It all started just a few days ago. The Tour of Flanders couldn’t escape the list of sporting events around the world suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic. April 5th was one of those dates that cycling fans across the globe had marked on their calendars, as it was to be the 104th edition of this Belgian classic. Cancellation left a gaping hole in the lives of all those who follow the sport.
But not everyone was willing to sit still for that. When word got out that the race was cancelled, Flanders Classics and Bkool got down to work.
Their idea was to take advantage of the existing collaboration born with the Flanders Classics by Bkool online competition, and use it to shape a dream: the first professional edition of the Tour of Flanders on a virtual platform, with top-level pros competing together from their respective homes. The main problem? Time. With only days before the official date of the race, the team was working against the clock to put all the pieces together. There would be only one chance to make this work.
The first step was clear: Flanders Classics began contacting the sport’s top pro teams to see if they would join this groundbreaking initiative. With the entire pro peloton idled by the pandemic, team managers were eager to have their riders compete. Names like Evanepoel, De Gendt, Van Avermaet and Matthews were added to the increasingly impressive lineup. And they did it without asking for anything in return, they did it to give frustrated cycling fans something to cheer for – and to ensure that the 104th edition of the Tour of Flanders could take place.
Amazingly, DeRonde2020 became a real possibility – held with some of the best cyclists in the world as protagonists, everyone competing from their own homes. The race’s window to the world would be the Belgian multimedia chain Sporza, allowing the event to be broadcast live through the country’s national television network, and streamed globally thanks to Kiswe. Channels like RTVE, Eurosport and GCN all joined the party. The dream was taking shape.
Several frantic days of hard work, preparation, tests and stress followed. It seemed impossible to organize a race of this magnitude in just a matter of days; but everyone at Bkool and Flanders Classics was determined to make this race happen. The first virtual Tour of Flanders started at 3:30pm Central European TIme on Sunday, April 5th, 2020: a date the Bkool team will not easily forget.
After an explosive start to the race, Evenepoel showed he came to race by taking the lead early. While his gap remained slim, everything seems to indicate that he would be one of the day’s chief protagonists. Behind him, Van Avermaet, De Gendt, Naesen and Roche formed a tight chase group.
But soon, Evenepoel began to fade and his pursuers not only managed to catch him, but put him in trouble. On the last climb, Van Avermaet took the reins and launched a powerful attack that no one could counter. Generating power spikes of over 800 watts and an average speed of 43 km/h, he opened up a gap that would not be closed. Behind him, Naesen, Roche and De Gendt were locked in battle for the remaining podium spots.
Van Avermaet continued to power to the finish, managing to finish 20 seconds up on second place Oliver Naesen, who took the silver in a brutal sprint against Nocolas Roche. De Gendt and Jasper Stuyven rounded out the top five.
The drama and excitement of professional cycling was back. We had breakaways, attacks, counter-attacks, and more. Tens of thousands around the world streamed it live.
The objective had been met. For one day, the best cycling returned to the homes of fans across the globe, letting us forget, for a little while anyway, the tough times we’re all struggling through.
A few hours after the streaming views were posted on the internet, views of the race were already at hundreds of thousands. In a few years, we’ll say that Flanders Classics and Bkool stood up to the Coronavirus and triumphed, staging the first virtual edition of the Tour of Flanders, one of the oldest and most important races in the world. Perhaps when that time comes, these types of events will be the order of the day, and even part of the professional calendar. Everything indicates that this boom has only just begun. But of course, we’ll never forget that in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, with everything (including the clock) against it, a group of the brave, skilled people, united by their love of cycling, joined forces to take the sport to the next level.