But let’s go back to Gent, this morning, it’s just gone 07.00 and Viktor has headed out for the papers. Cav gets a two page interview and five stars in the Het Nieuwsblad; Robbie McEwen is on four with Wouter Weylandt whilst Boonen, Flecha and Pozzato are on three – these three will be very tightly marked.
It’s a damp Wednesday morning in Gent; I’m just glad that I don’t have to make two descents of the Kemmel, today.
The start at Deinze and the stalls selling team jerseys are charging seven euros for a cloth cap, 55 euros for a jersey and 75 euros for shorts – no thanks!
Most people looked at the weather today and made this same face.
It’s wet and miserable – cognac time. Viktor forces us back out of the cafй into the rain, even though there are two hours ’til the start. Finally, I get to meet Jered – damn, he’s skinny.
Security is tight for the team bus compound – it takes us all of three minutes to blag our way in.
Vacansoleil are here already, and so too are Topsport Vlaanderen, under their saddles are black ribbons in memory of their rider Frederiek Nolf, who died at the Tour of Qatar.
The first sound bite comes from Scott Sunderland; “it’s Cav today, he’s from the Isle of Man, the weather is shit there, it rains all the time, so the wet won’t worry him. The Paris – Roubaix guys will be trying to keep warm – it’ll be hard to keep dry – and out of trouble for Sunday. Haedo could be there today, but he won’t like the weather, maybe Weylandts; Pozzato needs to make up for Sunday, all he did was ride to see Boonen get beat.”
French cycling sage, Philippe Brunel has a moment for us; “the weather will have an impact today, I think it will come down to a group of 20, I think too that Cavendish will still be there at the finish.”
I recognise that man under the red umbrella, Cedric Vasseur; “Cavendish is my favourite today, three teams have the strength – Quickstep for Boonen, Cervelo for Haussler and Columbia for Cav. Rabobank will be thinking more about Paris – Roubaix, Flecha was unlucky at Flanders; he’ll be out to get a result at Roubaix. When it turns left at De Panne and they hit the cross wind, the race will explode.
If there are four Columbias, Cervelos and QuickSteps in the first bordure (echelon) then that’ll be the selection. Cavendish didn’t race at the weekend, he’ll be fresh, the guys who rode Flanders will be tired, it’s different if it’s dry and warm, you can ride yourself in, but today it’ll be hard from kilometre zero.”
Euskaltel don’t look like they’re digging the scene as they empty their suit cases of wet weather gear.
F des J and Wes Sulzberger tells us he doesn’t mind the wet; “it cracks a lot of guys morale; Anthony Geslin is our guy today and Yauheni Hutarovich is going well too. We have Fred Guesdon coming back to form, he’ll be thereabouts on Sunday.”
Cancellara emerges from the Saxo Bank bus and is mobbed instantly.
It’s cavalry charge time as Boonen, Haussler, Flecha and the other stars leave it until the last minute to emerge from the bus to brave the rain and the fans, and head for the dйpart.
Time to bolt, Jered jumps aboard the Ford and we’re off.
Jered and I do the mobile writing and picture editing thing in the back seat as Stuart navigates and Dave hussles the diesel Focus.
Zarren, 39 kilometres; we’ve missed them – damn!
Plan B – head for the Kemmel.
The lack of sleep catches up with Jered and he’s nodded off – missing Enrique Inglesias and ‘Escape’ – “if you feel like leaving.
Kemmel village, park the car, have some frites then walk the climb.
It’s concrete section, not too steep, then, bang! There’s a 90 right and the cobbles commence immediately, no messing, the front wheel bumps skywards – welcome to the Kemmel.
The whole climb is barriered, with space to hang over at a premium. Eventually I find my spot and have time to study the granite ribbon that streams past me.
At least they are regular in shape and size, albeit some of them have rough and chewed surfaces. The linear concrete kerbs that retain them are well bedded into shale which means they won’t allow the cobbles to spread and big gaps to appear between them. There are pinks, reds, greys and greens in there – a shining dragon’s tail running through the trees.
There must be one heck of an absentees from work in Flanders today, judging by the amount of people on this hill.
The sound of a helicopter, the sky darkens, big spots of rain fall on the already slick cobbles, a siren in the distance, we all lean forward.
It’s a false alarm, lead cars, a huge jolly monk on the back of a pick-up invites us to drink Petrus beer.
The sky lightens, the rain stops, there’s the chopper, the roar starts to roll up the climb, and there they are – maybe 40 riders. All sitting firmly in the saddle to keep the rear rubber planted on the granite. Columbia lead, Liquigas are there, Rabo’s, Cervelos, a Garmin or two but QuickStep aren’t to be seen. Maybe why there’s such a sense of urgency among this group.
The gap back to the next group is minutes, that was the Blue Train, if you’ve missed it, forget it.
Boonen and Cavendish lead the big, beaten group; faces proud, stoic, caked with dirt, like miners in a Soviet poster extolling the virtues of hard work.
It takes around half-an-hour for them to do the lap; Kuschynski (Liquigas & Bulgaria) spins a tiny gear, almost a minute clear. The group is smaller this time round, and still with the sense of purpose of men who think they can win.
It’s seven minutes back to the peloton and again Cav is near the front.
Time to go, back down the hill and into the first bar; it’s the best day of the year for them – the owner smiles contentedly as the golden pils pumps endlessly.
Columbia’s Norwegian protege Edvald Boasson Hagen has bridged up to the Bulgarian, the gap is 1:20 and it looks like the winning move with less than 20 K to go.
Behind, Bradley Wiggins chases for Garmin – Viktor reckons that Brad has been inspired to ride above himself due to Cav’s emergence; but don’t quote me.
Our Aussie boy, Matt Goss is frisky and finally provokes a move with countryman Matt Hayman (Rabobank) and Andreas Klier (Cervelo & Germany)
In our bar it’s getting tough to hold position – I wedge myself against the counter, that’s better.
Despite the trio’s hard work, the two fugitives have plenty of time in hand as the finish approaches,
Hagen’s big, early jump gives him two lengths on Kuschynski and that margin sticks, all the way to the line.
Matt Goss takes third and it’s time to head for Kortrijk and our interview.
The sun comes out as we head out of Kemmel – how can we spin this trip out ’til Sunday?