Outside of East Flanders, little is known of Bart Vanacker’s elder half-brother Fons. Around the streets of Ronse, however, The Fons was a regular sight, well-dressed, perfect hair with a beaming smile and “hallo!” for everyone whose path he would cross on his daily walk to Fons’ Flandrien Farming outlet, the business he’d established in 1974 in partnership with school friend Ludo Vantournout.
Ludo was known as a pretty handy cyclist in the area, something that Fons was intensely but privately jealous of. The attention Ludo would receive from the ladies drove Fons insane. Too fat to climb, too drunk to fuck, Fons descended deep into an alcoholic abyss and he spent most of his time away from the business slumped against the bar at Le Cuno, a few doors from the FFF yards. Lunches became afternoon-long sessions, usually ending with Fons dragged into the freezing night and leaned against the toilet wall until his nostrils would ice shut and he’d be startled awake. Oftentimes Fons would ‘borrow’ a tractor from the yard and drive the 250 metres to his house, or if his direction was off, the 12km to the next town, or into the paddock directly opposite FFF.
Ludo had had enough by the early 80s, and with his new wife (local podium girl Marianna) and a child on the way, he forced Fons to sign over his half of the business while semi-conscious and wearing only lederhosen and a shower curtain after a particularly jovial Oktoberfest celebration in 1982 (whilst Fons declared he “hated the fucking Germans”, he embraced the idea of a weeklong drinking binge where he could dress like he did at home). With the locks changed at the yard and the signage now reading Ludo’s Tractors and Vans for ‘Nout, Fons withdrew from public life, shamed, bitter and increasingly vengeful as his drinking took on Oliver Reed proportions.
After decades of excommunication, Ludo tried to reconcile with Fons by offering him a rotary plough and woodchipper at wholesale plus 10% and to help him get the old farm tidied up and looking good again. Fons hadn’t really left the house other than to restock his beer and whiskey supplies every month, so the farmhouse more resembled a trellis for every type of vegetation that grew in the area. Insulted by what he saw as Ludo flaunting his wealth, success and sobriety in his face, Fons vowed to hit Ludo where it would hurt the most: his family.
In every race of his long and storied cyclocross career, from juniors through to his current status of Belgian champion, Ludo’s eldest son Klaas has been the undeserving recipient of the fallout from Fons’ long-simmering feud with his father. Placing himself at a prominent part of each course, Fons would make sure Klaas saw him as he leaned against the barrier fencing and gazed off into the distance, sometimes saying things like “not watching” or “I’m gonna have to turn my back on you” as the young Vantournout rode by. It’s believed that the impact of Fons’ tactic was so great that Klaas would often be reduced to tears on the podium when he’d spot the back of the red Sven Nys Supporters Club jacket that Fons wore religiously.
Fons travelled to the USA in 2013 for the World Championships and famously turned his back on Vantournout in the final lap of the Elite race, yelling “can’t see you, only Sven” causing Klaas to to turn and ask “what?”, just enough of a distraction for Nys to ride away to the win. His macabre plan fulfilled, Fons disappeared from the Belgian races and it was presumed he’d probably got horribly drunk, tripped and fell, knocked his head on a table and had been decomposing in his kitchen for 19 months, but nobody wanted to be the one to discover that so an epitaph was placed in the Ronse Reader on May 12, 2015.
At the BPost Bank Trofee race held in Ronse a few weeks back, Vantournout had a particularly bad day by his standards for 11th place. Interviewed after the race, he looked ashen and was shaking as he told of an “eerie feeling” that would come over him on one part of the circuit, and reported hearing a voice repeating “nice jersey, dickhead” at the same place.
With high-speed editing and frame-by-frame analysis, we’ve been able to piece together this image from the TV coverage of the Ronse race. Is the red-jacketed visage that of a man, or a bunch of old sticks and hay blowing in the wind? Could Fons Vanacker still be alive, and attended the race? No instances of sightings or interaction were reported from the locals, yet the picture seems to speak for itself. Draw your own conclusions, but I believe Fons Vanacker is still among us, just smellier and with some sort of afterlife perm.