By Brecht Decaluwé in Eernegem
Typical Belgian weather conditions accompanied 36 year-old Wim Vansevenant as the Silence-Lotto rider said goodbye to cycling in his hometown of Eernegem on Sunday. Vansevenant retired after 14 years in the professional peloton, first riding in 1994 as a stagiaire for the Novell team before spending four seasons with the Vlaanderen 2002-Eddy Merckx team. Vansevenant spent his last six seasons with the Lotto team.
The Belgian rider will go into the history books as the rider who received the lantern rouge as last placed rider in the Tour de France three times in a row (2006-2008).
Vansevenant best known as domestique for several top cyclists such as Peter Van Petegem, Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans, but he managed one victory in his professional career - the second stage of the 1996 Tour du Vaucluse - or two if you count his victory in the honorary criterium on Sunday.
The blond Belgian pulled a controlled skid across the slippery wet cobbles as he crossed the line, and then hung up his bike and dressed up like a farmer for the presentation. A farmer? Yes, Vansevenant has decided to take over the business of his father, farming in Bovekerke. "I've got this farming degree so I figured that I had to do something with it," Vansevenant joked. "It will be a farm without animals because that's nothing but misery, but it will be hard enough anyway."
The Belgian realized that his Tour de France performances gave his popularity a major boost. "I'm proud that I've written a little bit of history with that lantern rouge. It will always be linked to my name and I hope that I inspired other riders, just like the seven Tour de France victories from Lance Armstrong," Vansevenant said.
"During the last few months the form wasn't what it was supposed to be," Vansevenant admitted. "The Tour de France was my last major goal and afterwards the motivation was gone. I don't think that I'll keep riding my bike because I have to give it back to the team. I'll use the saved time for my family because they deserve that after all those years when I was away from home," Vansevenant said.
The festivities in Eernegem started with a family bike ride in the morning and about 400 people showed up to fight up against the pouring rain and strong winds in West-Flanders, just like 'Sevi' had done throughout his career. In the afternoon a real criterium was held in Eernegem. Many of Belgium's top riders showed up to pay tribute. Also among the starters were Australians Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen and Nick Gates. "First of all I want to say sorry to 'Sevi' that we couldn't complete the double in the Tour de France this year. The plan was to be lantern rouge in the Tour de France and yellow jersey in Paris and I let him down," Evans joked.
"Beyond that, I value every rider who contributes to the team whether that's with results or with the work they do for the team. Wim is one of the riders who you always want to have in your team, in every race you do. He's a real team player in every sense of the word and he's only going to be missed in that way," Evans said.
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Images by Brecht Decaluwé / Cyclingnews.com
- The local fanfare gets the party going in Eernegem
- The party is not yet on fire.
- Cadel Evans shows up in Eernegem.
- Jurgen Van De Walle tuned his Specialized bike for this rain criterium.
- Retiring Wim Vansevenant
- Cadel Evans wore the Polish Voigt-hat in the dressing rooms.
- Peter Fausto Farazijn made a comeback for this criterium.
- Robbie McEwen has a laugh before the start.
- Nico Mattan is always in for a joke.
- Gert Steegmans and Cadel Evans head-to-head.
- Wim Vansevenant recalled his career and saw that it had been good.
- The peloton lined up for an hour of racing in Eernegem.
- The cycling fanfare led the first lap on the Eernegem course.
- The fanfare leads the way
- Benny, Tom and Cadel lead the bunch.
- Party boy Wim is hiding behind the local politician who likes the publicity.
- Vansevenant riding in hometown Eernegem
- Van De Walle and Steegmans chatting while Van Petegem and Mattan are battling for the publicity in the background.
- Mattan waves to the crowds
- Mattan won the speaker's attention and is a happy man.
- The famous Eddy Merkcx retro led the race for a while
- The bunch is split into pieces.
- Robbie McEwen leads the first big group.
- Tom Stubbe is riding attentative near the front.
- Cadel Evans cruises along in Eernegem.
- The bunch didn't care much about the race during the first laps.