The issue of weather for Het Nieuwsblad (or Gent – Gent as the locals still call it) is a dichotomy: if it’s wet it’s a proper man’s race but you get frozen and soaked whilst spectating; but if it’s a nice day and you’re not near-death when you stumble into your favourite bar to watch the finale then you end up watching 100-plus riders contesting the finish.
I’ll go for wet and cold – bike racing is an epic sport, it’ll be a while before I forget Traksel winning in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last year and a while too before I forget Sebastian Langeveld’s ride on Saturday.
Langeveld bolted with more than 50 K to go in the most appalling conditions and and out-foxed the toughest of old Argentinean carnivores to win.
Langeveld is 26 and had strong amateur palmares – a good cyclo-cross rider, he’s been Netherlands under 23 rr champ and won a stage in the Olympia Tour.
He’s been a pro since 2006 when he rode for Skil-Shimano; he dazzled with a win in the GP Pino Cerami, was second in the Netherlands elite RRchamps and was snapped up by Rabobank.
Season 2007 saw him win the Ster Elektrotoer; in ’08 he was second at Kuurne; in ’09 he won the GP Jeff Scherens but last year was a tad flat, top tens at Kuurne and the E3 perhaps being the highlights.
He showed strongly in Mallorca earlier this year and Gent was a quality result; even when Flecha caught him he still looked like the winner – and so it proved.
Out pal Viktor didn’t attend Het Nieuwsblad 2011 on the grounds that it’s becoming too commercialised – he has a point, the ViP thing is almost at Pro Tour level and there’s a gloss about proceedings that makes old school boys like us feel uneasy.
The ‘Flanders Classics’ are being marketed collectively with a ‘templated’ poster for each of the races, combined web site (which is, admittedly pretty nice), and a big hospitality suite; whilst I can see how this makes sense from a commercial point of view it’s actually contrary to what these races are all about – each one has it’s own definite character and history, they should not be ‘lumped together.’
Nonetheless, it was a great race.
It wasn’t a good day for bike skeking or ‘sound bites’ – there was too much rain, too many brollies.
But the Bretagne-Schuller KTM’s caught our eye, as did the mega decals on the TIME’s; Dave didn’t like them but I thought they were different – neither of us were sure about the new LOOK chainsets or stems, though.
Nor were we daft about the Leopard Treks, the pale blue is just too pale.
Our chum Dirk Van Hove was our guide for the day, he’s a man obsessed with all things Australian and looks after the Drapac-Porsche team when they come over to race in the summer – he’s also obsessed with riders’ ‘hero cards’ and at last count had 37,000 of them.
The early part of the race out through the suburbs is very technical; it’s testament to the pros skill and lightening reactions that there aren’t ten crashes before the race gets to the green bits.
Dirk’s driving to get us ahead of the race was crazy; the traffic chaos these races cause has to be seen to be believed but no one seems to mind – it’s just part of living in Belgium.
We saw the race five times, including once on the Haaghoek cobbles and once on the Molenberg – the surface on the Molenberg is wild, you can see why there’s a mad fight to be first on to the bergs so as you can pick your line, if you’re in a group and get forced to the right hand side you might as well be riding a mountain bike race.