The Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne adventure began when I met Craig Grieve, Spokes bike shop owner and U23 race team backer, early Friday morning, to get a picture of the newly-logoed team car.
For Craig, the journey to Kuurne is a long haul; catching a ferry from Hull, arriving Saturday in time for the riders to recce part of the course. We caught up with them on Saturday night in Kortrijk for a pizza and to hear how their preparation has gone and to plan for the race.
Sunday in Ghent, if there is a eurocrat responsible for the weather this weekend they have done us a good turn with the spring sun shining when we head for the car and Kuurne.
As we pull up the fans are already wandering towards the start.
The mood is relaxed after a Belgian win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad yesterday; Greg Van Avermaet is down to ride today … is the double possible? We will find out soon enough, although there will be plenty of guys hoping to spoil the Belgian party; Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, last year’s runner up to (but absent this year) Mark Cavendish.
Dave has his money on Caleb Ewan of Orica GreenEdge, a rider who impresses. Dave spots some Caleb fans and shouts words of encouragement from the car as we head in to town.
We wander and wonder, from crazy retro attired jazz band, to ex-pros like Erik Zabel and Eric Breukink, and bikes, bikes, bikes – there is plenty to see.
The bikes and riders are more accessible at Kuurne, although the dodging riders heading to and from the sign-in area seems to be a popular past-time with spectators.
The chances of a British double have gone, unlike last year. Luke Rowe had a hard day yesterday, will he be working for Viviani? Third last year, we’ll find out soon enough.
Eric Zabel is here again, and we spot Rik Verbrugge D’S at IAM cycling.
There is some impressive hardware on show. Canyons, Bianchis, Pinarellos, Wiliers all look cool. The Factor bikes of One Pro cycling fit right in amongst the best.
We note that three French teams are on foreign bikes; BH’s being riden by Direct Energie, Cofidis still on Orbea’s, AG2R on Focus. FOR stay true to Lapierre.
Sky are parked slightly away from the other teams and we spot the Scot Andy Fenn heading to sign on.
Viviani is also ready to race although not looking too happy, I wonder if the form isn’t what it has been?
One Pro have all the right gear, Yanto Barker is warming up well on the turbo, is he in for a big day?
We head away from the start of the pro race to try and find the juniors from the Spokes/Limits team.
Spotting the team car we grab a quick word with some of the lads as they get organised. It’s almost time to test themselves and they look up for it. DS, Blair Whiteside is working on the bikes and the lads are all keeping warm in the car.
Some of the other junior teams have equally impressive set ups, with some nice bikes on show too.
As I take a photo a team helper tells me to look out for young Mr. Kroon on his Python who I’m told will top ten today.
Having soaked up the atmosphere of the start area and sign on we head for the Mokka, our wheels for the weekend. Not the coolest name for a car but we couldn’t stretch to the latest Ford Mustang upgrade we were offered.
Our first rendezvous with the race is the main road climb of the Edalareberg.
The pro’s are first past with the tempo on. As the break passes with about a dozen riders already five minutes up, and right there, looking relaxed is Yanto from One Pro.
His team helpers opposite give him a shout as the riders continue to press their advantage.
When the bunch appears they don’t look too worried – and as we saw yesterday, Peter Sagan is sitting very close to the back again, taking it easy.
Once the pro’s have gone we retreat to the heat of the car and await the juniors.
We almost wait too long but Dave spots them charging up the hill and we are out in a flash, in time to see Grant Martin cruise past in third place.
Our next stop is at the top of the Oude Kwaremont to catch the juniors again.
We don’t have too long to wait and now the race is falling to bits. Two riders have opened a 15 second advantage and the bunch is exploding behind.
Grant is still in the mix but not looking as relaxed. There are bodies everywhere!
After the juniors continue on their way there’s not much time for us to get to the the top of the Côte De Trieu to see the pro’s again.
We make it, the break is still away and working well.
The wind is brutal and the guys up front know there is no point trying to look strong at this point, better to combine for as long as possible.
Behind the bunch is warming up and there are some gaps appearing.
Big Stijn Vandenbergh and Etixx Quick Step are pushing on, it’s getting sore in the line.
After the bunch has passed there is a mad dash by fans of all ages to get down to the Kwaremont before the break appears.
We reckon we have about eight minutes to get there.
Team helpers are set up after the cobbles on the main road with spare wheels and bottles depending on what is needed.
The Kwaremont is busy but we find a space and just in time as the break powers past.
One rider has been detached but gets back on the descent.
The bunch appears four minutes later and it’s that man Sagan resplendent in rainbow jersey leading the way this time.
On his wheel is Trek Segafredo rider Jasper Stuyven, impressive yesterday managing ninth after sliding out as he attempted to get up to the break on his own. Is this to be his day?
There is carnage in their wake.
Sky’s Luke Rowe is well to the fore and clearly not feeling that bad after yesterday. Similarly Greg Van Avermaet of BMC is right up there too.
Not looking quite so clever is Elia Viviani who is well out the back… he must have had a technical problem.
Our next stop is the pub where the TV is on Sporza live and in HD. We get the perfect seats and settle in for the last 70kms.
The early break is eventually caught and in the crosswinds there are several groups on the road.
Sagan is on the wrong side of the split and not committing too many teammates to the chase.
Up front the leaders reach the finishing circuit, where they have 2 laps to complete.
Jasper Stuyven has clearly recovered well and goes it alone with 17kms to go. He looks super strong and pulls out a forty second advantage. Can he hold on?
The chase behind is not particularly well organised but eventually Etixx Quick Step with Tom Boonen and Julie Vermote give chase.
Behind them the remnants of the bunch are closing but into the last kilometre it looks like Stuyven will hold on.
Not quite as smooth as he had been there is still plenty of power and he holds on for a great win.
The weekend has been a great success for the Belgian and their fans. The perfect start to the classics season.
So what of the Spokes juniors?
I speak to Craig as they are heading for the ferry; Grant Martin finished 12th – a great result and the rest of the guys reach the finishing circuit, making it a good solid start to their European campaign of 2016.
Well done to them – we look forward to hearing about their next adventure.