Bert Roesems… Whilst the world goes ‘Giro crazy,’ other races that don’t involve pink jerseys go on their way without Lance and all the hype — the FDB Insurance Rás is one of them.
The roll of honour goes back to 1953 and includes legends of Irish cycling like John Mangan, Peter Doyle, Stephen Roche and Billy Kerr; not to mention multiple GB Worlds and Olympic track medallist, Chris Newton and rising Columbia & Germany chrono star, Tony Martin.
And not forgetting, back in 1981, Scotland’s very own Jamie McGahan.
When Viktor and I heard that Nico Eeckhout, Jaan Kirsipuu and Bert Roesems were riding, we nearly hopped the ferry to Ireland there and then.
Kirsipuu now races at Continental level, ‘for fun;’ whilst Nico and Bert represent the last riders of an era — ‘Flandrian Hard Men,’ when they finally take to the team car or, (heaven forbid) have to get a ‘real’ job, cycling will be the poorer.
Bert is an old friend and was as patient and insightful as ever when we asked his thoughts on the first few stages of the Ras.
How’s the health Bert? It’s been a long struggle back from that Vuelta crash in 1997.
“I’m feeling good, racing again; but not just in the race, part of the race, able to do what I want to do, attack, bridge gaps.”
And how is the Cinelli team coming together?
“It’s running smoothly now after a difficult start.
“We still have a bit of running back and forward to Italy to finalise organisational stuff, but it’s looking good.”
Eeckhout, Kirsipuu and Roesems, it’s like Flanders in the old days.
“Yes, and the weather is already like Flanders in March, that’s for sure!
“For riders like us who are in Continental teams, it’s sometimes hard to get a decent programme together.
“Races like this are a good; to improve and go to the next level you must ride stage races – eight stages, like in the Ras, is ideal.”
You must be thinking of a podium, Bert?
“We’ll see tomorrow (Wednesday) that’s the hardest stage, the time gaps should be bigger and the race more controlled after that.
[Bert had moved up to fourth overall by Thursday evening, with his Cinelli team mate, Nicholas Walker having won two consecutive stages.]
“As well as raining from the sky, it’s been raining attacks, too!”
There are some big gaps already.
“Yesterday (Monday) was a hard stage, there was a headwind and the average was only 36 kph, I tried to make it across to the lead group, but didn’t.
“Behind the peloton was broken up into groups.”
Can Wilkinson win?
“We’ll see if he still has the lead after tomorrow, he looks strong and rides strong — his build is suited to the wind and rain.
“The thing with this race is that it is very difficult to control; there are 33 teams with only five riders each, that makes it hard for a team to impose itself.”
[‘Wilko’ lost the jersey to Rapha-Condor’s Simon Richardson on Wednesday’s stage.]
The Ras is known for being unpredictable.
“That’s true, one of the reasons for that is the five man teams; it’s very difficult to control a race with such a small team.
“There’s constant attacking, it’s not like pro races, which follow a pattern, everyone takes their shot — around every corner a dangerous break could go.”
How’s the Ras organisation?
“Good — nice hotels, friendly people, a lot of police motor cycles to stop the traffic and give security.
“I feel safe in the race, even though it’s unusual to be riding on the wrong side of the road — it feels strange if you have to ride back up through the caravan.”
And the weather?
“It’s a lot like Belgium in March — we’ve raced for three days and it’s rained for three days!”
Have you tried a Guinness yet?
“Not yet, I don’t want to be riding up one of those big climbs, tomorrow thinking; ‘I wish I hadn’t drunk that Guinness!'”
Whilst the vastly experienced Bert thinks about the podium, there are other, less experienced riders simply trying to survive and maybe make a little mark on the race.
Scotland’s sole representative (unless VeloVeritas is missing someone) in the Rás is Rab Wardell of Kinesis.
Coming from the world of tree roots, single track and flat bars, Rab is on a steep learning curve in the world of the ‘massed start.’
Here’s the text we received from Rab on Tuesday night;
“Terrible day. Punctured, wheel rubbing, couldn’t get my gears then my gear cable snapped, bike change, 30 mins in the convoy, scary and dangerous, dropped, then rode home, 120 miles done.”
Is the Ras how you expected, Rab?
“Pretty much, but I’d expected lulls in the racing, it’s just constant and really hard to try and control.”
“I was active early but I probably used up too much energy; there was a really cold shower of rain, late in the race and I was freezing after that; I was tailed off in the last kilometre, that was a bit disappointing.”
“My confidence took a bit of a knock on stage one so I rode more conservatively; I was in the group at the death but unfortunately, a guy knocked me off on the finishing climb, it was pretty steep and hard to get your momentum back.”
We got your text about stage three – a sore one.
“I punctured at two miles but got back no bother, I felt good.
“I was covering moves, until it all went wrong — at one stage I was in a break with Eeckhout, I was on his wheel, he swung off and motioned for me to come through, I couldn’t , so he dropped back, rode alongside me and stared straight into my eyes.
“It’s funny now, but it was a wee bit intimidating at the time!
“These guys are so strong, they just mash the 13 all day, Eeckhout, Kirsipuu, Roesems and Russ Downing – every time you see them they’re in a huge gear.”
How’s the organisation?
“Great, but I’ve been hearing stories that this might be the last one — the organiser is stepping down and the sponsor might not be continuing.
“There are town starts, town finishes, crowds on the road side, all the schools turn out and it’s on TV every night.”
Is Wilko impressing?
“He’s always impressed me, I used to race against him in our mountain bike days — he’s very strong, smashing big gears.”
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the ‘Queen Stage.’
“Yeah, it goes over the highest point, tomorrow.
“We’re committed to trying to get into early breaks; Wilko has 10 minutes on our best GC guy, so there’s no point in thinking about that.
“I think it’ll be a big sort out tomorrow; Rapha are very dangerous, I think they’ve been trying to wear out Wilko’s team — they have Richardson in second and Newton is always dangerous.
Rab’s Wednesday forecast proved 100% accurate as a struggling Wilkinson was ambushed by Rapha and Richardson took yellow, which he retained on Thursday.
We’ll be hearing more from our men in the Emerald Isle, soon.
Meanwhile Rab – don’t wind up Kirsipuu… Viktor and I think he’s even tastier than Eeckhout!