100 years of the Yellow Jersey.
50 years since the first Tour de France win for Belgian legend Eddie Merckx.
So the Tour de France has come to us in Belgium again, this time taking over the capital for a long weekend and the Grand Depart. It has been building up in a quietly understated way for months, with an increasing number of posters popping up, exhibitions and events opening.
But in the last few days yellow has taken over and the centre of the city has been made ready.
The great advantage for me is not that Stage 1 of the Tour rolls just a few kilometres from my home in Wallonia, but that many of the Brussels elements take place almost outside our office, giving a great incentive to wander over to the Place Royale and take in the atmosphere. Thursday evening was just perfect for a quiet beer after work and a placement by the road as the introduction of the riders took place.
This is also one of the physical high points of the city, so there was a great backdrop through the yellow arch of recycled bikes created on the Mont des Arts.
I don’t know if this is a new departure for the Tour, I always thought the riders just wandered onto a stage somewhere in the host city, but for Brussels they organised that the teams paraded over several kilometres along the same roads that will be used for the ceremonial start of Saturday’s first stage, right through the historic heart of Brussels.
It was a lovely chilled out start for tour fever.
The sun shone (not always guaranteed in Belgium).
The cafes by the roadside allowed for a relaxing vantage point and a chance to get into a yellow mood.
The teams were clearly enjoying themselves, and for once the riders were not forced into helmets and sunglasses, freewheeling down in team groups chatting and taking selfies and videos. Cycling remains a very accessible sport because the spectators can get so close to the riders, but the modern “uniforms” depersonalise the individuals sometimes, so nice to see some faces!
The biggest cheers were for the Belgians and Belgian teams, but there were certainly supporters of other nationalities.
Perhaps our favourite feature was the idea to have team escorts of young riders. This must have transferred over from football where team mascots are now part of every major match. Here there was a group from tiny tots to teenagers, all dressed in the legendary yellow jersey.
They were delightful, zooming down the hill with great enthusiasm or carefully leading their group according to instructions.
How good is must it be to ride through crowds with a Tour de France winner on your wheel when you are that age. Who knows, one day we may read in the media of a champion who was a mascot at Brussels Grand Depart 2019. I like to think so.
In the mood now, two days of racing in Belgium to come and 19 more days of fandom. Bring it on!