Like our amigo, pro photog, Wessel van Keuk says; ‘there are big bicycle races and then there’s the Tour de France . . .
After all the hype, creds, gendarmes, too cool for school journos and hand to hand combat with wi-fi connections what a man really needs is – a kermis.
Westrozebeke, West Flanders, the day after the Tour finishes . . .
Baptist Planckaert, a famous surname, and yes, he’s part of the dynasty.
And he won here last year in this 64th Grote Prijs Raf Jonckheere over 16 laps of a 10.25 kilometre circuit.
‘Inschrijving’ none of that fancy stuff here, you sign on in a Cafe ‘t Gildhof, hand in your licence and deposit – and if you’re lucky the organisers won’t be smoking too much.
The start; and again, no fan fare, line up and steel yourself for launch – the next kermis which starts ‘steady’ will be the first.
Sure enough, it’s lined out as they pass at the end of lap one with frisky riders even chasing the prime.
And we have two World Tour riders in there; Jonas Vangenechten for Lotto and former Ronde winner, Nick Nuyens for Garmin plus a big squad from Pro Continental Topsport Vlaanderen.
Every village in West Flanders has at least one church and several bars – Westrozebeke is no exception and the finish line sits within the shadow of the steeple as does the inevitable war memorial.
Between laps the local guys get a bit of training done to work up a taste for a pils.
Vangenechten’s name might not be well known to you but he won the GP Pino Cerami last year and was runner up this year; he also won in Gullegem this year beating rapid Quick-Step man – and recent Tour of Wallonia winner – Gianni Meersman.
And there are always the ‘High Plains Drifters’ form across the globe seeking fame and fortune in the Flatlands – but usually finding pain and disappointment.
Lithuania, Korea, Paraguay, Ireland and – Mexico were all represented with the latter’s Castillo Sotto by no means making a fool of himself.
Mexico has produced some good riders over the years, the best known being Tour de France stage winner, Raul Alcala who also won the Clasica San Sebastian during his long career.
Pils time; a man can’t be expected to watch a bike race without a Jupiler.
Hailing from the Piedboeuf Brewery (Brasserie Piedboeuf) in Jupille-sur-Meuse Belgium; Jupiler is owned by the massive Anheuser–Busch InBev and it’s the best selling beer in Belgium – we’ve certainly bought plenty, over the years.
Former World Madison Champion and six day star, Kenny De Ketele is riding – the kermises have always been an essential part of a six day rider’s preparation for the winter.
As the road riders’ programmes ease back, the winter boards guys’ ramp up.
The photo finish gear is a tad basic but it works fine and it’s a good gig – you only have to work for about 10 minutes to set it up and then take it down again at the end.
And now our Korean boy is in the mix with Topsport; Hyeong Min Choe was second on GC in the Tour of Korea this year behind Britain’s Hugh Carthy; that race is UCI 2.1 so he’s not just here to make up the numbers.
Big Irishman, Conor Dunne is riding for AN Post, he’s a former British Junior Time Trial Champion and has a stage win in the legendary RAS Tour of Ireland to his name.
Pro Continental team Wanty-Groupe Goubert have Frederique Robert here; he’s been with both Quick-Step and Lotto and was a multiple Belgian junior track champion before moving on to become a prolific U23 winner on the road – but he’s never landed a ‘big one.’
He’s looking back here to see if anyone is coming up, he was second here in 2012 and will fancy his chances.
But kermises ebb and flow and what looks like the winning move can be washed away in a lap if the chemistry (and financial wrangling) in the break don’t work out.
Nick Nuyens is an enigma; second in the Ronde as a junior then third as a U23 before winning in that category in 2002 – the year he was Belgian U23 National Champion – he was second in the Elite Ronde in 2008 for Cofidis before winning it for Saxo Bank in 2011.
He was originally a Quick-Step man but left the team because he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Boonen – but season 2011 apart, when he won Dwars Door and de Ronde for Bjarne Riis – his best years were with Patrick Lefevre.
He closed season 2004 winning Paris-Brussels and opened it winning Het Volk in 2005 then took Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2006 before he moved to Cofidis, then Rabobank, then Saxo and now Garmin.
He’s been winless for three seasons but still does the job – with four hours in a kermis preferable to a five hour solo training slog.
The appearance of the lead car gives you a chance to take a quick glug of Jupiler then grab your place on the barriers.
But of course, man does not live by pils alone – there are frites to be consumed.
Dave’s a mayo man but I go for Andoulouse – mayo with tomato and peppers.
Meanwhile, as the finale approaches there are some seriously fast laps with the bunch just a long snaking line.
Final trips to the bathroom are made – there can be no reason to miss the sprint.
The crowd thickens as the bars empty and the rampage up the finish straight becomes ever more desperate as the bell clangs for the last lap.
As expected, it’s Topsport who triumph, they’ve controlled the race all day and their first year pro Edward Theuns is way too quick for everyone – a good pursuit and time trial rider he was third in the Handzame Classic to Giro final stage winner, Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano & Slovenia) earlier in the year.
There are just the interviews to be done before Westrozebeke goes back to sleep; but there’s no doubt that this is Heartland . . .
. . . as the images on the way out of town endorse better than my words can . . .
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.