Mondays in the flatlands of Belgium aren’t the best; most shops are shut but the flight back to Auld Scotia isn’t ‘til late so use has to be made of the time available.
Looking out of the window on Monday morning, the man across the road has his priorities right – ‘keep that Jupiler cold!’
John had only seen the top of the Oude Kwaremont on Sunday so we took him for a drive all the way down; it’s easy to forget just how mad it is.
The whole climb is cobbled and there’s a false flat in the middle which is paradoxically one of the hardest parts of the climb given it’s lack of banks or hedges and full exposure to the cross winds.
QuickStep are looking for ways to make money, they have no main sponsor signed for 2019 and they’re up to all sorts to make a Euro.
They’ve opened a ‘pop up’ shop in the big shopping centre in Kortrijk in an empty retail unit.
The first thing to greet you is Tony Martin’s world championship winning Specialized Shiv complete with 58 tooth chain ring – ‘the full tool’ as my rallying chums used to say.
Tomeke’s Paris-Roubaix steed is there and also a selection of his bikes through the years.
The big man from Mol recently announced that he’s going to be an ‘adviser’ with QuickStep’s World Tour rivals, Lotto-Soudal – perhaps a symptom of the flooring teams lack of funds that they couldn’t afford what Boonen’s manager, Paul de Geyter was asking for him to do the same job for Patrick Lefevre’s team.
On the subject of money, this display shows the size of the operation which Lefevre runs – he has one girl whose sole, full time job is to organise flights for riders and staff.
Kwiatkowski’s Worlds winning machine was there too, still with the Ponferrada dust on it.
Oudenaarde and the Tour of Flanders Museum with Greg Van Avermaet looking sharper than he did the previous two days.
Viktor reckons that his lacklustre weekend was caused by all that time he’s spent in the desert and Spain.
Flanders lions Museeuw and Van Petegem both swore by the fact that a contender’s preparation for the cobbled classics had to take place in the wind and rain of Flanders not in the heat of the ‘soft south.’
The Museum is a great place but the curation could be better, with non-authentic equipment on some of the machines; Shimano gears with Campag gear levers, to name but one.
This line up includes Tom Simpson’s 1961 winning machine which was lovingly restored by Dave Marsh – so no complaints about provenance on that one.
Kristoff’s winning machine from 2015 is at the end of the line.
The Flandria, Peugeot car is pretty authentic though.
You can even sample the cobbles on this simulation rig, grass track great John Hardie reckons it’s not as bumpy as Markinch Games Park after a dry spell.
Just by good fortune, Johan Museeuw appeared and was happy to pose with John for a picture.
Johan; an all time great who did what he had to do or a dirty doper?
I rather go with the former.
No British rider has ever made the podium in Flanders before or after the late, great Tom Simpson who won the race at 23 years-of-age; as well as winning he was fifth and third in the next two editions.
The chapel at the top of the Geraardsbergen ‘chapel wall’ is a lovely spot, it flashes past in TV coverage of the race but on a quiet Monday afternoon it’s an idyllic – if cold – spot.
On race days it’s crazy.
De Karper (The Fisherman) is our second favourite bar in Gent, the Vivaldi is our fave – where the pils is cold, the tunes great and the clientele eccentric with a capital ‘E.’
But we’ve been going to De Karper for maybe 12 years, that’s owner Ronie Keisse (Iljo’s dad) in the checkit shirt in this shot with Dirk Van Hove, Dave Chapman and our sage and advisor Viktor (before he renounced attending Het Nieuwsblad as it’s now ‘too glitzy and commercial’).
Ronie took over the lease of the bar some 15 years ago, when he moved in it had been, ‘The Irish Rover’ for a few years but the locals knew as it’s previous incarnation, ‘The Fisherman’ so Ronie took it back to it’s old name.
Gent is a big university city and De Karper is one of the students’ favourite hang outs – with a Monday night being their most popular night of choice.
It’s traditional for the winners of the Gent Six Day – Iljo has won it six times – to party after the race at De Karper, the walls are covered in cool pictures of previous winners.
Here’s ‘our Brad’ and Mrs. Brad from the other year.
This picture is of Iljo winning the final stage of the Giro in 2015; we watched from the roadside as he broke away with big Aussie powerhouse, Luke Durbridge and as the laps ticked down it became apparent they were going to ‘make it’ – and there would only be one winner.
This is the old lap bell from the Kuipke, gifted to Iljo after his third win; as well as his six wins he’s been second four times and third once.
However, all good things must come to an end and it was time to joust with the Belgian motorway ‘crazies’ on the way down to Charleroi.
Still, it’ll be time for the Six Day before you know it.