By Jered and Ashley Gruber
After watching the riders turn on to the incline of the Sibbegrubbe, we turned the red wagon in the direction of another climb. I’m not sure which one though. As we drove along with the innumerable other cars and bikes all with one goal in mind – watching the race – we ran into the day’s first feedzone.
Ashley looks over at me, I smile back. Sure, this looks like a good spot to watch a bike race. So we parked in the field, and prepared for the race. Ashley found herself a shot – the peloton descending the climb they’d tackle two times in the upward direction in the finale, the Gulperberg. You could see the road fall directly from the top of the ridge from our parking spot. She climbed through the sunroof and waited patiently.
I wasn’t too keen on staring at the distant hill. I walked around a bit and visited the Quick-Step and Leopard Trek team cars.
Ashley patiently waits for the field to come into view on the descent of the Gulperberg. Note the packed full car – our whole world is in there.
I asked to take a look in both team’s coolers, then realized that might sound a bit odd, kind of early morning doping controller style. I quickly changed tack: I just want to take a picture of the bottles and musettes. A smile followed and all as well.
The Quick-Step cooler.
Sabine, a soigneur from Leopard Trek, even added a little bit of grass to the mix – “some nature for your picture!”
Guess whose cooler this is!
I asked another Leopard Trek soigneur if I could follow him while he handed out musettes when the field passed. Josue was more than happy to oblige my request.
I guess a bright sunny day brings in new problems – like sunburns and squinting.
We still had time though, a whole five minutes. There was no hurry, no rushing like we have a habit of doing. They know the rhythm of the race, and their movements are timed perfectly so as to require the least amount of rushing. I guess it’s easy when you’ve done it a thousand times.
Waiting – no matter what race you go to, it’s defined by a whole lot of waiting.
Josue has been at it for five years now. He raced for a continental team in Spain early on, but when he, like many other Spanish riders, realized there was nowhere to go but out, he switched paths from the bike to tending to those on the bike. He spent two seasons with the Spanish National Team, then moved to the big time when he signed on to work for Bjarne Riis’s Saxo Bank team. Two years passed with one of the sport’s best teams. His time with Riis ended when he joined the mass exodus from Saxo Bank to Leopard Trek at the end of the 2010 season.
Ashley sat perched out of the sunroof for quite a long while for this one, so look at it. ha.
The break takes on provisions.
We continued chatting all the way until the race arrived, and then he inexplicably left the roadside and went straight into the middle of the road, much further out than any of the other soigneurs. It wasn’t aggressive or dangerous, he just walked out there with outstretched arm and the racers dutifully moved a little bit further over. I followed right behind and steadily snapped as Frдnk, Andy, and Fabian all dropped by for nourishment.
A musette bag is snatched.
Frдnk Schleck gives me the stare down.
Fabian dreaming about the win…
Once again, just like that, they were gone. Poof.
A handshake and a quick jog later, I was back in the car, and wondering – where to next?
There they go.
We were about to head for a distant climb when we realized – the Gulperberg is only a couple kilometers away. Why not go there? Sounds good. When we parked in a pretty little spot on the descent of the climb, we thought – why not just station ourselves on the climb for the two passages to come?
To hell with the rushing and constant map reading. Let’s just hang out on the Gulperberg and see what’s to be seen.
The forested descent of the Gulperberg.
The walk to the top was a pleasant one.
Yep, sounds good to me.
The descent was almost completely free of spectators, but as we climbed to the top, we saw hundreds, maybe a thousand or more people lining the steep ascent.
These hands and radio belong to none other than Herman ten Kate. He saw the pictures on Flickr and informed me of the fact. How cool is that?! This isn’t Herman’s first foray on PEZ’s pages either – he appeared in Gord’s Tour de France coverage last year. Coincidence? I think not.
The tree seems like a good place to enjoy a bike race.
Everything around this race is just so easy. I had grown accustomed to irritated yells from policemen and waving hands from fans and drivers over past races, but on Sunday, everyone seemed to be just plain happy. Maybe it was the weather, I don’t know, but with every person we spoke to, we found only smiles, stories, and a good time. Even riders left to walking their bikes up the Gulperberg’s vicious grades chuckled at their plight, while the fans lining the road cheered them on.
Here comes the break!
