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Cycling is a wonderful mix of different cultures. Up until recently the language of cycling was a mix of the languages of the countries where it has been most popular over the years. Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. Only in recent years has English come around. Initially with the American successes of Lemond and Armstrong but also with the rise of Team Sky and riders like Wiggins, Froome and Thomas.
The people that make the sport great are also wonderful mixes of cycling culture. Dutch cycling star Mathieu van der Poel is the grandson of French cycling legend Raymond Poulidor and he was born in Belgium. His father Adrie is Dutch and was a great cyclist himself. Irishman Sam Bennett was also born in Flanders and moved to France at 17 to ride there.
Growing up in Holland in the late 70s and 80s my dad watched hours and hours of cycling on TV. I never understood it as there never seemed to be much going on. It always baffled me slightly how the commentators could fill hours and hours talking, analysing and providing information about the race and the riders. From the epic battles of Roland Liboton, Henny Stamsneijder and Adrie Van Der Poel in the Cyclocross to the exploits of Steven Rooks and Gert Jan Theunisse in the Tour de France. It was on TV in our house all day long.
As a child some of the words seemed alien to me and they were not used in day to day life. We could get Belgian TV so my dad used to prefer the Flemish commentary. The Belgian enthusiasm and the different words that they used to describe situations and traditions were a source of great amusement to him.
Dutch and Flemish are very similar although different words are used sometimes and the accent is different. Through my work in the ski industry in France I learned to speak French and I speak English every day.
Here we look at some of the words that are used in the language of cycling.
Echelons (En/Fr), Waaier (NL,BE)
Formed when there are heavy cross winds, echelons or waaiers are formed to shelter from the wind. A group of riders employing this tactic can gain serious amounts of time on a disorganised group of riders. The effort is shared so there’s more rest and the overall result is a faster group. Echelons are lines of riders that fan (waaier is Dutch for fan) across the road.
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