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By John Wilcockson
Whenever Johan Museeuw says he’s retiring from bike racing, we take it with a grain of salt, right? Remember October 1996 when a frustrated Museeuw said he was quitting after losing the Paris-Tours classic? Well, a week later, in Lugano, Switzerland, he made his comeback to the sport … and won the world title.
Now, he’s at it again.
Before this year began, Museeuw said that it would be his last, ending with the world road race championship in Zolder, Belgium, which just happens to coincide with his 37th birthday. He also said that he wanted to go out on a high note — and winning the world’s a second time would be that, all right. But, privately, to friends and family, he’d been saying that what he really wanted was to quit after winning “his” classic, the Tour of Flanders, for a record fourth time. That would etch his name in the record books for good.
The hope of that fourth victory suddenly evaporated late Sunday afternoon when an irascible Andrea Tafi shot away from the winning five-man break 3800 meters from the finish. Museeuw duly won the second-place sprint … and Museeuw put his right arm out as if to say good-bye to his fans. Five hours earlier, when the peloton allowed him to ride alone through his hometown of Gistel, Museeuw made the same gesture to the crowds.
Thing is, he believed he was not only waving farewell to the Tour of Flanders, but actually making his farewell performance. The last of his career. At Meerbeke, after the race finish, his face was a study in pain and frustration. When after the finishing ceremonies he arrived at the Domo team bus — where his teammate Fred Rodriguez was already showered and changed — Museeuw exclaimed, “This time, it’s finished!”
His team director and close friend Patrick Lefevere tried to play down Museeuw’s apparent abdication. “We’ll see how he feels in the morning,” said the boss. As for Museeuw, he stated, “If I don’t show up for Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, then you can take it I’ve quit.”