Let’s start with a bit of culture; it’s famous Flandrian ‘luminist’ painter Emile Claus who keeps an eye on proceedings as the 2019 Gent-Gent comes to life on a chill, grey but not too savage morning.
The race begins with a presentation in the big exhibition hall adjacent to the Kuipke Velodrome; we liked it better when the buses lined up in the street across from the track – but with the race now part of ‘Flanders Classics’ package there has to be glitz.
It is pretty cool to watch the team wagons roll in, very military – but the diesel fumes aren’t so much fun.
The teams do their best to keep saddos like us away from the bikes with those tapes they use outside night clubs – no creds for us for this race, we’re just fans – so you have to make do with the ‘B’ bikes on the team car roofs for.
This neat rear suspension on the Direct Energie Wiliers caught our eye though.
It was nice to meet up with our old friend, former Belgian Time Trial Champion and now the face of Shimano at all the big races; Bert Roesems, seen here speaking to UAE DS and former pro, Alan Peiper.
How do they keep so skinny?
From old pros to neo pro; 24 year-old Englishman Harry Tanfield started his World Tour career nicely with the best young rider jersey in the opening time trial of the Valenciana – he was also silver medallist in the Commonwealth Games TT last year – but the Opening Weekend has scant regard for chrono palmarès and our Harry had a bit of torrid time.
But he’s a versatile, talented lad and will have learned a lot over the weekend.
Meanwhile the UCI guys go about their business of checking for hidden motors…
Swiss TT star, Stefan Küng took time out to meet his fan club – it’s a fair trail from Switzerland to Flanders…
Let’s dash, we don’t want to get stuck in the road closures and traffic jams.
‘Break of the day’ at Oombergen some 16 K in, working sweetly; Alex Howes (EF), Roy Jans (Correndon), Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty – it’s not a proper break without a Wanty guy.
The slowest moving peloton we’ve ever seen in Het Nieuwsblad followed a couple of minutes later with the ‘start of term’ chat audible from way down the road.
Eventually winner, ‘Styby’ was back among cars with no sign of anxiety.
Time to move, the top of the Leberg and the break had built such a lead – it would top out at 14 minutes – that we missed them.
But we did catch the bunch; there was no chat in that peloton this time with Iljo Keisse doing what he gets paid for – hammering away at the front with another four of the windows and floors men in line astern behind him.
Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain) was looking as cool as ever but it wasn’t his day – or weekend.
Over the cobbles at Mater the break was still looking tidy but behind the pressure was telling with gaps in the peloton and discomfort etched on most faces.
Small wonder, that beast of a man Tim (The Tractor) De Clerq (QuickStep) had the pain dialled up to 11 as the QuickStep purge continued.
Some 30 minutes later we were among the big bucks poseurs at the junction at the top of the Valkenberg; no Decathlon ‘sports’ bikes for these dudes.
The break was still just clear and beginning to look scrappy – dead men walking.
It was still a big bunch with eventual winner Styby looking sharp and top performers next day at Kuurne, Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) – with beard – and Owain Doull (Sky) – with gel – all at the right end of affairs.
Not so pre-race fave ‘Big Sep’ – who would later put his below par performance down simply to a ‘bad day.’
Our final view point was at the end of the cobbled, roller coaster Haaghoek; but before we even got there the DNF’s were passing us.
Near the junction at the foot of the Leberg we spotted the ‘Stuy Van’ – do you see what they’ve done there?
The break of the day was history by now and the last man to be caught from a counter move which had gone after the Howes break was caught, Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie) was just being absorbed as he banked left into the foot of the Leberg.
Podium finisher Wellens lead the charge just behind him looking mean.
Next day’s winner Bob Jungels was close behind Wellens and like most everyone else showing the strain a little.
Big Lars Boom (Roompot) was on the limit but it would be wrong to think he’s past ‘sell by’ – he was well to the fore in Tuesday’s Samyn.
Even tractors run out of gas and big De Clerq was quite a-ways back.
It was time for us to retire to our trusted haunt ‘t Gaaike to view the finale, it wasn’t too busy and we all had good seats from which to sip our Jupilers.
It distilled down to five in the finale; GVA, Wellens, Lutsenko (Astana), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) and Styby.
The first four all have wins this year and if it came to a sprint it was going to be GVA’s – but the Olympic champion had grafted hard to keep them clear and had burned maybe a few matches too many in his efforts to please his home fans and the rabid Belgian cycling media.
But the Czech former World ‘cross Champion’s timing was impeccable, just as GVA snuffed a Wellens move he attacked hard, inching away as the rest looked at each other.
At the red kite he had 10 seconds and it was Commodore Lefevere’s 11th win of the year.
And as the cocky soccer player who’s just scored the winner are prone tell the hapless goal keeper; ‘you’ll be able to read about it in the paper tomorrow, pal.’
Surprisingly, QuickStep’s first win here since 2005 when Nick Nuyens did the needful.
Time to head back to digs, a pizza, a beer or two and discuss tomorrow’s game plan…