The start of the Tour of Flanders is like no other in cycling, and huge crowds gathered in Bruges on Sunday morning to cheer on the contenders for De Ronde.
As ever, the most raucous roars were for reserved for Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), but the Belgian champion’s race would prove to be short-lived. The peloton had scarcely left Bruges when Boonen was involved in a crash and forced to abandon.
Boonen’s ill fortune will have disappointed his legions of fans, but for all of their partisan support, the passion of the Flemish public is universal. Home contenders like Stijn Devolder (RadioShack Leopard), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) can always rely on vocal encouragement, but so too can the visitors such as Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre Merida).
The great race is 100 years old in 2013, and on the evidence of Sunday morning in Bruges, the enthusiasm of the Flemish people for the Tour of Flanders remains undimmed.