More than 30 years have passed since I first saw the Worlds ‘in the flesh’ – Goodwood, England 1982.
And I’m every bit as excited by the prospect as I was back three decades ago.
It’s great to be here in the press room on a cool, grey Limburg Sunday morning.
For me, it’s a surprise winner from a big group – or Gilbert.
The circuit isn’t as selective as we all perhaps thought; the Cauberg is tough, for sure. But it’s super fast off the top all the way to the Bemelberg – well surfaced, downhill or flat and with only two 90 degree left handers before the climb.
From the top of the Cauberg to the Maastricht sign, where the parcours turns left, reminds us a lot of the stretch running into the last kilometre at last year’s Worlds in Copenhagen.
And along the back of the circuit, it’s not that technical. Really, what it needs is for the weather to be grim – wind and rain – that would ensure a real selection
Kris goes for Gilbert; Dave for Boonen; Vik for Freire and Ivan for Terpstra.
The race will be decided over the 10 laps of the 10 mile finishing circuit – so that’s where we’ll be.
First off, I have to clue you on what the well dressed junior in Kazakhstan is wearing.
Vino on the front . . .
. . . and back – cool!
The crowd is thick around the finish, but there’s a familiar face.
Former six day star Maurice Burton is here with his De Ver Cycles pose.
Maurice’s son, Germain has those good genes which are so important; he rode the junior road race, finishing 36th in the big bunch finish.
And even with five hours to go ’til the finish, claims have been staked on the prime spots.
It’s the top of the Cauberg when the race passes for the first time, but I miss the break’s passing.
Gregor Russell and his Velo Ecosse buddies are discovering that the Limburgers aren’t shy when it comes to hiking the prices for the Worlds – five euros for frites, ouch !
But a healthy chunk of that will be going to the UCI – so that’s cool . . .
And don’t drink too much ‘cos it’s 50 cents to go to the bathroom.
On a serious note, there’s an ad for the GP Jean-Pierre Monsere.
The late, great ‘Jempi’ won the Worlds for Belgium in 1970 at Mallory Park, Leicester in England – only to die tragically in a crash in an early season race in 1971.
Lap 2 and I’m at the foot of the Cauberg as the Tissot watches lead car comes past.
‘Rodania, Rodania’ chant the Belgians in the crowd at the car – referring to a Belgian watch brand’s car, which performs the same job, across the border.
I manage to poke my lens through the mass of bodies to get a few snaps of the break.
I’m trying to put together who’s in there – Timmy Duggan and Alex Howes for the US.
GB lead the peloton at 3:35 – with reigning champion Cav doing the honours.
Valkenburg isn’t the place to be if you have a fear of crowds – it’s hard to move, never mind take pictures.
There’s a TV on in a bar just round from the foot of the Cauberg and naturally they’re watching – soccer?
On to the fast descent into the Cauberg and the 3 K to go board and the break whistles past, rapid.
I make the gap just below three minutes; Timmy and Alex will be working for Tejay van Garderen.
GB and Cav are still on the front – Jonathan Tiernan Locke recently won the Tour of Britain and those ‘bergs’ hold no fear for him.
Or is it Froome; or dare I say it?
Eddy Boasson Hagen – better a Sky win than one of those Johnny Foreigner teams?
The breeze is rustling the trees at the 4 K board; it’ll be a tail wind on the false flat at the top of the Cauberg.
I’m at the roundabout at the top of the drop to Valkenburg when the break hurtles into view to pass me for the fourth time.
The gap is shrinking, but not to the peloton, there’s a counter move of maybe ten, with Dane, Fuglsang in there. But the big guns smell danger – France lead through one side of the roundabout, Belgium the other.
Big Ian Stannard, GB and Sky strongman winces, it must be fast.
A solitary rider from Japan brings up the rear.
After Cav, that is; ‘ciao, Mark.’
At 5 K on the plateau among the orchards and maize, there’s beer, ‘schwing’ muzak and an orange monkey looking after the sign.
And a little banner among the turnips implores; ‘come on Wiggo.’
There’s a ghetto blaster in a camper at the Rabo arch with Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh harmonising; ‘You gotta walk and don’t look back.’
They’re playing my song.
The break slogs on into that chilly wind and past me for the fifth time, with Vuelta stage winner and GB hard man, big Steve Cummings leading the split at not too far behind.
Big Van Summeren leads the peloton; Tomeke and Philippe don’t want boys like Steve too far up the road.
And the Wout Poels fan club has taken over the windmill – very appropriate.
There’s a jazz band playing in the middle of nowhere, but they take time off to watch the break and split grind past on pass number six.
But it looks on borrowed time, the peloton is a long, stinging line into the cross wind.
A French guy knows he’s cooked, reaches back and slings his team mate across the gap as the fierce Limburg wind claims him.
Dave is keeping me right off the TV; Cav, Froome, Wiggins – all gone.
Brad can’t have read the message among the turnips . . .
At Gasthuis, on the back side of the circuit, opposite the start, it’s hectic.
The feed is there and so are a lot of fans, to watch the fun.
But it’s really too fast a spot to feed – especially with a long, strung out Australian lead peloton in pursuit of the two front groups, which have merged on their seventh time of passing me.
Tour of Britain, Tour of the Mediterranean and Haut Var winner, Jonathan Tiernan Locke (GB & Sky) is in the group.
The walk down the Bemelberg is gruesome – steep, loose earth banks, tight behind barriers.
But I guess the crowd has to be kept in hand – especially with some of the mad drivers in that convoy.
Tiernan Locke looks comfy, Cummings keeps the gear down as the break goes on its weary way.
The peloton is cutting them no slack on this eighth pass though and big Van Summeren will surely have earned that win bonus if Tomeke or Phil does the biz.
It takes an age to fight down off the Bemel, past the Belgian Roman legionnaire, who’s having a beer and a smoke.
Meanwhile at the big screen, forget ‘please and excuse me’ if you want to get past there.
But still the GB boys hang tough up front in the break on pass number nine.
German lead a diminished chase, with the Belgians marking and the Italians scheming at the rear.
The second half of the peloton labours past; there are some tired men in there.
But even in the wilds it’s party time; a disco waltz – nice!
‘Compatto’ comes the text message from Dave as 182, Ying Hon Yeung of Hong Kong pedals past, one calendar month down.
On the flat, approaching the Bemel and passing me for the tenth time, it’s tranquillo with GB well there – but a Belgian leads . . .
It’s over for the guys who got caught when the peloton split.
Last lap, still a big group and it’s fast; Australia lead but there are four Belgians right where they should be.
I had hoped to make it all the way round back to the finish – but no dice, the Cauberg and Bemel were too busy.
Plan B – the TV in the camper.
Italy are crazy fast as they scream into Valkenberg, bank left and enter the cauldron which is the Cauberg.
(Maybe I’ve been listening to that race commentator too much ?)
Nibali leads, three Belgians cover, and Gilbert goes!
Kolobnev, Boasson Hagen, Valverde counter.
But Gilbert is well gone – that looks like it.
The three chasers are looking at each other; that’s it – he’s gone. They won’t bring him back – he maybe had a poor spring but he’s having a splendid autumn.
EBH for Team Norway-Sky is second with Valverde third.
And Van Summeren’s wife will have that win bonus spent already.