Pauwels, Meeusen, Stybar: the podium of the Superprestige Gavere cyclocross race. As the ceremony winds down, I follow the flow of fans migrating from the start/finish towards the beer garden. I take a step inside the monstrous, white canvas tent, almost better suited for a graduation or a rainy wedding ceremony. I’m welcomed by the nasal stench of cigarettes along with hundreds of Belgians, fueled by beer and frites, belting the chorus of “Sweet Caroline.” Where am I, a Red Sox game?
The party continues and I step back outside. The course deconstruction begins as fans and mechanics slowly saunter their way back to the parking area. Gavere wasn’t an especially muddy race, but the bikes still require cleaning and the RVs need to be packed before the evening’s end.
During my weekend in Belgium, I wandered the pits, the parking lot and the parcours, asking the mechanics I encountered if I could take their picture. They all obliged, but most were confused, almost shocked by the attention. In a world where hundreds gather around the campers of Nys, Stybar, or Wellens just hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite superstar, the mechanics surreptitiously work in the shadows of recognition. Instead of autographing pictures and memorabilia, they sign their name with a coat of Mastik One and a turn of the wrench. So I introduce you to the unsung heroes from the Belgian battlefields of Hasselt and Gavere.