The evening before the race Museeuw was relaxed at the dinner table, drinking wine and joking with his teammates. Johan was mentally ready for his retirement. Next morning, the riders took off in dry weather. After 30 minutes, Museeuw dropped back to the team car, where I wound down the car window. Johan started to sing “Are you loooonesome toniiiiight?” I was shocked by the singing qualities and laughed. It seemed that Museeuw felt all right.
When the racing got serious, I watched the race on a small TV screen in the car, next to Wilfried. Outside, on the cobblestones, riders were crashing or waiting for support after a flat tire or mechanical. Afterward, I felt like a soldier riding in a tank.
Museeuw was attentive, constantly racing near the front. With 15 kilometers to go, at the Carrefour de l’Arbre secteur pavé, Museeuw made his move, thinning out the leading group to six riders. But then fate struck. Over the cobbles at Hem, Museeuw punctured—at the exact same spot where he flatted a few years earlier. Unlike then, Museeuw didn’t have teammates around him. With some 6 kilometers left, he found himself in a losing position. No, Museeuw would not be celebrating at the Roubaix Velodrome—it was Swedish rider Magnus Backstëdt who won his first (and only) monument.
It’s unnecessary to say that Museeuw was gutted when he reached the finish. I’d taken a place in the team bus and watched Johan approaching. The Lion stepped on the bus, unstrapped his helmet—a personalized one with a lion on it—threw it on the floor, smashed it with his foot and exclaimed: “The Lion of Flanders. It’s all over. I’m finished.”
I quietly watched the scene and noticed tears in Johan’s eyes. After a few minutes, I dared to raise my voice and asked Museeuw if I could keep the smashed helmet as a souvenir. Johan wanted to offer me another, brand-new helmet, but I insisted. I cherished the lion helmet for many years before donating this historic item to KOERS, the Museum of Cycle Racing, in Roeselare, Belgium.
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