It’s long been a puzzle to me – who actually works in Flanders? It’s 11.30am at Beveren Waas on a Monday, two hours until the start and the Grote Prijs Gemeente Beveren race HQ is already heaving. Officials from the federation and all the participating clubs, mechanics, masseurs, mums, dads, girlfriends, sponsors and of course, riders; 196 of them.
People have their priorities right here, and work isn’t one of them – it comes somewhere after bike racing, family and doing what you enjoy.
It’s an “inter-club”, the GP Gemeente Beverene, 150 K and you can’t just turn up as a lone rider with an international licence, you have be a member of a Belgian club.
Sales figures for Tupperware are strong in Flanders; virtually every rider is sitting in their team car with his plastic cannister full of pasta – munching manfully.
We collar big Guy Smet for an interview before the start but he’s reluctant; “… my English not good.”
Despite his forbidding appearance on a bicycle, he’s the ‘gentle giant’ of cliche and is happy to chat to us.
Next week he leaves the running of his plastering business to someone else and goes full-time on the bike. He makes a clench fist gesture to leave no doubt about his intentions.
The opposition will get a real morale-boost when they hear that one.
England’s Matt Brammeier is riding, he’s abandoned the “Plan” and is now riding for PZT Profel – a very well organised Continental squad, like Matt says; “the Belgians have it sussed, don’t they?”
Is he enjoying it; “Loving it, or I wouldn’t be here. I got a win up in Holland a couple of days ago.” He’s staying with a friend, north of Brussels and seems to have settled in very nicely.
I remember interviewing him at Girvan a few years ago – the only similarity between Beveren and the south west Scotland race is that it was raining.
There’s an 84 kilometre loop, then six small laps to get to the 150 km, it’s pan-flat though – so there’s just the rain, the wind . . . and Guy Smet’s 55 x 11 to worry about.
We grab some pics of Matt at the signing-on. He even gives us a smile. We watch the roll-out then grab some frites.
The guy in the chip cart loves Scotand, especially Ullapool! It’s a small world. Coffee time next, then a beer and it’s almost race time.
There are eleven away as the race starts the first ‘ronde’ of the finish circuit; it’s still a big bunch behind them though.
The next lap sees the 11 still clear but it’s splitting behind.
Guy is well to the fore – he’s local and has to ‘show’. Some of his plasterers are in the crowd, easily identified by their company t-shirts – a day off to watch the boss race, can’t be bad.
Another lap, and the gap is shrinking, Guy is in a little group working hard to get across.
As the finish approaches, the break sense the danger from the Smet group and riders try to get away.
The rain is teeming-down now as the bell rings.
At the death the race is split to pieces, and Ward Bogaert (Yabadoo) takes it on his own. Seconds later, Koen Van De Velde (Winigames St. Martinus) takes a sodden second, then it’s Jan Bleukens (Profel) in third.
Big Guy takes fourth and Matt 32nd as the rain almost stops.
Next-up? The VW, the A1 south, Beauvais, Ryanair, and reality. And we mustn’t forget the ‘drugs scandals’.