"Behind this success is the work of thousands of people." -Alberto Bettiol https://youtu.be/G-xXoZS2F0E Alberto Bettiol…
On the third ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, l heard Andreas Klier’s voice crackle over the radio into his earpiece, telling him that if he had the legs to attack not to leave it too long; within a second Bettiol was off the front, powering his way over the cobbles leaving a small group of race favourites in his wake, fatigued faces looking on as an unknown talent, dressed in hot pink, rode away from them. Alberto Bettio
By the top of the Paterberg he’d gained 20 seconds on his chasers. Through the radio he could hear Sebastian Langeveld, his teammate, encouraging him to give it everything he had, that the group of chasers he was with were looking tired. All Bettiol had to do now was clear his mind of distractions and solely focus on that 14 kilometer run into the finish line, “The last 14 kilometres after the Paterburg were the longest of my life,” Bettiol joked when he had crossed the finish line. In the long straight down to the finish as his pursuers were closing in, bystanders stood, hands clasped over mouths, whispers of encouragement rooting for the underdog were audible. As he managed to maintain his lead of just a few seconds, when he crossed the finish line it was emotional embraces all round. A look of bewilderment etched across Bettiol’s face whilst still trying to process what had just happened. His first race win was one of cycling’s monuments.
In those few seconds, life changed for Alberto Bettiol, “It’s a big one, it changes your life and the people who are around you,” he explains. As the 104th edition of this race is due to take place on Sunday, albeit six months after the original date, does he still feel pressure on his shoulders as the defending champion of the race?
“I feel like my Flanders win is already a long time ago,” he says. “I have to try to validate myself and try to do my best, but I know that it’s really difficult to win the Tour of Flanders again.”
But after his fourth place at last Sunday’s race, Gent-Wevelgem, for his first time in over a year back on the cobbles he’s looking strong and up there willing to take on the charge. “I felt pretty confident on Sunday, and now my teammates know if they do 100 percent I will be there, so this makes me feel ready and I will do my maximum as always, and I don’t feel the pressure, like last year again I’m not the favourite, the favourites are other people,” he says.
“It’s a big one, it changes your life and the people who are around you."
Although to arrive at this moment has taken work on his part, winning this race makes the world look at you differently, so you have to start looking at yourself differently. Which is something that sport director Charly Wegelius has helped guide Bettiol through.
“The pressure from a win like that basically comes from yourself, not only from the team or from the journalists, mostly it comes from yourself,” Bettiol explains. “You convince yourself that you’ve won one of the most difficult races, and the other races are easier to win than that one, so every time you lose a race you can become hard on yourself, because you won the most difficult one you think, ‘why am I not now winning every day?’ This is the kind of pressure that race puts on you.”
Heading to line up for a race as big as the Tour of Flanders holds excitement, anxiety, self-doubt for a large part of the peloton. Renowned for wearing its participants down with kilometer after kilometer of leg-softening streep climbs and cobbled sectors, the Flemish seem to delight in the brutality Flanders visits upon all who ride it. Every rider on that start line yearns to be a part of the day, to experience at least once what it feels like to ride the Tour of Flanders, to become a part of the history of this esteemed race. Every one of them secretly dreams that maybe the stars might align and they cross that finish line first, just like Bettiol did last year.
“I think now I’ve found a good relationship between me and that victory, I’m OK, I have got used to being the winner of the Tour of Flanders 2019,” Bettiol says. Sunday’s race promises another day of dramatic entertainment played out over 241km. To be back racing in Belgium has us fans all excited, it feels a real privilege and we know it will definitely have been worth the wait.