There were so many riders on the slopes of the Gulperberg, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sunday was the day of the sportif. When they summited, they didn’t leave the actual race area, they just sat down inside the barriers, right behind the gathered photographers. Nobody cared. There was no policeman who insisted they get out. There were no frowns, or angry fingers, just an understood – do as you please, just don’t get in the way of the race. That idea seems to be the unspoken command of the Amstel Gold Race, and the fans followed it perfectly. Their passion and their enthusiasm, along with a reasonable level of laissez-faire attitude created a fantastic atmosphere. When the riders came, it got even better.
Omega Pharma-Lotto and Philippe Gilbert were in complete control at the front.
Fabian Cancellara later admitted that Sunday was the best he had felt all spring. It amounted to nothing though, as he crashed in the finale and saw his chances of victory vanish.
The flags came out, the shouts began, the claps grew louder as the riders heaved upward. The riders in the break showed the strain of the effort, but Philippe Gilbert’s face looked as it likely did when he ate breakfast in the morning. I don’t think there’s much that can perturb him at the moment.
Paris-Roubaix champion, Johan Vansummeren enjoyed a quiet day at the rear of the field.
As far as I could tell, this was the only dropped rider. He had crashed.
The super fast descent of the Gulperberg – it’s wicked steep on the back side heading into Gulpen.
Ashley and I had split up for the sake of pictures, so when the race passed, we rejoined at the Gulperberg’s restaurant. It was a happy reuniting, as we don’t really love being apart that much. Some have accused us of codependency, but it’s a charge we’ll happily accept.
There’s nothing like a good bar/pub/restaurant/car to watch a major one day classic.
The restaurant had the race showing on two different televisions, so we took up a spot near one of them and enjoyed, well, not rushing and not driving.
They did a good business atop the Gulperberg on Sunday.
Hunger and thirst were next on the to do list, so we took care of that with a sausage and a roll apiece. I was greeted by a guy selling the sausages in English I would have bet our car on was from an Englishmen. I asked him how he ended up here in Gulpen as a Brit… Turns out, English is his hobby – he’s from Gulpen. I’m still amazed at the guy’s English and accent. I’m also amazed at the sausage – it didn’t look like much, in fact, it looked like a shriveled old nasty thing. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the owner of a brilliant flavor and became our first race day, roadside food so far this year. I think we’ll have to partake in that again soon. Who knows who you’ll find selling sausages on the side of the road – maybe even a faux-Brit.
There’s always time for a little touristing. Ashley accused this of being a tourist picture. I disagree. I like it. Take that.
So then she tried to show me how it’s done.
I like them both.
We walked back out to the course when the time drew near and the helicopters came a chopping. We almost went back to the climb, but I wasn’t feeling the same shots again, so we went to the back part of the climb, right before the descent begins, and right where the crowds end.
Maxim Iglinskiy chases Johnny Hoogerland.
The leading riders came through soon after – Johnny Hoogerland is the lone leader, but only just. He’s followed by the likes of Cunego and Iglinskiy, but right after that, the heads of state follow, led by none other than Philippe Gilbert, still in perfect control. The attacks are coming from every direction, but Gilbert doesn’t seem even slightly worried.
Martin Elmiger on the attack, just meters ahead of Gilbert and company.
Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet on the front.
The rest of the field, or what remains, is strung out behind, with gaps all over the place. This isn’t even the worst part. The Gulperberg is more the entryway into the finale. Five more climbs follow in rapid succession, and with each climb, the fraying of the line gets more dramatic.
As the race disappeared into the distance, we smiled, hopped in the car, and drove off – not in the direction of the race. We agreed that we’d enjoyed more than enough. Let’s head for the real hills of the Ardennes. Maybe we’d even go for a ride?
We arrived late in the afternoon to our lodging for the next eight days in Coo, just outside of Stavelot: the New Life hotel. They specialize in outdoor activities, from caving to climbing to kayaking, hiking, swimming, mountain biking – anything. It’s a great location, a great hotel, and a great set of people. Even better, the beds are impossibly comfortable, and they ended up our undoing that afternoon. Instead of a ride, we enjoyed a nap, then dinner with the hotel’s four interns, along with a new intern’s family. Her family was in the midst of dropping her off for her five month sojourn in the Ardennes. The food was great, the conversation even better, and afterwards, we barely made it back upstairs before dropping into bed.
It was a good day. For now, we’re tired, but happy.
Want to see lots more pictures? Head to Flickr!
Questions? Comments? Email me! Want to enjoy the play by play here in Belgium? Try Twitter. If you’re looking for a bit more, there’s always the tried and true, JeredGruber.com