Antwerp turns out to give Tom Boonen a grand send-off at the start of his last Tour of Flanders.

2017 101st Ronde van Vlaanderen

For “The Shot” from De Ronde, it’s easy to pick out a spectacular photo of Philippe Gilbert’s attack, his solo escape, or his clean victory in Oudenaarde. Those are all superb moments in a race known for aggressive tactics in the final climbs of the Kwaremont and the Paterberg. There could also be a shot from the moment of Sagan’s crash along the barriers at the top end of the Oude Kwaremont … except we were not there. Likewise, there are other iconic moments — Tom Boonen chasing on the Muur, Sep Vanmarcke’s crash, Tom Boonen’s double mechanical issues on the Taaienberg — yes, the 101st Ronde was replete with exciting race minutiae. All of them worthy.

However, we chose a rather simple frame showcasing the start village in Antwerp with one of Flanders’s native sons onstage, Tom Boonen. Why? Because outside of the return of the Muur in Geraardsbergen (not seen in the Tour of Flanders since 2011) much of the non-technical talk around the feeling of De Ronde was about how strange it was to not be in Bruges for the roll-out and about the imminent retirement of Tommeke.

Antwerp went all-in to host the race this year, having ousted Bruges as the default Flanders start town, and expectations were high. When we arrived on race morning we were skeptical if the huge Grote Markt (central plaza) would fill to capacity and have the vibe that Bruges had boasted for years. We were pleased to see the plaza bursting with spectators. So, we tried a few angles in order to showcase the size of the crowd and the atmosphere, but none would compare to an aerial view.

Having scoped out the surrounding buildings the day before, I knew a few cafés had top-floor windows that might provide access to an official photographer. Many of our colleagues had the same idea — everyone wanted to show how grand the scene was. I arrived at the fourth floor of a tavern and squeezed into a small stained glass window next to a colleague. Several VIP guests with their own cameras also came up to get some mementos. We all had to take turns and share the space. I was patient though since my main objective was capturing Quick-Step and Boonen onstage as his last Ronde appearance was big news. It was wonderful to capture the moment and watch it unfold as the MC introduced him with a lengthy tribute and the crowds participated in a synchronized Flandrien applause. A moment for goosebumps if you call yourself a Boonen fan.

In the end, it’s not the photo of the day but it serves as a memento of the close of an era, something that will last far longer in words and images as Boonen takes his leave from the sport to which he gave so much.

Key image specs:

Canon 1DX
Canon 16-35mm 2.8L II USM
1/640 sec @ f/3.5 ISO 100
Focal Length: 16mm
File format: RAW
Shot from top floor of Café on the Grote Markt