We said QuickStep would win – we got that wrong but then so did they. However, we did manage to name all of the first five in our preview and it was a joy to see Ian Stannard top the podium (read the PEZ race report here) on what can only be described as a day for the hardest of men.
Our tale begins on the Friday night when in time honoured fashion we headed for the Holiday Inn to pester the team mechanics.
They used to spray us with the pressure washer to get rid of us – but now they pose for pictures for us. It’s always worth a good nose around the bikes to see if there’s anything interesting – we got our first sight of prototype Shimano electronic gears here about a decade ago.
Lapierre had a rather tricky new shock absorber set up on one of their machines – and we do like the 2014 paint job.
Dawn was fortunately still a ways off when we left the Vivaldi and headed back to our hotel, a faded Art Deco gem from the 1920’s.
The papers did the race proud on Saturday morning with a look at 10 memorable Het Nieuwsblads from the past – unfortunately we remembered most of them . . .
We’ve moaned about it already but we don’t like the new start with it’s barriers, ‘Flanders Classics’ hospitality tents, ViP’s and too many people in too little space. If you know the lay of the land though, you’re aware that the less glam teams get tucked away around the corner off the main square.
That suits us fine.
We had a good look at the Androni Bianchis – classic and beautiful.
Whilst the World Tour hid in the buses, the Pro Continental Rusvelo boys sat calmly out in the cold to get their massage. “Cold? This not cold, Siberia cold!”
There’s little point in trying to take pictures on the square it’s just too crowded – but we did see this young gentleman using dad’s shoulders to get a better view of Tomeke.
Suisse champion, Michael Schar (BMC) looked super cool as he posed for pictures – he’d look frozen on the Haaghoek, three hours later.
We headed for our first viewing point of the day, the Leberg, and got there via the Lange Munte, an endless stretch of exposed pan flat cobbles more than two kilometres in length. The Leberg is short and steep, no cobbles but comes straight off the cobbles of the Haaghoek with virtually zero recovery.
There were eight away on the Leberg – one each from Polsat, Wanty, Cofidis, NetApp, Katusha, Bretagne, Vlaanderen and Giant.
The gap was around four minutes back to a QuickStep driven peloton with Iljo Keisse again more than earning his salary and Tomeke looking relaxed. The gas was ‘on’ but not ‘full.’
Ian Stannard gurned his way up the climb giving no hint of what would come later. The next stop was Valkenburg, no cobbles but steep and with a horrible, heart breaking false flat – all part of the attrition.
The only thing the QuickStep ‘Vipz’ – as they call them here in Belgium – were wearing down was their packed lunches and bottles of champers. Not that we were jealous, you understand.
The break was still clear and again it was that man Keisse setting the tempo for the peloton.
Up until that point the rain had merely threatened; but now it stopped playing and fell in ernest, a cold penetrating spray which iced to the bone. A ‘dreich’ day as we say in Scotland with the scenery in perfect harmony with the weather.
It was positively horrible on the Haaghoek; muddy, windy, cold, wet, a cobbled big dipper where the Keisse fans had set up their standard. But a man can only drag a whole Classic along for so long – even if his name is Iljo – and it was that locomotive of a man, Stijn Devolder at the head of affairs for Lefevre’s Legion as the break became just another few lines in the journos pads.
Tomeke was still well there but looking less than cheerful – as was Mr. Stannard.
Behind, the grim faced survivors glanced over to the their left to see how much in arrears they were off the leaders, already well into their second ascent of the Leberg.
It was all over for IAM’s Dominik Klemme as he debated the best way to get back to some warmth with the team staff.
But it’s not just men that the Flemish Ardennes wrecks – as we’d see at the finish, where, rear mechs swung in the chill breeze. It was time to find a bar for the finale.
Once we settled with our pils we saw there were three clear – Terpstra (QuickStep) Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Boom (Belkin). Boasson Hagen was ‘guising’ as we say in Scotland, pretending he was low on fuel. But Terpstra knew the score and was having none of it.
At that point Boom’s face said, ‘winner’ to us – but then he punctured. BH’s leg’s suddenly started to function and Terpstra’s annoyance turned to rage. The two tried to jump each other but wouldn’t cooperate – had they done so then it’s conceivable they’d have stayed clear.
But it was Stannard who had the grinta to attack on a flat road with 17 K still to go. Only Van Avermaet could follow and the pair inched clear and despite being ‘just up the road’ never came back.
Stannard timed his sprint perfectly and as Van Avermaet said; ‘nine times out of ten I’d beat Stannard in a sprint, but today my body wouldn’t respond.’ Small wonder, the Belgian was visibly shivering as his soigneur cleaned him up for the podium.
And the cold must have got to the guys at the newspapers on Monday as they mixed up the captions for the Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne sprint finishes. Boasson Hagen’s remarkable recovery continued as he took third from the small counter move which took off in pursuit of Stannard and Van Avermaet to make it first and third for Sky.
Hard working Sep Vanmarcke was fourth and Terpstra fifth. A great race with a deserving winner – and the prospect of QuickStep hell bent on revenge on Sunday. Add with a pizza at The Lounge and Penny McLean’s ‘Lady Bump’ thumping from the speakers in the Vivaldi there’s not much more a man can ask for from a Saturday night in Gent.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad’14 Results:
1 Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky 4:49:55
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky 0:00:24
4 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team
5 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
6 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) Wanty – Groupe Gobert 0:01:34
7 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team
8 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Team Giant-Shimano
9 Egoitz Garcia Echeguibel (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
10 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Fdj.fr
11 Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky
12 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin Sharp
13 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol
14 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
15 Zico Waeytens (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise
16 Jelle Wallays (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise
17 Johan Le Bon (Fra) Fdj.fr 0:01:41
18 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team
19 Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:02:47
20 Yoann Offredo (Fra) Fdj.fr