Getting to Flanders yesterday was painful – a two hour delay at Prestwick, then a battle through the rush hour traffic on the Brussels ring road. We’re here for the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.

Dave and I are getting good at indiscriminate lane changing and not indicating, but we really have to brush up on our tail-gating technique if we want to drive in the authentic Belgian fashion.

The mission for last night was to have a ‘few’ beers with Dirk Van Hove. Dirk gave me a lot of help with my Gary Wiggins tribute and is a mine of information about Belgian racing.

The dull ache in my head and desperate need for sleep all day Saturday indicated that we had perhaps gone past the defined ‘few’ boundary.

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The winner-to-be fights his way back to the bus after signing-on. There’s Freddy Maertens!

Anyway, we were up skeking bikes early this morning – to some this ritual is sad, but it’s one we never tire of.

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Even with race radios, the pro’s need a little reminder of what’s to come.
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Freddy Maertens.

There’s no room for ‘trick’ machines in Belgium, what gets respect are “tools”, no-nonsense hardware that takes the cobbles and bergs in its stride.

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Tomas Buchacek – PSK Whirlpool.

Viktor is our style pundit – haute couture? Ridley, Lapierre, BH. Passé? we’ll say no more, I have friends who run bike shops and websites!

Viktor and I disagree on the Kogas of Skil-Shimano, I think they are cool, Vik says that the blue paint is wearing-on for; “flamboyant, like a f***ing Mercian!”

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We bet you do have an opinion about this…

Viktor has also come down heavily against Slipstream’s Argyle, but the mere fact that we’re debating the subject, means that it’s doing what it’s supposed to – generate interest and publicity. We like it here though – it’s different.

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Stuey tweaks just before the off.

It was sunny but very blowy at the roll out, Bettini was stone last and not looking like he was motivated to be there.

We headed off to the Berendries climb; our modus operandi is to see the start and catch the action a couple of times on the road, then watch the finalé in a bar.

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Burgers on the Berendries. These boys maybe want to consider a different name for their enterprise!!

Berendries is almost exactly halfdistance – 100 kilometres – and the tail-wind-driven break was around six minutes clear at this stage. The bunch was being lead by QuickStep, who appeared to be relaxed about the staus quo. The peloton didn’t appear to be stressed either, but the faces of the guys off the back told a different story.

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The bunch swarms over the Berendries.
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Stragglers on the Berendries.

Next stop was the Eickenberg climb at 150 kilometres; the break was still clear and it was on this nippy ramp that Gilbert turned on the afterburners. He was flying over the cobbles and he only stopped for breath once he had bridged-up to the break. Boonen didn’t look like a winner here, nor did Steegmans. There was no unch anymore, just little groups of survivors.

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David Boucher slides off the back of the break on the Eikenberg.
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That is one heck of a seatpost! Wee Stanislav Kozubek of Whirlpool’s Author.

It was bar time and we had our Diet Cokes and coffee (it was Sunday afternoon before we could face pils again) in front of us on the table just on 40 kilometres to go.

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Thor meets the press.

Gilbert’s win was in the grand style and just to rub salt in the QuickStep wound, burrito boy Mike Friedman, resplendent in Argyle, was 14th with the laminated flooring team’s best 16th.

On the way back to Ghent we stopped off at Oudenaarde to see how the Flanders shop was faring without Frans Assez at the helm. The ex-pro and boss of the Flanders pro team would have made a world class window salesman – his patter was the best. Frans died two years ago, leaving a massive gap in a sport that can’t be filled.

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Ronny Assez.

His son Ronny was a fair professional rider in his day and according to Vik; “he could suffer like a dog!” He’s a good talker too and as he showed us the latest carbon Flanders offering, all the way from China – just like yours – he explained; “We do this for 1,000 euros, but if we have a pro team, it must be 2,000 euros – to pay for the team!”

When we asked about the Pinarello replica, ‘double radius’ front forks, he explained; “Pinarello had the patent for a couple of years, but it’s expired now, so anyone can make them.”

We said our farewells to Ronny and headed for the world’s slowest Pizza Hut; which just happens to be in Ghent.

Instead of the usual abuse I get from Dave and Vik about the time it takes me to send-off my pictures at night, they were happy to lie on their beds; “maybe we took it a bit far last night boys?”