Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Het Nieuwsblad 2016 (or, Omloop Gent Gent). We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It’s moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day.
The trucks are starting to arrive and we check out the One Pro Cycling bikes, looking cool.
As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan’s Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer.
With the race route and climbs noted the preparation is as you would expect – thorough.
The bikes on display are impressive with some, like the hard-to-get Canyons of Katusha looking more and more like stealth bombers.
We spot Eric Zabel, relaxed and chatting, his son Rick will be riding today for BMC in support of Greg Van Avermaet.
Over at the Sky bus we are reminded of their significant wins by the subtle addition to the livery of support vehicles.
Ian Stannard may have opted out of the opportunity to make history today choosing not to chase three three consecutive wins but he’s not forgotten with the race poster featuring a close up after last year’s win.
We head off and catch our first sight of the race at Oosterzele; at 15km’s already there is a break with Kristian House of One Pro Cycling leading the charge.
There are four chasing and looking like they will make the junction. The peloton is relaxed although there are plenty of riders chasing to get back on, maybe there has been some drama we haven’t seen. We catch our first glimpse of world champ Sagan in his rainbow jersey, relaxed near the back of the bunch.
Our next rendezvous is at the top of the Leberg, this first climb of the day.
The break is well away, we reckon a good five minutes up, and working well.
Ten riders all committed to their task of keeping warm and keeping the biting wind at bay.
The bunch lead by Iljo Keisse, Tony Martin and Tom Boonen look relaxed going about their task. Do Etixx Quick Step have a plan or is that a stupid question?
Next stop is at the top of the Valkenburg climb and we decide to view the race from on high as we climb an industrial tower.
The views are impressive and the break of twelve is spotted in the distance, still working well but the gap has fallen to three and a half minutes.
The feed zone is just round the corner and hopefully there is some hot tea in the bottles as it’s not getting any warmer, despite the sunshine. The chilly wind keeping the temperature in low single figures.
The chase is most definitely on and the gap is tumbling. It looks like the race is coming alive and the break’s time out front is numbered.
We head to the Haghoek and take up position, it’s not long before the break appears but it’s a different break (the winning break, as it turns out); Peter Sagan is showing off the world champion’s bands, away and not looking back.
Significantly there are no Etixx riders in the break and Tony Martin is charging behind.
There is carnage, and Timo Roosen (Lotto Jumbo) unships his chain in front of us.
Despite furious attempts to release it, with a number of expletives thrown in as encouragement, it’s not moving. Enter a Katusha mechanic who, having handed up bottles to his riders, quickly sorts the problem and helpfully pushes Roosen down the road.
Our attention turns to the nearest public house where we retire to watch the last 25k in the warmth.
It’s good racing and the bunch is hunting the Sagan group down – but not quickly enough.
BMC have their hopes pinned on GVA, who delights his fans and the team by beating Sagan, Tiesj Benoot and Luke Rowe comfortably.
It’s been a great day and the fans are happy, the nearly man is no more, is this the start of better days for Greg? Time will tell but the shadow of 2015 has most definitely been left behind.