So under the disguise of an educational trip to see some World War 1 stuff around Ypres, we made the first pilgrimage of the road season to Vlaanderen for the “Openings weekend”.
Having decided we were “on a budget’ the decision to take the ferry wasn’t looking good when it took 2 hours to negotiate the Dartford Crossing on Friday tea time. Obviously we missed the sailing but were lucky to be given a free ticket for the next one (doesn’t always happen on the ferries!) and finally arrived in De Panne about 2am.
The idea of heading to Ghent for the start of the Omloop was quickly aborted on Saturday in return for an extra hour in bed. So our first rendez vous with the racing was the women’s peloton heading over the Nokereberg, their first climb on the day. What was immediately obviously was the anarchic style of racing over the cobbles even compared to the men. It really was every women for herself with some riders aiming for the smooth guttering (on both sides of the road here) or trying to bludgeon a way right through the middle of the big (but nicely formed) stones.
For a large number, after only 20km, the day was already almost done. They were out the back never to come back…
Then it was back in the car for a bit of a rally drive down the back roads of the Vlaamse Ardennen to the Haaghoek for the first passage of the men’s race. The Haaghoek rarely gets a mention (although this is where Cancellara broke his back in E3 last year) but, for me, it’s one of the more brutal pinch points in the Flanders hills. The downhill section is very scary especially when wet as I’m sure those who did the Ronde last year will confirm. Anyway, with a 250 strong peloton hurtling down the narrow road, the sounds and looks on some of the riders faces were hilarious.
As with the women’s race, this was going to be a long day for some people.