Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo & The Netherlands) goes from way out, Arnaud Demare (FDJ & France) scrambles for his wheel but is lengths back at the line with Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain & Italy) doing well for a man whose speciality is late season races in balmy Italy, taking third. We agree it was a great sprint from the Dutchman but it wasn’t a vintage Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
Meanwhile, just like every year when we watch the finale in L’Escale bar in Ronse, the locals don’t even look up from their billiards.
The morning was even colder in Kuurne than it was in Gent but none of us have a hangover, the sun is out and the bikes are in full view, not tucked away where you can’t play with the brake levers so no complaints.
It’s unusual to see riders in their new trims – Matteo Trentin has been a QuickStep man since 2011 – he gave them seven wins last year – but this year he’s with Mitchelton-Scott.
There a few neat little bits of tech to be seen, Lapierre have changed their seat cluster, for the better, we think; and those direct mount brakes are nice – and those Specialized power meters are super neat.
Despite the cold, Borut Božič has time for banter with team mate Colbrelli’s fan club.
Sonny looks relaxed, he won the Brabantse Pijl as one of his three wins last season so he can handle himself on the cobbles and ramps.
Meanwhile, Aussie Elite Road Race Champion, Alex Edmondson smiles for the camera but must be asking himself if this is really where it’s at.
And there’s the mad local band, ‘Les Coureurs’ – who seem impervious to the cold in their retro kits.
Groenewegen is being interviewed at his bus; “I’ve won three times already this year so I’m pretty confident today.”
And the man does look relaxed and ready for his cold day out in the Flemish Ardennes; he had eight wins last year including the last stage of Le Tour, on the Champs Élysees.
Rival fast man Démare is too well wrapped up to see his demeanour but looks cool in that national champion’s tricolour tricot; 10 wins in 2017 for him including a Tour stage.
Our first close encounter with the race is at the top of the Wolvenberg climb, a typical Flemish Ardennes cobbled ramp.
It’s painfully cold, ears and cheeks burn in the icy wind.
There are seven away with a 2:10 lead but they’re still chatting in the peloton.
It’s a wee while before we catch them again, this time on the Hotond Berg, not cobbled but long, mostly straight and painful enough.
The break is still clear but patently doomed as a big peloton passes in icy silence.
Sky’s Messrs. Dibben and Lawless are off the back, desperately chasing – the odds on them re-joining are slim with the mad positioning battle for the Oude Kwaremont about to begin.
Their team mate, Owain Doull was a sterling 11th, the day before in Het Nieuwsblad – but 200 K isn’t 265 K…