Sport isn’t always about the winner, sometimes it’s about the performance, the way a competitor approaches the test, which causes the jaw to drop or the stiff smile of quiet respect. I witnessed one such performance last week at la Flèche Wallonne Femmes, a one day race in the Belgian Ardennes.
A lumpy affair, the race finishes atop the fearsome Mur de Huy - the Wall of Huy, a short, steep climb which even the most conservative say has ramps of 19%, though most agree it’s 26%. That’s steep.
On the second and last 64 kilometre lap, New Zealander Linda Villumsen of the Wiggle Honda team, found herself in a group of riders who were, to a woman, likely to get up the Mur far quicker than her, so rather than accept her fate, she did the only thing a winner would do: she attacked. Now, having stood on the World Time Trial Championship podium four times, she is no stranger to measuring her effort and riding alone. But the spectre of that hill lay ahead.
Very nearly 10 kilometres she was away: 42 seconds her lead. However, as she struggled up the wall, the metres ticking past far too slowly, the others were closing the gap. Then, with 250 metres to go she was overtaken. She finished eighth, 21 seconds down.
“I tried, I couldn’t do anything different today,” she told me. And how did she feel? She smiled, “Buggered.”
Humour. Humility. Heroism.