Roadside PEZ: Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne!
Bar l’Ecluse, Ronse on a February Sunday afternoon and the tattooed guy is drinking beer and playing pool; just like last year. The big TV up in the corner tells as that there are 48 K of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to go – that’s an hour of racing but already we’re saying; ‘bunch sprint.’
An hour later and the tattooed guy is playing a cute blonde as SKY’s Sutton wins a mass charge for the 2011 KBK.
The men with the blue line up their back play it clever – everyone is watching Boasson-Hagen but the plan is really; ‘all for CJ’ and the Aussie wins with aplomb relegating FDJ’s Vuelta stage winner and former Belarusian champion, Yauheni Hutarovich to second and Lotto’s Rostock bison Andre Greipel to third.
Big loser is hot favourite Tyler Farrar who tries three times to find fresh air, but the door keeps slamming in his face, and he has to settle for fourth.
I hate to say it but that last hour was a bit of a ‘watching paint dry’ job – true, there were flurries and Tommeke tried his hand; kudos to Sutton and SKY, but this was by no means a classic KBK.
It was 10:00 am when Dave tucked the Polo in behind the AN Post convoy on the E17, Europop classic ‘Sorry, I’m a Lady’ by Baccara was on the stereo but Dave had imposed a volume limit – possibly due to his pils consumption, Callum was saying little, almost certainly due to the same condition and I had to sulk in the back seat.
On the subject of AN Post, they’re on Dolans this year, the Liverpool builder does a lot of business on the track scene and providing Nico Eeckhout’s team with hardware will do them no harm.
Kuurne is still ‘old school’ with free access to team busses and riders and little of the Pro Tour glitz which has seeped into Gent – Gent.
Folks from Kuurne are nick named ‘Donkeys,’ not in a derogatory sense but because they are hard working and stubborn; the winner of KBK has a stuffed donkey shoved into his hand on the podium and the imagery is everywhere – even in adverts for trendy discos.
We couldn’t help but notice that the bookies had Tommeke as 3:1 favourite as we set off in search of ex-British champion Hamish Haynes who is riding for Continental team Colba-Mercury, his morale is good and he’s in good shape, with a fifth place last weekend from a field of 180 starters.
Fellow Briton, James Spragg is with Donckers Koffie-Jelly Belly, the 2011 incarnation of the QIN coffee team – he already has the Tour of Regio Calabria under his belt this year – and looks in good shape; but DS and former Paris-Roubaix winner Eric Vanderarden needs to kick the weed – and we miss his mullet.
Peter Van Petegem.
There were some familiar faces around, Peter van Petegem was at the Garmin bus – Ivan tells me that his hiring has much to do with the radio ban, he’s there to keep JV’s guys right on tricky parcours of the Cobbled Classics.
Russ Downing was looking happy enough after his top 20 in Gent the previous day.
But happiest man in Kuurne was Rabobank DS Erik Dekker – ten wins by the end of February does that to a man.
The doomed break.
Our first port of call was the Edelare climb; a long drag up out of Oudenaarde, four were clear, with AN Post’s Brit Andy Fenn trying to bridge; a disinterested peloton rode gutter to gutter.
The four wouldn’t get the chance to succumb, they were DQ-ed for ‘jumping’ a level crossing – the monkeys.
The pils is cheap up there, only Euro 1:20 – I suggested we stayed, but with less than 30 K under the tubs I was out-voted.
The Oude Kwaremont was next up; if you have good knowledge of the parcours you can see the race maybe eight or nine times -however, some of those will just be fleeting glimpses.
But at the insistence of the police the organisers have re-jigged the course to minimise the possibility of this ‘race hopping’ due to the dangerous driving that it inspires.
And in a country where it’s hard to imagine what one has to do for the police to care about bad driving – that’s saying something.
Our approach is to see the race properly on a lesser number of occasions.
Dan and Sarah.
Raleigh pro Dan Fleeman was training on the course with Sarah Reynolds and caught up with us on the Kwaremont as we waited for the charge – Dan finished comfortably in the bunch in the Ster van Zwolle race in Holland on the same day as Gent – Gent.
First over were Armee Sander (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) looking comfortable and able to pick their lines carefully.
Boonen was well to the fore, as was last year’s podium finisher, Sky’s Ian Stannard.
The 2010 winner, Bobby Traksel (Landbouwkrediet) was a little further back, but Belgian champion Stijn Devolder was way back – we’d learn later that he crashed at the foot of the Kwaremont; James Spragg came down in the same crash and Hamish Haynes was slowed to a crawl by it.
There’s no time to wait at the top of the Kwaremont; the parcours describes a loop round by Ronse and then climbs the Cote de Trieu, the top of which is around 500 metres from the top of the Kwaremont – a brisk walk via ‘Tour of Flanders Street’ gets you there just as the leaders appear.
Fellow Scot John Young was doing sterling work with the big lens up there; on the tarmac it was still Sander and Ladagnous over the Trieu with Tommy Voeckler (Europcar) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) to the fore; Irish champion Matt Brammeier (HTC) was well back but would get back on before the last, flat hour.
Finale time and a walk through those Flanders Fields to the car.
Our host in Ronse.
L’Escale has served us well these last three years, it’s just a pity that the barman couldn’t organise us a better finale, the sprint was contested by over 100 riders; on Saturday there were two – that says it all, really.