Stage one is Middelkerke (home to the Tom Boonen fan club) to Zottegem, wearing-on for 200 K, when you include two laps of a circuit in the ‘bergs’ near Oudenaarde.

All of the hills which give Het Volk, Kuurne, De Panne and Flanders their particular character are contained within a relatively small area.

Middelkerke
Tomeke can relax here, it’s a build-up to Flanders, not a target. Besides, his supporters club outnumber everyone else.

All of the hills which give Het Volk, Kuurne, De Panne and Flanders their particular character are contained within a relatively small area.

The ‘Flemish Ardennes’ – a series of forested ridges near Oudenaarde.

There’s a maze of little roads up there and if you have good local knowledge and a motorbike, it’s possible to see the races at several points; we had neither, and in common with a lot of other people, we decided to catch the race on Berendries, a long steep but tarmaced climb through a village.

Middelkerke
Viktor and the gang on Berendries.

Our vantage point was across the road from a house garage where an enterprising citizen had set-up his TV under a canopy outside and was selling beer and gin like there was no tomorrow.

The race charges out from the coast, heads into the hills – and a circuit which includes the Berendries three times, before a flat run-in to Zottegem.

Middelkerke
Whoever said Dave isn’t a patriotic Scot is clearly wrong.

Ex-Belgian time trial champion and general bear-of-a-man, Bert Roesems batters away at the front on the last lap until he prises a group clear. Berendries is like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

Ballan (Lampre) is in the break and he jumps clear, Luca Paolini (Liquigas) bridges up to him and at the finish the man in lime green with the Tony Curtis haircut is too rapid for Ballan.

Middelkerke
Milram a’ hurtin’.

We headed back to Zottegem after Berendries but there wasn’t much to see; everything disappears rapidly after a pro race. It was a quiet night for the boys.