Culture, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Features, Humour, Racing, Remco Evenepoel -

The beer Remco didn’t drink

It’s a sunny day in Belgium, and the great hope of Belgian cycling stands outside, leaning artfully in a team T-shirt against the wall of a modern house. His tan lines are deep across his cheeks and neck. His smile is playful, his eyes coquettishly shut. Draped around his neck are a pair of tan Bang & Olufsen headphones.

Remco Evenepoel has a sponsor-correct beer in his hand, and – ever the showman – he raises it to his lips for the photographer.

But ah, my friends: they have both been betrayed by the shininess of Remco’s windows, and a reflection reveals the unthinkable.

The beer is not open.

Could it be that Remco Evenepoel does not like Maes 0.0%, the official non-alcoholic beer of Deceuninck-QuickStep?

Feeling a prickling of nervous energy that perhaps I was about to bust open one of the biggest stories of my career, I took a deep breath and prepared to dive into the long Instagram history of Maes 0.0% and Deceuninck-QuickStep for clues. What happened next will shock you.*

(*It won’t, but hopefully we have some fun along the way.)

Sponsors and shills

Cycling team sponsorship is a fragmented beast. Rather than a single brand keeping the lights on, squads are funded by a mixed bag of wealthy benefactors, equipment sponsors, value-in-kind partners and enthusiasts of the sport. In some cases – particularly Italian ProTeam ones – that leads to absurdly long team names and tightly cluttered jersey fronts. But when it comes to the way larger teams deliver a return on investment for their minor sponsors, there are other ways to hit the KPIs.

The Deceuninck-QuickStep squad is a particularly interesting example, having been responsible for some of the most giddy photo-shoots in the sport’s modern history. The team’s partnerships with bedding companies Latexco and Innergetic have birthed a vast catalogue of shots of some of the sport’s leading athletes snuggling into each other for a snooze, having pillow fights, or tastefully draping themselves over one another on a mattress.

Because of an enduring fascination with this partnership, I harboured hopes of taking an in-depth look at the story of those photoshoots, what the team and riders thought of the situation, and whether the brands got what they wanted from it. I even had a title for the article in my head – ‘Tom Boonen Has a Pillow’ – which was going to be a multi-thousand-word feature in the style of Gay Talese’s genre-defining Frank Sinatra profile.

Unfortunately the team weren’t as obliging as I’d hoped. Given I sent their press officer the following photo request, however, I don’t particularly blame them:

Fig. 1: Would you respond to this email?

Luckily, there was another brand on Deceuninck-QuickStep’s long list of partners that was almost as interesting a case study: the team’s official non-alcoholic beer sponsor, Maes 0.0%.

Deceuninck-QuickStep isn’t unique in having an alcohol-free beer brand on the books – Bora-Hansgrohe does, too – but the Belgian squad is a lot more proactive in how it pushes it to the team’s fans, with regular Instagram posts highlighting the beer-adjacent beverage.

At first I thought this might be as a result of a direct correlation between the brewer’s investment in the team – after all, they’re a second-line sponsor, behind Deceuninck and QuickStep but next to Specialized in the hierarchy, and ahead even of pillow magnates Latexco.

But I began to wonder: do the riders actually like the stuff? Or does Maes 0.0% just have a very diligent marketing person with a direct line to the riders, pushing the partnership to its delirious breaking point? Does Remco’s downfall tell us anything about the beer?

To find out, let’s first learn a bit about the particular beer at the centre of the raging furore that is RemcoGate.

The Beer

Maes 0.0% is a non-alcoholic beer – a fast-growing category in Europe – that promises some of the flavour of a full-strength beer without the hangover. It is a sub-brand of Belgium’s Alpen-Maes brewery, which in turn is owned by green-bottled Dutch juggernaut, Heineken.

Excuse the editorialising for a moment, but non-alcoholic beer is – generally speaking – not very good. Maes does not have Australian distribution, so I’m unable to confirm my heavy suspicions, but having tried most options in the category available locally, I’m inclined to think it’s a tepid beer-flavoured water that is wet and cold and little else.

That personal bias aside, reviews are objectively mixed. On the plus side, the beer won the 2018 World Beer Award for best light lager. On the negative side, it gets a lowly 1.88 out of five on RateBeer, with users repeatedly pointing out its flavour resemblance to wet cereal:

The truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes of ‘world-beating light beer’ and “quite disgusting … not a beer … definitely not”, but I needed to know more.

Were there any clues to be gleaned from the beer’s highest profile ambassadors? Maybe! You tell me.

Three men, three cans of Maes 0.0%

Bob Jungels has a beer. We can’t see whether this beer is open, but he appears to be slurping it down with gusto. It’s worth noting that his magnificent quiff is covered by a hat, but the significance of that fact is not yet clear. Not yet.

In 2019, Elia Viviani had a beer, but no longer has that beer on account of changing teams to Cofidis. At time of the photograph being taken, he seems extremely pleased about having had said beer. He has also been known to enjoy a non-brand compliant beer in the past.

Here is Julian Alaphilippe, France’s sweetheart, holding a beer, being roguishly handsome and throwing a weird backwards sign of approval that has been co-opted by dickheads of the far-right. Do not let that distract you from the fact that there is no evidence that the beer is, or has ever been, open.

A Dane with a thirst

Michael Mørkøv, Danish man, has a beer and is not afraid to drink it on the trainer, in the company of not one but two open laptops. He has a thirst here…

… he has a thirst there. Michael Mørkøv has thirsts everywhere.

When you’ve given 100%, you don’t want 0.0%

Philippe Gilbert – cycling icon, Deceuninck-QuickStep alum – is having a beer in the shower. The eagle-eyed reader will note that he is about to pound a full-strength beer, because he is Philippe Gilbert and he has just won Paris-Roubaix. Was this the genesis of a rift that caused Gilbert to leave the squad the following season? I’m not ruling it out.

Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic…

Zdenek Stybar certainly has a beer. He also seems like an absolute sweetheart on the basis of the timely message behind him, which goes completely ignored in the caption of the team’s Instagram post.

With the fruits of his crafternoon shunned, Stybar develops a mean thirst and gulps down another crisp cold zero-percenter while sombrely considering the horizon.

The curious case of Yves Lampaert

Here is Yves Lampaert. He’s driving a tractor, he’s got an iso-moustache, he’s wearing a hat, and unlike his less experienced compatriot Evenepoel, he’s remembered to open the non-alcoholic beer in his hand. Cheers, Yves.

Wow, he’s thirsty.

Really thirsty.

A hard-earned thirst needs a big cold Maes, and the best cold Maes is a non-alcoholic one drunk sitting in a tractor wheel.

So where does that leave us?

In this forensic examination of the drinking habits of the sport’s leading classics team, I was hoping to discover some untold truths, and to answer the questions that define our age. Questions like: is Maes 0.0% a good beer? Does the team it sponsors actually like drinking it? Does Remco Evenepoel, Belgian wunderkind and bicycle prodigy, understand the specifics of how to open a ring-pull can?

Some of those questions went unanswered, although not all.

And then, just as I was prepared to chalk this up as a great unsolved mystery of our times, I happened across the following, startling exhibit:

That’s right: Remco Evenepoel once had a beer, and on the evidence before me, appeared to drink it.

Whether this was the beer that turned him off Maes 0.0% for good, I cannot for now definitively say. Perhaps it was. On the flipside, perhaps Evenepoel has crates and crates of bad buzz-free beer in his expensive garage, and uses every spare waking moment to guzzle the stuff down.

I don’t know. But I do know one thing: I will pursue this story to the bitter, cornflake-flavoured end.

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