Flahute: The Hardest of the Hardmen

Tchmil and his signature grimmace. Photo Graham Watson.

Few images inspire the Keepers more than those of hardmen grinding away large chainrings on roads of antiquity built as cattle paths in northern Europe. Throw in some grey skies, hordes of beer soaked Belgians lining the way, windmills in the background, and of course, Flandrian Mud, and the first word that comes to mind is most likely “hardman”.  Go ahead, try some free-association, Rorschach style.  Flash a picture of Boonen, Hushovd, or even Freire in front of a Velominatus and ask what the first word that comes to their mind is.  I’d be willing to bet my last cog it’s “hardman”.

Hardman status is not easy to attain and certainly begets cred.  But the Rules don’t really stipulate how one becomes known as a hardman.  It’s generally agreed upon that A) One’s palmares must include some success in the spring classics.  But this doesn’t necessarily include La Primavera as it’s not north enough and there are no cobbles.  B)  It certainly helps if one’s name is of a northern European dialect and includes double “o’s”, a “de” or “van” in the middle, or three consonants strung together somewhere.  But that’s not hard and fast either as there certainly have been southern Europeans who’ve achieved hardman status.  And C) it seems there must be a certain level of independence.  One does not become a hardman by sucking a domestique’s wheel for 150K only to win in a 15k solo attack up a climb.  Hardmen ride out front, take chances, are aggressive, and drive the pace. But then again, sucking the stream of a lead-out train to win a sprint seems to at least contribute to hardman status.

There is a type of hardman though that is unequivocal.  The Flahute.  The term Flahute is thought to be coined by French journalists after WWII who used it endearingly to describe their Belgian neighbors, the cyclists who rode the legs off their rivals over the pave and through cold, rainy conditions.  These were people that had just had their country torn apart by war.  People who gave themselves one choice, pick beets all day or become a cyclist.   Either of which led to a career of suffering. One of which may have also led to praise by his countrymen and perhaps even glory.  These are riders, it has been said, that consider le Tour to be a series of long training rides.  The exception that proves this rule is, of course, Eddy Merckx.  Roger De Vlaeminck, Mr. Paris-Roubaix and a noted Flahute, defines them this way; “They’re just those guys who know how to ride faster than anybody else over cobblestones and in the rain.” Flahute has also been defined as the only guy who finishes a 200k race that 125 guys start. Franco Ballerino was one.  As was Johan Musseeuw.  In addition to the riders who have been catalogued here at Velominati I would like to add Andrei Tchmil.  Let’s take a look at why Tchmil is a Flahute.  He rode le Tour five times. He finished it twice having never won a stage.  But he throve in cobbled classics.  His win in the 1994 Paris-Roubax is legendary.  He rode away from Ballerini and Baldato in the final kilometers of that year’s mudfest in commanding style after doing battle earlier with Musseeuw.  Only 48 riders finished that year. It was George Hincapie’s first P-R.  He did not finish. Tchmil knew how to suffer.


The thing of it is it’s much easier to come up with a list of riders who aren’t Flahute.  And that’s how it should be.  Of the current generation of riders one stands out as having Flahute potential, Tommeke. Other than that, who is there?  Yes, we currently have hardmen but Flahute?  I wonder.  As this year’s spring race calendar continues to unfold perhaps we’ll see.

One could fire up a blog and title it Flahuteminati.  The problem would be the scant number of riders to write about.  But even though the tales would be small in number, they would be worth repeating and reading about over and over again.

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31 Replies to “Flahute: The Hardest of the Hardmen”

  1. Nicely said, Marko! The Flahute is indeed a rare breed. Brett also had some fine words to say on the subject and there is an issue of Rouleur (I forget which one) that also has a piece on this elusive class of hardman, but the scriptures are not thick enough on the subject.

    There is something wrong with those who love the stones and thrive when they are covered in mud. Lets hope that’s what happens for the next two Sundays.

