Saturday morning dawned bright and mild; this gives rise to mixed feelings – on the one hand you want a freezing, wet, death race, but on the other, it’s no fun standing in the cold and wet for hours. One thing is sure – sunshine would have been of no use to Viktor here at the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne!
I preferred the old start, down at the track – the current start at Sint Pietersplein is much more difficult to locate teams in and seems more chaotic.
I was on duty, and managed ‘sound bites’ from Ian Stannard, Roger Hammond, Stuey O’Grady and Martin Maaskant. Stannard and Maaskant in particular, are very popular riders, with a steady stream of well wishers pressing the flesh.
We got our first look at the Vacansoleil team – the set up looked right at home among the Pro Tour teams, complete with beautiful black and gold team bus.
I was talking to one of their soigneurs at the Copenhagen six and he told me that they pay well, have a good programme and are aiming for big things – let’s hope so.
The race was around an hour old when we caught first sight – gutter to gutter at maybe 45 kph with Herve Duclos-Lasalle launching an attack.
On a flat road there’s not much to see and the bunch was past in a couple of seconds.
Next up was the Berendries climb, steep, long but with a tarred surface. It’s a fixture in Het Volk, De Panne and Flanders. Some of the climbs – this one included – aren’t too savage taken individually. But coming one after the other – eleven times – only the strongest can cope.
As Viktor said to me, over the phone; “it’s all right playing about on flat, smooth roads in the desert, but it’s a different ball game when you’re in Flanders on the cobbles and hills.” Indeed!
The bunch was relaxed on Berendries, they knew the five escapees were doomed.
The sun was warm on our skin as we walked back to the car, past the spot where, one year in De Panne, Viktor and I saw the guy with the full size TV from the house sat on the passenger seat of his car.
The Eikenberg is a long one, cobbled at the top and it’s never, ever ‘compatto’ – this year was no exception. The break looked like Stalingrad survivors as they bounced and winced over those lumps of granite.
Rabobank were impressive in pursuit – four of them, including Flecha and Nuyens. There’s no bunch, just little strings of riders, bumping, hurting, fighting as cars and motor bikes hurtle around them.
There are a couple of restaurants over the top and this is the best days taking of the year – the coaches line up and the thirsty VIP’s pour out.
Bar time – last year’s venue, ‘The Wieler Cafe’ has gone from being sleepy to stowed – standing room only, but it has to be done.
Rabobank’s tactics baffled me – Marc Sargeant too, when I spoke to him at Kuurne, next day.
They threw away a certain second spot on the podium for third place; I just couldn’t figure Flecha’s constant ‘digs,’ they were the main cause of the two breakaway’s lead disappearing.
Like I said, you have to respect Hushovd, but it’s not the result most would want, unless you come from Trondheim, that is.
We popped in to Oudenaard to let Callum see the Tour of Flanders museum then back to Gent.
The hotel wi-fi was a nightmare which took hours to sort out. With computers, I always think it’s me or my Sharp laptop, but it transpired that the system was down in the hotel.
It was good to see Frank, the hotel owner, swearing at the computer and kicking doors – I thought it was just me that did that.
The late night pizza was good, though and we were sure QuickStep wouldn’t let us down on Sunday…