It was 1975 when Dave, Ed The Pole, Don Bertram and I first sprinted up the stairs at the Kuipke to catch site of those legendary boards.
Eddy Merckx and Patrick Sercu were the star pairing, the place was bursting at the seams – God knows how we managed to get tickets.
But we did and marvelled at the noise, the speed, the cigar and cigarette smoke, the beer consumption, the Dernys and the horrors that were the toilets.
Almost 40 years later and the biggest change is the ceiling, a white suspended job which has brightened a dingy hall up no end.
There’s no smoke now either; but just as much beer drunk and now, ‘I cannae be doing’ with the Dernys – but the crowd still love them.
And the loos are nowhere near as horrific – even though you still have to pay and the queues are massive.
And of course, the pils still gets the better of a few of the ‘don’t get out much brigade.’
Friday night didn’t see the best chase and on a unanimous decision we headed for frites – and beer.
We love the Vivaldi, the landlady, the crazy clientele, the 70’s Disco and the fact that no matter how late we stay, we’ve never seen closing time…
The Saturday of the Gent Six Day means just one thing – the big ‘cross at Koksijde.
It’s only 22 years since we headed for Leeds and the World ‘cross champs; Adrie Van Der Poel took bronze behind German mountain biker turned ‘crosser Mike Kluge.
The Van Der Poel name is still in the spotlight though with young Mathieu now one of the best in the world – dad, Adrie is the mechanic, a role he seems happy with.
We figured that ’92 would be Adrie’s Worlds swansong but he went on to win in ’96 on a super-fast frozen solid course in Montreuil, France.
The race average was wearing on for 20 mph and VDP changed to a road bike for the sprint.
That weekend in ’92 was when Roger Hammond won the junior Worlds, which we missed, only going down for the professional race on the Sunday.
Ian Field flies the flag for GB these days but he wasn’t having fun in the dunes – but then not many were…
Not having a camper if you’re a cross guy is the equivalent of not having a tartan sash if you were an 80’s New Romantic – it’s your badge of honour.
On teams like Fidea they ALL have a camper…
Former US Champion, Jonathan Page almost pulled off one of the biggest ever surprises in cyclo-cross, running super ‘crosser Erwin Vervecken close in the Worlds at Hoggled-Gits in Belgium to take the silver medal in 2007.
His performances aren’t so spectacular these days but he ‘gets round’ and will still be on decent start money.
Over at the chip van there’s no room for error and fresh oil sits ready to fry; Koksijde with no frites – unthinkable!
You can laugh at guys like Canadian, Mark McConnell and New Zealander, Angus Edmond – they’re unlikely to avoid getting hauled out before the finish by the commissairs on the ‘percentage time of the first lap’ formula which means no one gets lapped and gums up the parcours – but have you ever lined up at ‘cross against Sven Nys?
No, me neither; although I did line up alongside Hennie Stamsnijder, once – but that’s another story.
Sven Nys has done it all – Nationals, Worlds, World Cup, Super Prestige, Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy, the man has won them all and is still a Deity in Belgium.
But this wasn’t a good day for him and he languished way down in 15th spot – that sand is brutal if you don’t have good legs…
French Champion Francis Mourey was another handy boy on a bad day; he was on the Worlds podium in 2006 and can win at this level but those short legs are no help in the dunes.
Bart Wellens was twice world champion but it was 2006 when he was last on the Worlds podium, nonetheless he’s still a firm favourite with the crowd and is ‘never say die’ personified.
Long legs for Wout Van Aert, World U23 Champion and taking his first World Cup here – he’s now well and truly ‘big league.’
As the Aussies keep churning out fast team pursuiters so the Belgian production line keeps those ‘cross stars coming.
Long shanks too for Dutchman VDP junior who was running out of gas as the light started to go over the North Sea.
But if this young man’s progress continues he’s going to be every bit as good as Dad – and maybe even Granddad, Raymond Poulidor.
And if I had to bet on the Worlds result – late Koksijde hard charger Kevin Pauwels would get my dough.
He caught and passed VDP to take second – Pauwels has beenon the podium in three of the last four Elite Worlds, this could be his year.
The light was well gone as we watched the late renners on the big drop-off – time to head back to Gent and the Kuipke.
Let’s hope the chase is better tonight – and if not there’s always the Vivaldi…