For some unknown, random reason I have a video clip of the final kilometer of the 2005 Ghent-Wevelgem saved on my hard drive. Every now and then I’ll stumble across it, watch it, and probably 97% of the time I’ll wonder how Nico Mattan can look himself in the mirror regarding the manner he won (arguably) the biggest race of his career…playing motorpace Frogger with various cars and motorcycles shadowing Juan Antonio Flecha. I wonder if Flecha got one of these for his New Year’s party. It’s the least Mattan could do. But really…what do you expect when a pro wins a marquee event almost within sight of his home. Just ask Levi Leipheimer about creative interpretations of the rulebook favoring a native son.
Lately, however, my lukewarm (at best) regard for Nico Mattan may warrant a radical revamping based on an amazing anecdote in the September 2007 Cycle Sport. Mattan, in cahoots with his cycling-mad Flemish entourage, planned the all-time great Tour de France meet-and-greet during stage 2 of the 2001 Tour from Calais to Antwerp. The route wasn’t going through his home town, but it did pass fairly close by within West Flanders. Mattan arranged for a flatbed trailer to be situated on the Tour route resplendent with his family, friends, fans, a Belgian TV crew, and ramps(!!!) at either end for a seamless entry/exit via his bike. Then, Mattan worked his ass off to get in and then motor the early break so it would survive until the trailer. Let’s just let Nico tell in his own words exactly what happened as the break approached the rendezvous point…
“As we neared the Belgian border the [Cofidis] director said over the radio, ‘Now, you are not going to stop are you Nico?’ I didn’t answer and he started to panic and said, ‘Nico, this is the Tour de France and you are in the break, you can’t stop.’ But I still didn’t answer.
“We got nearer and nearer to the trailer and the director got even more impatient. ‘Nico, Nico, don’t stop.’ But I did, and as I rode up the ramp I could still hear him shouting, ‘No Nico, don’t do it!’ I gave my interview, I spoke to my family and then I got on my bike and rode back into the race.”
Every now and then I hear of bizarre goings on during races, such as a certain pro that stopped at a roadside yard sale during a stage of a New England stage race and bought a waffle iron. And then transported it across the finish line. If I recall correctly, he was OTB and just trying to make the time cut when he took his detour. Stuff like that just cracks me up. But during le Tour??? Mattan didn’t finish too badly rolling in 28th and best Cofidis finisher (both stage and GC). But that takes some serious balls to motor a Tour de France break and then consciously remove yourself from said-break just to stop on the side of the road for your friends, family, and the media. Mattan told his director that the break was doomed once the course turned east towards Antwerp due to the wind so it didn’t matter that he bailed when he did. And yes, the break got caught just as Mattan predicted. But still…I don’t think I’d want to deal with my DS post-race following such a preposterously cheeky move on a world stage.