Not every municipality can be proud of the fact that they once had the Tour de France winner living in their municipality. All the more reason to honor this and use/abuse it as a figure to attract more visitors to the municipality. This is what most municipalities would do. Logical, right?

And especially if it concerns a café, restaurant or home. But no, not all municipalities think this way. They prefer to have the building demolished by a project developer who will build a housing block, offices, shops or similar.

This also applies to the municipality of Gistel, birthplace of two-time Tour winner Sylvère Maes (1936 and 1939). Recently, the café Tourmalet, opened by Maes in 1936 after his legendary victory at the French col de Tourmalet, was razed to the ground and replaced by an office complex with a food bar on the ground floor called Sylvère. Can it get any more ironic?

Sylvère Maes takes the final victory in the 1936 Tour de France
Sylvère Maes during the climb of the Col du Tourmalet in the 1936 Tour de France

In de foodbar vind je gelukkig wel enige originele niet gepubliceerde foto’s van Sylvère Maes en in een krantenartikel zegt de uitbaatster die de vriendin is van de burgemeester het volgende “De naam van m’n horecazaak is uiteraard een verwijzing naar en eerbetoon aan de lokale wielerheld en zijn indrukwekkende palmares”.

Niettegenstaande de verwijzing naar deze legendarische Gistelnaar had Café Tourmalet alle redenen om deel uit te maken van het Vlaamse Culturele Erfgoed. In de eerste plaats omwille van Sylvère Maes en in de tweede plaats omdat het een prachtig gebouw was in art deco stijl en zoveel gebouwen in deze stijl zijn er niet in Vlaanderen, laat staan in Gistel.

Café Tourmalet has been a permanent fixture in Gistel for many residents of Gistel (including my father). It was opened in 1936 by Sylvère himself and was owned by Sylvère himself and later by his son Michel until 1991 when they sold it.

Unfortunately, things started to go wrong from then on due to mismanagement by the various tenants and since 2021 it has been available for rent again, but without consequences. The owner then sold it to a project developer with the well-known sequel.

It is regrettable that the various municipal authorities of Gistel have never taken any initiative to celebrate Sylvère Maes by, for example, a permanent cycle route, a statue or a museum.

Other smaller municipalities have done this for their honorary citizen: Zerkegem for Romain Maes (Tour winner in 1935), Keiem for Michel Pollentier, Middelkerke for Freddy Maertens and so on.

Café O' Tourmalet a few years before its demolition

A small mini museum in an outbuilding at the Gistel mill is the only thing that refers to the 2-time Tour winner. Don't expect too much from it. The mini museum is also shared with that other legendary cyclist Johan Museeuw, alias the Lion of Flanders.

Wondering whether Johan will receive more respect after his death?

ps volgens de laatste geruchten zou de gemeente Gistel een toeristisch centrum aan het oprichten zijn waar Sylvère Maes een centrale plaats krijgt.

If you have any photos of Café Tourmalet, you can always send them to us, thank you in advance.

Below you will find the links to the articles discussed (in Dutch)