Sunday’s Kuurne Brussels Kuurne UCI 1.1 HC is the bridesmaid to Het Nieuwsblad’s UCI WT bride but it’s a race with a long history dating back to 1946 and has some interesting winners including Roger De Vlaeminck, Patrick Sercu, Johan Museeuw, George Hincapie, Cav – and a certain Patrick Lefevere in 1978.
Interestingly, it’s one of the very few cobbled races Eddy Merckx didn’t win.
And whilst Styby’s Saturday success in Het Nieuwsblad was Patrick’s team’s first success since 2005, the QuickStep boys have often gained revenge on the Sunday with Tom Boonen – three times to make him ‘recordman’ – Nick Nuyens, Steven de Jongh and Mark Cavendish all taking home the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne donkey trophy.
Kuurne residents are known as ‘donkeys’ but not in disparaging terms, a tribute to their work ethic and stubbornness.
Kuurne Brussels Kuurne is much less glam than the Omloop with no glitzy presentations, the teams roll up, park the busses in the main street and pedal off to the sign on, through the crowd.
Stalking the mechanics is no problem, albeit we kept clear of the Bahrain dude with the evil eye; standing ready with the hand held compressor as his buddy smothered the chain with lube on what looked like it was going to be a wet day.
And if you thought the single ring dies with Aqua Blue – not so, Trek are experimenting with it.
And whilst you can’t get near the QuickStep or Lotto bus, Movistar’s Canyon’s sit sad and lonely – Spanish cobble guys?
Nee, nee, nee – not since Flecha anyway.
And the jury is out on big Conor Dunne’s De Rosa paint job over at Israel Cycling Academy.
The mood at the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne start is kinda chilled with Roompot DS Erik Breukink chewing the fat with old friends.
And ‘Le Gorille’ just hops on his bike right beside you to pedal up to the sign on.
Lithuanians Bagdonas (AG2R) – current national champion – and former champ, Konovalovas (F des J) were all smiles despite the rain.
Why, even baby-faced Dutch hitman Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) had a smile.
And there’s always the crazy band at the start.
Our first sighting of the race was just 12 K in at the top of the cobbled Volkegemberg – definitely no smiles and the hurt well on.
We had to watch our toes as riders kamikaze dived for the smooth concrete gutter and brief respite from the horror of the Kasseien.
We waited to see the juniors through, a huge field with an eventual Dutch winner, four Brits in the top 10 and the best home boy 11th – questions will be asked.
Out in the open country and you come across little shrines – it would nice to hear the story behind each one.
The first junior ‘hors de combats’ were soon filling the front windscreen as Dave navigated us through the network of tiny roads.
It was half distance before we caught the race again – it’s a hard race to see more than a few times due to the nature of the parcours which describe a big, flattened eastward loop.
Former Dutch Elite Champion and Six Day man, Pim Ligthart (Direct Energie) was the most prominent name in the seven man break topping Hotard a couple of minutes clear, a long drag rather than a ‘berg.’
Silvan Dillier (AG2R) and Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) led the chase on behalf of Jurgen Roelandts and Niki repectively.
Our next sighting was up on the ridge road where bearded Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) led the break through at warp speed.
But with Iljo and another couple of QuickSteps leading the screaming bunch you know the breakaways are living on borrowed time.
We just made it to the top of the infamous Oude Kwaremont in time to catch the break with the big Dane Nielsen still on point.
Behind, it was Belgian Champion Yves Lampaert heading the QuickStep frenzy.
We had European Champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) down as one of our faves for the win but he was not enjoying the Kwaremont and would eventually pack with one lap of the finishing circuit to ride following a hard chase back after a spill.
Kuurne Brussels Kuurne is a ‘sprinters race’ – however in the last decade there have been solo winners in Bobby Traksel 2010 and Jasper Stuyven 2016 – but the pure sprinters have to suffer to get over the Kwaremont with German Champion Pascal Ackermann (Bora) and ex-French Champion Nacer Bouhanni (Codidis) deep in the red at the top.
‘Smiler’ Bagdonas was wearing a very different expression from his happy Kuurne visage.
And all we could do to help GB team pursuit and TT star Harry Tanfield (Katusha) was to give him a good shout – he was hurting bad.
Time for our Kuurne Brussels Kuurne finale hang-out of several years, bar L’Escale in Ronse, across from the station with a big TV, cool Jupiler and an understanding owner – not much else a man can ask for.
With a little over an hour to go Bob Jungels (QuickStep), Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First), Davide Ballerini and Magnus Cort (both Astana) were clear and working smoothly with QuickStep doing their best to keep the gap for Big Bob.
Unsurprisingly, Cort was first to pop, he’d been away for most of the day and just when it looked like the other four were going to get caught, Jungels attacked with 17 K to go.
He’d ride those pan flat kilometres around the finish circuit like a train holding off the chasers to score a beautiful solo victory with young GB SKY man taking an excellent second place behind him, Niki was third and last year’s winner, Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo) best of the pure sprinters in fourth spot and Le Gorille eighth.
Time for handshakes all round and to head off in search of frites – that didn’t take long – then the drive back to Ghent on low adrenalin.
Not long until the Belgian Champs though…