In praise of the Mur
It is the fate of icons to have their names shortened. The brief presence of Bruno Senna in one of Sir Frank Williams’ cars, for example, did not make it necessary to prefix subsequent discussions of the sport’s best driver with the word Ayrton.
It is a given that such conversation would concern the three-time world champion, and not his nephew. So it is with cycling’s hardest climbs.
‘Huy’ is superfluous. Cycling fans know exactly which 1,300m strip of tarmac is under discussion when the Mur is mentioned. Belgium is not short of ‘walls’, whether in Flanders or Wallonia, but it is the Meuse town of Huy that has claimed the word ‘mur’ for itself. It is necessary to identify the climb in Geraardsbergen with the name of the town. Not so for the people of Huy.
And with good reason. Volcanoes can lie dormant for centuries, but bring a bike race to the Mur and eruptions are guaranteed. It also provides a further example of the specialisms of professional cycling. An uphill sprint demands a certain kind of rider, and not even a long-range climber is suited to the task. It says as much for the Mur that the likes of Froome and Contador find other ways to occupy themselves when La Flèche comes around. Trek’s Andy Schleck may have wished he’d followed their example. For riders like Valverde and Martin, Gilbert and Rodriguez, it is manna.
Summer will find us on intimate terms with other climbs. The Passo dello Stelvio will be simply the Stelvio; we will not insult your intelligence by defining the Tourmalet as ‘col’. But we look too far ahead. In spring, the hearts of minds of those who follow professional cycling are in Belgium, and as football fans might have it, there is only one Mur.
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