• Belgian Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team competes during the Virtual Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) cycling race (Getty)Source: Getty
Greg Van Avermaet took his first victory at the Tour of Flanders yesterday as the race that stops the Belgian nation went virtual.
6 Apr 2020 - 10:41 AM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2020 - 10:51 AM

After the race was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, 12 cyclists pedalled it out in isolation on stationary bikes hooked up to a video-game re-creation of the Belgian countryside.

Complete with roadside advertising and virtual spectators waving flags, the avatars of the Tour of Flanders were carried on Belgian television with live commentary, complete with camera shots of competitors in their homes cycling the shortened virtual course for rival red and yellow teams.

“When I heard about this idea, I thought it was a joke,” Zdenek Stybar, a professional road racing cyclist from the Czech Republic, said in a pre-race interview.

Racing in full cycle gear and sweating from home, Belgian Greg Van Avermaet won the first ever virtual Tour of Flanders, which is normally the second of five “Monument” classics in the season including races in France and Italy.

“Yesterday evening I was a bit panicked, but it was fun to do it, I think we had a good time,” Van Avermaet said after his victory.

AG2R's Oliver Naesen won the two-up sprint with Nicolas Roche for second place. The Irishman immediately went out in search of food after the race. 

Roche's Sunweb team mate Michael Matthews, the only Australian entrant, was an early casualty to a mechanical. But his personal cheer squad could not be faulted: 

Other riders included Remco Evenepoel, Wout van Aert, Thomas De Gendt and 2019 Tour of Flanders champion Alberto Bettiol. 

The race was 32 kilometres long, instead of the usual 260, and involved 12 riders instead of 175, taking an hour for a competition that usually lasts six.

Under lockdown, Belgium has suffered 1,447 deaths due to the coronavirus, with almost 20,000 confirmed cases of people infected, according to the latest figures.