Between the last spring and autumn, the contrast is striking in this corner of Belgium where cycling is a religion.
During the 2021 Tour of Flanders, Belgium had to follow its bicycle monument on television.
The roads usually filled with beers and decibels were deserted.
Passion at half mast due to pandemic.
And the mass of the bicycle was given in a vacuum.
But this week, the open-air church reopened.
For several days, the sides of the road between Antwerp and Louvain have again been taken by storm by motorhomes, barbecues and beer kegs.
400,000 people are announced to encourage the runners.
Or rather a runner.
Here, the new king of the Belgians is called Wout Van Aert, but he is still looking for his crown.
Jumbo rider Visma is the overwhelming favorite of the World Championships.
In the streets of Leuven, his face is displayed everywhere.
And in the bars, everyone drinks to the tune of “Goed Wout” (Wout is good).
Pay attention to the favorite tag
Excellent on all terrains, sprint, time trial or mountain, Van Aert has dreamed of this rainbow jersey on his land for a year. He would gladly trade several of his thirteen victories this year to succeed Julian Alaphilippe. The Belgium team seems cut out for him, even if we wouldn't swear that the young Remco Evenepoel, the greatest intrinsic talent since Eddy Merckx, would completely agree to step aside in front of him. Belgium is advancing powerfully but the history of cycling constantly reminds us that a favorite label can sometimes stick to the road.
On a demanding course where the raises and placement will be crucial at all times, other teams can get out of the bib.
Starting with Denmark and its homogeneous quartet Asgreen (winner of the last Tour of Flanders), Pedersen, Valgren and Cort Nielsen.
Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel has been quiet since the Olympics.
But it may be to do better than his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, 2nd at the 1974 Worlds.
To read also Julian Alaphilippe: "The rainbow jersey, it was necessary to make it shine"
In this race where many imagine a small group competing for victory in the sprint, the puzzling Italian Sonny Colbrelli, recent European champion, can continue to make Italian sport shine this year.
Especially after the success in women of his compatriot Elisa Balsamo.
And the French?
Julian Alaphilippe obviously has the means to keep his tunic.
And the Blues, in second resort, can also play the card of his teammate at Deceuninck-Quick Step, Florian Sénéchal.
Finally, the pressure will be everywhere this Sunday.
In the barrels as in the peloton.