Lendelede, early afternoon, and we’ve missed the start – but the sun is shining and our hero, Guy Smet is riding.
This is a kermis (or “kermesse” in French). A criterium, like Friday night’s, is usually on a circuit of one to two kilometres which is generally urban in nature, and the event will last one to two hours.
A kermis course, on the other hand, will be on a circuit of six to eight kilometres, and whilst it will start and finish in the village main street, it will be largely rural, race duration will be two to three hours.
This one is no different, 16 laps of around six kilometres plus four laps of a smaller finishing circuit, for a total distance of 114 kilometres.
It twists and turns through the maize fields with maybe two dozen right and left hand ninety degree bends and a long drag – just in case all those corners don’t kill you. There are 79 riders on the start sheet.
Remember that this is on the same day as Het Volk with its 186 entries; the race at Melle, which Tony Bracke won had 105 and there were also races at Relegem with 73 and Rijkervorsel-Sint-Jozef with 88 – and that’s before we talk about juniors or schoolboys.
The start sheet is word processed and printed in the signing-on cafe by Flanders Cycling Federation officials, then distributed at one euro per copy. ‘Big Guy’ is the attraction for us, a master-practitioner of the kermesse rider’s art. Last year – despite injury – he racked-up 36 wins.
This year hasn’t been so stellar but the wins are starting to come now.
He also runs his own plastering firm; and looks God-like on his massive Giant Alliance. (That’s the bike that Cycling Weekly didn’t think was up to the job – Guy can’t have read that issue).
The break goes early, the seven escapees work well together and unlike in many Belgian races – where ‘politics’ play a big part – the mix is right, so it ‘sticks’.
Smet doesn’t look ‘super’ today, he’s probably just using it as training.
One man who isn’t just training and is chasing euros is Lithuanian ex-pro, Midaugas Goncaras.
He’s not a big winner in terms of numbers of victories, but it’s not about wins for many of the East Europeans – it’s simply about cash.
If the local Belgian hero needs a bit of help to get the break back or wants you not to sprint too hard at the finish, then; ‘no problem’ – as long as the euros are right.
It’s a dream of a way to spend a Saturday afternoon; hanging over the barriers with a beer waiting for the race to pass, and the only thing you need to worry about is not getting too much sun.
The beer comes courtesy of a local, who is purveying ice-cold bottles of Jupiler from his garage at â‚¬1.20 each.
It’s the same burger guy as at Oosterzele yesterday evening, and it looks like he’s got the drop on the dried fish stall; there are more tomato sauce stained napkins lying around than there are gobs of spat-out, chewed fish pulp.
As the laps tick past Goncaras gets ever-more twitchy, but as the race enters the small finishing circuit it’s apparent that the break isn’t coming back.
The grandstand is a farm hay trailer, and as the race enters the final stage the mayor appears on the back of it, ready to present the prizes.
An official, having witnessed me scribbling and snapping away, recognises me as the media and invites me up on the cart – I’ve made it.
At the bell, Maxime Vantomme puts in a huge dig and gets the gap, Kevin Degezelle claws his way up and one of these two is going to win.
It’s Degezelle who’s well clear on the lap that matters as Vantomme hangs his head and thinks about tomorrow’s race.
Smet doesn’t finish, and Goncaras is eighth – not a good pay day, but there’s always tomorrow for him too. There’s always a race next day in Flanders.
Tomorrow for us is the Belgian elite champs at Ronse: can Tom do the biz? At 6.00 pm tomorrow, we’ll find out.