  2. Excellent Post! These are the imponderables of cycling all cyclists like to rave about over pints. Eddy Planckaert was another beast, Flahute of Flahutes. Regarding training,

    We never tried to change gear. It was a matter of pride. Just ride and ride in the 14 or 15 sprocket. If there was a hill or a headwind you pressed harder instead of changing gear, it was the way then. It made me strong though, and strength is everything in Belgian racing

    -Cyclesport April 2010, p.99

    And I reckon he was not talking about the small front chainring either…

  3. @john
    You know, the one piece of cycling kit I am missing is a hairnet. Even though I would never ride in one, I simply must have one.

    I am a little bit embarrassed that I don’t.

  4. @john

    Just read a rad article last night in CycleSport America on the ’90 edition of Roubaix. The Planckaert/Bauer photo finish. Epic.

  5. @john


    I can’t imagine a more excrutiating scenario than to loose Paris-Roubaix by the little. Figure in his various mishaps at the Worlds and other big races and I think Bauer must be the least lucky rider that I’m aware of.

    Speaking of the imminent Cobbled Classics: assuming that the weather in Flanders and Northern France is identical to the weather in Seattle, it’s looking like a good, muddy couple of weeks. It’s been too dry for too many years!

  6. I would add Andrea Tafi.
    Also Evans yesterday won in pure flahute style, although normally he is a whiner

  7. Y’know: I like “Flahuteminati.” Because this is what the Cognoscenti are really striving for, aren’t they? I suppose this is the supreme level of Cognoscenti. Rule #5 doesn’t apply to the Flahuteminati, because they never need to be told and could care less if those around them need to. The lone rule: bike, kit, and body must come home the same color: mud, clay, or blood. Howzat for an intimate relationship between function and form?

  8. Marko :@john
    Just read a rad article last night in CycleSport America on the ’90 edition of Roubaix. The Planckaert/Bauer photo finish. Epic.

    Bauer was a tough nut and one of the nicest guys too. I had the real pleasure to be soundly thrashed by him in quite a few amateur races early in his career. He was always in front and usually by minutes. That story and his reaction to 2nd was classic and classy.

    Steampunk to true but I for one would need much better palmeres before I begin to see myself in that circle.

    And I would like to nominate an easy to pronounce name to the “Flahute of Flahutes” list – Kelly.

  9. this brings a tear to my eye…

    I miss spring and ‘the hardmen’

  10. @david

    Oh, me neither. I find myself still having to impose Cognoscenti principles into my riding some days. No: this is Elysian Fields stuff, not for us mere mortals. But we can appreciate the precious few who qualify as the hardest of the hardmen.

  11. @Souleur

    Me, too. There’s a better than decent chance that next year we’ll move to Ireland for 10-12 months. Which had me thinking Tour of Flanders Sportive. Safe at the computer, on the other side of the Atlantic, with summer setting in, I’d love to try it…

  12. Just read this: for a guy who ripped the hearts out the chests of riders, this is pure class (not at all a surprise). I’m thinking if Tchmil is telling you to hang it up, it’s time. Classy, classy stuff.

  13. @Good Geofelephant @Marko

    Yep: some good history and interesting articles. Gangrene? Pfff!

    In Cambridge last week, I got my first close-up look at Museeuw’s line of bikes at ATA Cycle. I didn’t get to ride, but that’s a beautiful frame and I could feel the flahute emanating from the name.

  14. @frank
    I particularly like randomly browsing through the “best of all time” series on Cycling Revealed. It’s a great site – but very, well, serious and studious. A sort of righteous school ma’m (compared to the talented but sometimes wayward adolescent that is Velominati.com …)

  15. I am heading out to Utah for the FrontRunner Century bicycle ride and I am looking to see if anyone has ever used Map My Ride for the FrontRunner Century Bicycle Ride. I have heard that people have used it for LOTOJA classic and for the Ulcer Ride as well as the Salt Lake City Century. If anyone has info for the FrontRunner Century they could give to me I would be happy. Check out the http://www.frontrunnercentury.com and please let me know.

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