FDJ’s Pilippe Gilbert scored an atypically French-team first win of the northern spring races on Saturday at Het Volk, and PEZ-man Ed Hood did his Scottish best to act Belgian – chasing the race and inhaling massive amounts of Belgian smoke in a local bar…
The rider in white jumps the group and gets the gap but the other six riders react and bring him back; immediately he jumps again and this time it sticks, there are eight kilometres to go. Within two kilometres he’s nine seconds clear of the surviving four chasers, he’s no great stylist but he’s on top of the gear and charging hard.
The gap is stretching, at five K out 12 seconds; four K it’s 22 seconds; three K it’s 28 seconds and with two to go it’s 34 seconds.
Het Volk is won and lost for 2006 – only trouble is the rider in white doing the winning isn’t world champion Tom Boonen or even a Flemish-speaker. But he is Belgian, from the French-speaking southern part of the country, Wallonie.
Philippe Gilbert of Francaise des Jeux gets a round of polite applause from the assembled throng around the TV and the stove in Peter Van Petegem’s fan club in Brakel; had ‘De Peet’ (Van Petegem’s local nickname) won we’d probably still be there in a pils-induced coma.
A Boonen win would have been almost as good and even though Gilbert tries – he conducts part of the post-race interview in Flemish – the bar empties soon after Landboukrediet’s Bert De Waele [Belgium] takes second and Lotto’s Leon van Bon [Holland] takes third.
‘Super-team’ Quickstep can do no better than exquisitely-coifed Italian Filippo Pozzato’s fifth place – an unmitigated disaster for Patrick Lefevre’s men. It won’t be a jolly dinner table in the Holiday Inn tonight for Tom and the boys.
Rabo’s Marc Wauters has to fight his way with pen and paper through his fans to make the start.
We were up at the start two hours before the 11.30 roll-out to check-out the bikes and get some quotes, but the icy wind meant that all the riders were sitting in the team camper vans and buses until the last possible moment.
A rejuvenated, slim-line Dario Pieri looked good in his new LPR colours and we managed to catch up with British neo-pro, Hamish Haynes, who told us he is happy with his new Jartazi team and that he’s being banging 180 and 200 kilometre training rides in preparation for today.
Flanders DS Frans Assez had his squad well turned-out as usual despite a limited budget; he had been in Bulgaria on Friday where his team clothing is made – no money wasted on fancy Swiss or Italian kit by Frans.
Hard-ware wise we liked the Jartazi, Gianni Mottas and the Skil-Shimano, Kogas; best keep tight-lipped about what we didn’t like, but they are two of the most expensive frames on the planet.
Trends shift rapidly on the pro scene – the marketing boys have to keep us buying; OUT this year are sloping top-tubes and anatomic bars; IN this year are aluminium frames [again]; tubulars; curved seat-stays and gloss paint finishes.
The jury is still out on lumps, bumps and slots with the Agritubel, MBKs taking these to new heights.
We watched the near-200 rider field move off through the chilled air in bright sunshine and then headed off through the traffic jams for our first look at the race at Berchem where 11 riders had five minutes on an a slumbering bunch riding in a tight kerb to kerb formation through the freezing wind.
Quickstep DS Patrick Lefevre over-took the whole bunch on the hard shoulder and grass verge in his Peugeot team car coming in to the crossroads, raising a huge dust cloud just to liven things up.
First casualty of the day was number 233, Geoffrey Coupe of Flanders, despite his Bulgarian kit several minutes in arrears with only an hour of racing in.
At the top of the Eikenberg after 112 kilometres the 11 were still clear but only by a couple of minutes from a bunch content to ride and not ‘charge’ the narrow cobbled ramp, despite the lack of urgency, the race was up on schedule.
Unless you have detailed local knowledge it’s difficult to see the race more than a couple of times due to the volume of car-bound spectators doing the same; our strategy is to head to De Peet’s and hole-up with a pils in front of the TV, it’s a much warmer too.
When in Brakel – stop for a pint at the home of ‘De Peet’s’ fan club… we did.
We arrived at a quiet Brakel – home of the fan club – with around 50 kilometres to go; three young Boonen fans were drinking themselves into a coma but took time to explain patiently to us that Boonen was world champion and came from Belgium – thanks guys.
An attack by Boonen and Van Bon on the Mollenberg was instrumental in the final selection, reducing a still-huge bunch down to a more compact group which caught the survivors of the big, early break with 40 K to go.
The crucial attack came with 25 to go when De Waele, Pozatto, Wim De Vocht [Belgium/Lotto] and Mark Scanlon [Ireland/AG2R] – obviously feeling better about things than when we spoke to him on Friday night – forced a gap.
At 18 to go Gilbert left the bunch and began to bridge-up, it took him three kilometres to get across making four at the front, Scanlon having cracked and been passed by Gilbert on his way up.
At 12 K the front group was completed when Van Bon came across with Koen Barbe [Belgium/Chocolade Jacques] dragging the surprising Scanlon back up with them.
As the race unfolded the bar became busier and busier until it was standing room only; Belgian has the highest percentage of population in Europe who smoke and I now know how a smoked salmon feels – this report has cost me at least a year of my life.
Despite Quickstep DS Wilfried Peeters screeching up to talk animatedly to Pozatto and Boonen trying to break free of the main group the day was not Quickstep’s.
Rivals Lotto at least placed a man on the podium, we’re hoping for a Patrick Lefevre rant over dinner and an inspired performance at Kuurne on Sunday – our traditional Kuurne finale-watching bar is a lot less smoky too.
Talk to you tomorrow.
Results: 2006 Het Volk, 202km
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Franзaise Des Jeux 4.56.18 (40.904 km/h)
2 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 0.38
3 Leon van Bon (Ned) Davitamon-Lotto 0.54
4 Koen Barbe (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen
5 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick.Step-Innergetic
6 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 1.45
7 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank
8 Franck Renier (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
9 Wim De Vocht (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Michele Maccanti (Ita) Team LPR
11 Steffen Wesemann (Swi) T-Mobile
12 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 2.01
13 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Innergetic
14 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis
15 Marc de Maar (Ned) Rabobank
16 Roger Hammond (GBr) Discovery Channel
17 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Unibet.com
18 Andy Flickinger (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
19 Mark Scanlon (Irl) Ag2r-Prevoyance
20 Gorik Gardeyn (Bel) Unibet.com 4.37