Friday, the evening before the Het Volk race, as we sat in the Viadukt, our fave local bar in Ghent, we caught sight of our pilot friend who flies Belgian Air Force C130s around the world whilst in an advanced state of enebriation. He was flying to Kabul on the morrow; but tonight in the Viadukt he couldn’t bite his thumb.

However, it transpires he’s only Danny Van Ryckeghem’s son. Who the f*** is Danny Van Ryckeghem? I hear you ask. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he was a highly successful member of the Mann Grundig team and notched-up 30-odd pro wins including two Tour stages and a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – a cult rider.

We didn’t go mad with the pils, but we had a few, and the head was a bit fuzzy.

The start was at Sint Pieters Plein, a big square in the middle of town. It used to start here but the square has been dug-up for years getting an under-ground car park built. It was blowing a gale, freezing cold and pouring with rain.

First to arrive were Milram then the flood gates opened and there was a mass arrival of cars, busses and vans. Teams like Agritubel were pretty-much left in peace whilst QuickStep were mobbed: Boonen and Van Petegem are hugely popular in Belgium.

Boonen pedalled past – headed for the signing-on. Tall, slim, be-stubbled, and with charisma radiating from him. So of course we had the our usual inspection of the hardware…

Unibet’s new Canyons are very light but they’ve got the decals horribly wrong.

Lotto strong-man, big Bert Roesems was sporting Campag electric gears, there’s a battery pack below the down-tube bottle cage and the whole thing looks pretty clumsy – maybe they will get it looking neater for production.

I chatted to Bert Roesems about the kit, he says it’s amazing.

At 11.30 on the nail, the gun fired and they were off. Unless you are a local it’s hard to catch the race more than a few times due to the traffic chaos.

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Ex-Cofidis pro Chris Peers humours Dave and Viktor in his bar in Kruishoutem.

Over the years we’ve got our little routine perfected; watch it at Kluisbergen then the Eikenberg climb then head down to Peter Van Petegem’s supporters club bar at Brakel. However, EU anti-smoking legislation hasn’t reached Brakel yet and last year we were lucky to get out of the place alive – if the smoke didn’t get you then the heat from the huge wood-burning stove caused you to black-out.

This year we had a change of plan and decided to watch the finale in ex-Cofidis pro, Chris Peers’ bar in Kruishoutem. We caught the race at Kluisbergen where a break of eight, including Jez Hunt was clear. It was windy and damn cold up there with, the race already over for much of the field.

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By the Eikenburg the break had consolidated it’s lead.

Boonen and ‘Rambo’ Eeckhout were at the head of the chasing bunch in the mad breenge over the steep and slippy cobbles. We arrived at Chris Peers’ just as the break was caught and the crowd was massing around the plasma screen; many having ridden expensive Treks and Ridleys to the caff.

You’ll have read the reports by now, but basically Flecha and O’Grady blew it – especially Stuey… The Aussie came-out of the Tour of California flying, he had the form and strength to lead Flecha out for the last K and still win, but instead they played games and Pozzato was up and past them in a blink.

Flecha held-on for second, but Stuey’s mind was on the win and fifth was all he could salvage. A wasted-looking Boonen took third.

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The caff was completely underwhelmed by an Italian with blond curls winning Het Volk. Ah well, maybe tomorrow?

We consoled ourselves by imagining the kicking that Lefevre was, at that very moment inflicting upon his men — tomorrow, and the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, would be better we all agreed.

En route to Ghent, pizza, a couple of beers and an early night, we stopped-off at Kortrijk to talk to Discovery mechanic, Craig Geater.

Het Volk
Craig enjoys working in the cold and dark whilst everybody else is inside having dinner.

It was cold, the light was going and Stijn Devolder’s mud encrusted Trek needed a new STI lever after a crash. The interview and pics are on the site – it was dark and really cold when we left; Craig only had another hour or two in the car park before he called it a night.