We’re in the heartland for Gent-Gent… His long torso arches, like that of a tiger about to pounce on it’s prey; elbows out, the black Specialized with it’s hugely over-sized down tube – necessary to absorb the mega wattages this beast produces – surges forward.
Old war horse Jeremy Hunt is driving hard for the line but the big cat in blue and white has too much momentum – his hands stretch high and a look of joy spreads across his face as he trips the photo finish.
Tom Boonen at his best has saved our weekend.
Thor Hushovd is a quality rider, but a Norwegian win in Gent-Gent?
It was Friday lunch time when the pilgrimage began.
Prestwick, and I always pay homage to ‘The King,’ Elvis touched down here briefly – his only contact with British soil and there’s a star in the floor to commemorate the occasion. Ryanair, Charleroi, a Ford Focus; Dave’s driving so I can tap away on the BlackBerry.
It’s not really the same this year, Viktor isn’t here – even Het Volk is too glamorous for him now. He’ll be over next year though, but I’ve had to agree to us leaving on Tuesday so as we can go and see the teams training on the parcours on the Wednesday; then two days of solid bike shop scouring.
Callum McGregor is with us, despite a long road and track career in Scotland, he’s never seen a real big Belgian race before.
The first job is to visit the Holiday Inn at Gent and bug the mechanics. Francaise des Jeux, AG2R, Cofidis, Elk House and Rabobank are all installed here.
F des J stay faithful to Lapierre and they’ve stuck to white – it’s ‘this year’s colour.’
The guys have been out training and the mechanics have a thick layer of grime to deal with before they get down to checking the bikes and fitting clean tape.
Wes Sulzberger is here for the French team; brother Bernie won the Aussie criterium champs over the winter and I had a chat with him about it.
At least one of the squad is on Shimano electronic – it’s been around a few years now, but testing goes on.
Cofidis are aboard lovely white Looks, a change from Time – they always get the graphics just right.
At AG2R it’s BH – white, naturally and as far as I’m aware, Giants by any other name.
Elk House ride black Fujis with one of them having a famous name on the top tube – ‘Thurau,’ yup, Didi’s son.
Perhaps the biggest change is over at Rabobank where the long alliance with Colnago has ended; Giants are the choice now. And pretty cool they look, too. All white, with mostly blue decals and just a flash of orange – nice!
Over at the Holiday Inn Expo there was only one team to skek; Silence-Lotto. Ridley and Robbie McEwen have defected to Katyusha, taking ace mechanic Bart Leysens with them.
White Canyons are the tools now, super light carbon from Germany – the ill fated Unibet team used to ride them. I’m not crazy about the decals, but they are very highly rated bikes; light and rigid – Charly Wegelius says it’s the stiffest bike he’s ever ridden.
There were three favourites machines being worked on; Van Avermaet, Hoste and Gilbert – in the end, none would achieve a result, albeit Gilbert and Hoste performed with honour.
As the light started to fade we headed for the digs; an omelette; then a beer or two at “de Karper” – Iljo Keisse’s father, Ronnie’s bar.
Long term six day and Flemish racing fans, John Young and Stuart Anthony joined us, as did Dirk van Hove, a man who knows just everything about Belgian cycling.
Stuart knows Ronnie Keisse well, from his many visits to the Gent Six Day – he was explaining that Iljo has a good defence team to bat for him with his current ‘positif’ woes.
Don’t ask me how, but they think that they’ll manage to keep his suspension limited to six months.
If the usual two years applies, then forget good attendances at the Gent six for the next two years.
Going to bed the night before Het Volk is like being a kid on the night before Xmas – only with Pils and a weaker bladder.
One nocturnal trip was enough though; ‘Het Volk tomorrow, wow!’