We’e at hte Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2012, and we left the Vivaldi at 02:15 on Thursday morning – we must be getting old.
Gent is changing, they’ve pulled down most of the station and there are cranes everywhere as the old girl’s face gets lifted.
Our first stop after breakfast was the Holiday Inn – up until a year or two QuickStep and Rabobank used to bunk here for the weekend.
But now it’s the French teams – FDJ -BigMat, Cofidis and AG2R.
We didn’t pester too many mechanics.
Oudenaarde is the next stop to see if we could get me a copy of ‘Velo’ – the cycling journalists bible.
But it was no dice – it’ll have to be the bank transfer again, this year.
We did take time to snap the world’s coolest jersey though – Tonton Tapis, the Belgian carpet company’s team from 1991, Stephen Roche rode for them that year.
The goal for the afternoon was the QuickStep press conference at 15:00 in Kortrijk, so we decided to amble out there via some of the famous ‘hillingen.’
The Koppenberg is still fearsome, although the cobbles have been re-laid and the surface isn’t as horrific.
Aussie strong man Phil Anderson used to do his intervals up the Cote – and there’s been talk for a few years now that they may strip off the tar to reveal the old cobbles which still lay below.
Kortrijk, the Kennedy Hotel in business-like, no frills, just right for Patrick Lefevre.
The Specializeds gleam in the afternoon sun, it would be an oversight not to bug the mechanics for ten minutes.
There are all manner of journos in the press room – from young fresh faced and keen to battle hardened veterans with dodgy hair cuts who know the exact location and opening hours of every bar in the neighbourhood.
The QuickStep PR Alessandro Tegner announces that Tom has been delayed due to an accident on his route to the hotel.
Chava’s relaxed, smiling, hair carefully dishevelled, slim arms the colour of teak.
Patrick Lefevre is suited, with his tie and hanky a good match for the new Quickstep blue.
Our French isn’t great but we pick up that Chava has good morale, as does the whole team and there’s a good ambiance in the squad.
He hasn’t done a course recce but knows the parcours well from previous years.
He doesn’t get too hung up on specific cobbled course preparation because after April the pavé isn’t really a factor.
Flecha and Gilbert are his ‘men to watch.’
The Flemish journos do little to hide their boredom during this part of the proceedings, the guy next to me is sitting staring out of the window.
Someone fires a long Boonen question at Patrick, he’s unflustered and explains that Tom has re-discovered the joy of winning in San Luis and Qatar.
Chava scrutinises his fingers, wonders what will be for dinner and where Tom’s gotten to.
And there he is, Tom walks down the corridor, gives his smartphone a final skek, and enters the room with a smile and a flourish.
Chava bows out with a smile.
Tom’s body language is positive, professional, none of Chava’s slouching – forward on the chair, straight backed, hands clasped, looking intently at his inquisitors.
There’s the odd smile but winning classics is a serious business.
Gilbert may have been the ‘man of the year’ in 2011 but he’s a Walloon, from ‘soft south’ – the Flemish public and media need their hero back.
The room has been transformed, there’s no air of boredom now and the camera shutters ‘click’ constantly as a dozen photogs try for the ultimate shot of two men sitting at a table.
It’s over in less time than we thought – we’d hoped for a chat with Tom, but the TV interviewers descend like wolves on fresh meat.
“The team has had a good start to the year, we won in San Luis and Qatar.
“Het Volk is an important race for us, but not the most important – those are the Ronde and Roubaix.
“I’m not a rider who feels pressure, I do my training and do my job in the races.
“Tom (Boonen) is full of confidence, he’s in great condition, he had a good winter and is in much better shape than last year.
“Chava is good too – he came our of Argentina well.
“We’ll see how it goes.”
And with Stijn’s words in the can, it was time to head for Gent, the Turkish frites stand – where the boy uses a snow shovel to dispense the little golden beauties – and the delights of the Vivaldi.
Boonen? Van Avermaet? Flecha? Breschel?
We’ll find out tomorrow. Ciao, ciao.