Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has moved to clarify comments he made regarding the flying of the Flemish flag by Belgian supporters at the world championships.
The distinctive “Lion of Flanders” flag is a common sight at the roadsides of races all over Europe, although it has increasingly been appropriated as a symbol for the Flemish separatist movement.
Gilbert, who hails from the French-speaking Walloon region, was asked by Humo magazine for his opinion on the Flemish flags waved by Belgian fans during his Worlds triumph in Valkenburg last year.
“During the world championships, the country’s flag should be waved, not a region’s,” Gilbert told Humo. “These flags shouldn’t be at the race and in any case, the people who wave them only put themselves where they are sure to be seen by the cameras.”
Gilbert went on to describe voting for Flemish nationalist party N-VA as a “negative choice” although he noted that “you find extremists everywhere, in the Walloon region too. People don’t have confidence in politics anymore, so they give their vote to these kinds of parties.”
Gilbert’s comments made instant headlines across Belgium, in both the Francophone and Flemish press. While the N-VA declined to comment, a spokesman for the "Flanders Flies Its Flag" association told Het Laatste Nieuws that it was "deplorable that the world champion would say that" and Gilbert himself moved swiftly to diffuse the situation by issuing a clarification.
“It needs to be clarified that I was responding to a question about the Flemish flags during the world championships,” Gilbert said. “My feeling is that I don’t understand it because during the Worlds, you’re riding for your country and not for a region. To be clear, I wouldn’t want a Walloon flag to be waved either.
“Beyond that, I don’t want to make any statement of a political character, I keep as far away as possible from politics. What counts for me are the races and my fans, whether they are from Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels or beyond.”