Tonight Dries is riding the criterium in Sint-Niklaas. This is only his second ever but it will also absolutely be his last, he says. Ever.
A couple of days ago in Herentals, Jurgen Van Den Broeck won, Petacchi came second and Ballan was supposed to secure third but got distracted and Devenyns overtook him on the line.
For a man with only 90 minutes of experience, Dries is exceptionally clear about what these criteriums are made of and gives a fine analysis: “Actually, it all went wrong. McEwen was there and he was supposed to do the final but our communication got mixed up. Van Den Broeck was going to win, of course. He is Belgian and did a good Tour. The home favourite.
“Second was to be Petacchi and third Ballan. But Ballan didn’t know what place he had to take. And I was there and had more speed. I mean, he was going so slow, nobody would have believed it.
“Anyway, it’s all about number one. All the towns try to get the big names, you know, to get the big crowds. That’s the meaning of it all. You can tell by our racing numbers in what order we are supposed to finish.”
So for anybody out there who didn’t know this: the crits are a fix. A scam. They race for money and that’s all they race for. The big names will make as much as €25-30,000 a night doing a whole string of them at the end of July and well into August. Some riders double a year’s salary in just one month.
A colleague once argued that the reason France hasn’t had a world champion in over 20 years is because the top French riders are busy making dough in August and, in so doing, lose all the form they might have accumulated during the Tour. This, the argument goes, makes them worthless come September and the World Championships.
Of course no one is fooled by the criteriums around here. This isn’t France, it’s Belgium. People here are willingly cheering but they all know these races are fixed. In other places across Europe the crowd thinks it’s real. But here people take it for what it is: good clean family entertainment you can’t trust.
When asked who the winner will be tonight in Sint-Niklaas, Dries says he’ll know once he’s in the locker room. “Some local guy, of course.” He shakes his head.
This is an extract of an article originally published in Rouleur 40.