Gent’16: Belgium, Beer And Bikes!
Gent ‘6 Day’ and Hasselt Cross: Callum and Dave have had a full Belgian weekend, first they hit the Gent track on Friday night to soak up the atmosphere, then it was the mud of Hasselt on Saturday before the big finale on the velodrome on Sunday night. It was a fan-pleaser as Cav and Wiggo came out on top for the big farewell to Bradley… Or is it?
Saturday dawns dry and bright and after a healthy breakfast we’re off, heading north west for Hasselt, site of today’s Cross. A Soudal Classic series event and a race with history and attracting a quality field, but no world champ Wout Van Aert and no Mathieu Van Der Poel on show. Saving themselves for the world cup at Koksijde which as it turned out was cancelled.
We catch the women’s race and after a busy start which sees Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm BKCP) complaining about riders jumping the start, to no effect, the race settles. Clearly motivated by her rivals taking a liberty at the start Cant moves clear of Ellen Van Loy and that’s the way it stays. American Elle Anderson completes the podium with third place.
It’s freezing and the elite men are well wrapped up waiting for the start. Stripping down to race wear at the very last moment. The start is wild with everyone pulling like they were riding 200 meters not an hour.
The course is compact, laid out to enable maximum television coverage and is tight and technical. There’s some mud but it’s rideable and as the race progresses the ground is chewed up further. As riders tire we expect some spills but the impressive bike handling continues as they slip and slide with some bunny hopping the barriers to the end.
The lead in the elite race changes several times but it’s always a three horse race. Sweeck, Venturini and Van Kessel proving too strong for the rest. They test each other and one mistake or a moments inattention will make the difference. That or sore legs! Lauren Sweeck survives best and pulls clear, the crowd are happy and we head for the car for some heat and the long drive back to Gent for more, less muddy racing.
Another example of the Belgian capacity to support all types of bike racing.
It may be a day of rest for some but the final day of the Gent Six is not peaceful for the riders. The sell out crowd have come to be entertained and many are clearly looking for a Belgian victory. The masses of British fans, some having searched their wardrobes for that outfit to be noticed, have other ideas.
The beer is flowing early and having waved off Grant Martin his Pop, Andy Brown, and Craig Grieve we head for the stands.
The introduction of the riders to the fans before the action starts, sees Mark and Ollie at the front for their moment in the spotlight.
The team elimination race is good to watch with the shoot out being between De Ketele, De Pauw and Viviani, Keisse. The classy Italian bringing it home to the cheers of the crowd. We reckon Elia can’t have real gold on his helmet, shoes, bar tape and shades or he would need security. The value of Olympic Gold is clear to see. Gold jerseys next?
The final chase is what we have all been waiting for and the stands fill for the main event. Dave and I have tickets for the centre but as usual manage to find some seats. We hold on to these for some considerable time, waiting to be evicted at any moment.
Event follows event with the riders clearly enjoying themselves. Elia is playing to the crowd in the Supersprint and the Derny race has Wiggins, whipping his pacer for more speed. He, Keisse and De Ketele are three abreast for the final sprint. The music pumping the crowd go wild when Ijlo pulls off the win.
The flying lap is aptly named with speeds of 70kph being achieved by Kenny and Moreno to take the win.
Not long now and whilst we get twitchy about losing our seats the excitement and anticipation grows as the final Chase draws near.
As the moment arrives we confidently predict someone will win. With the first three teams now on the same lap, as De Ketele, De Pauw and Keisse, Viviani have hit the four hundred point total and thus get a lap gain, drawing them level. Cav and Wiggins just failing to reach the magic number and seeing their one lap lead disappear. The points are stacked against the Brits, a lap gain is required.
As the race explodes into life it’s worth noting within half an hour Mark Stewart and Olli Wood have lost nine laps and gained one. It’s not slow!
After 45 minutes the lap board shows 50 laps to go, with sprints every ten. It’s a battle between the Belgian and the Belgian, Italian alliance. We’re waiting for the British charge and it comes late, about fifteen to go and the crowd roar their approval. With three to go the junction is made and it’s in the bag. Cavendish is delighted and when the presentation of the winners takes place Cav is moved to tears by Wiggins comments. A British pairing unlikely to be seen again.
And will this really be Wiggins last Hoorah? We hope not. His power and style at this the 76th Gent Six will be long remembered by all those who bear witness.
Chapeau to the World Champions.