take your pick and you can vote for the winner over at http://www.nieuwsblad.be/rodania. The competition closes on Monday 12 March and the new jingle will be aired for the first time at the Tour of Flanders on 1 April.
Thanks to Twitter’s Reno Van Dael for alerting me to the story.