Belgians reflect on tarnished icon

The suspension of 'the Lion of Flanders', Johan Museeuw, has provoked a good deal of soul-searching

The suspension of ‘the Lion of Flanders’, Johan Museeuw, has provoked a good deal of soul-searching

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The news that three-time Tour of Flanders winner and former world champion Johan Museeuw has been banned by the Belgian federation for four years (two of them suspended) from competition and working in a team management role has provoked a good deal of soul-searching in the Belgian press. Little more than six months ago, Museeuw had praise heaped on him when he finally pulled the curtain down on his long and illustrious career at the GP Scheldeprijs, but news of his suspension for as yet unknown allegations in an ongoing doping case has resulted in much re-evaluation. ‘A tarnished icon’ was the description of more than one Belgian paper, although all lamented the lack of information that provoked such a lengthy ban. However, the Gazet Van Antwerpen pointed out, “no prosecutor would demand a ban of four years without very good reason.” The prosecutor himself told La Dernire Heure: “I got the sanction I had been asking for and, as you can imagine, not without reason.” Museeuw’s former team manager at Lotto, Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke commented: “My first feeling is one of disappointment. But,” he immediately added, “I have just one picture of him in my mind as a rider: that of a great man who had an exceptional career.” Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx was of a similar mind, saying: “I don’t know whether Johan needed the help of a veterinarian or not to prepare himself but I do know that he is a great champion.” Whether Museeuw, who has never tested positive during his career, regains his former untarnished iconic status depends on the details that will come out once the ongoing Landuyt-Versele doping case concludes in the coming weeks.