A Fan In….Ruddervoorde
What did Mario say?
There is no Kevin-bus today so The Guys are driving up to Antwerp to pick me up. It’s a touch on the cold side and the little bits of rain on the air are enough to sting my face. There is plenty of bike parking at Berchem station though and no sooner have I locked my bike and walked to the road than they are there. The usual question – who will win today? Is obviously, Kevin, whose start to finish win here last year was absolutely BRILLIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT.
After another piece of exceptional creative parking puts us right by the Juniors and Women’s campers and The Guys pull out another freebie ticket for Meeeee, Excellent start to the day. So, let’s get going; the Big Sandbank is waiting…
We make a little pit stop in the grass bit next door to the course, which has warm, inside toilets and is by where most of the top riders are to park, but it’s a bit empty yet. We get on to the course in time to see the Juniors. Poor buggers had not such a fun time racing today as about halfway through the threatening skies pushed the ‘go’ button and we got our first soaking of the day! The riders are a hardy bunch, but we all retreated to the beer tent! Whilst warming our hands on a coffee we can follow the race from inside with the help of the on-course announcer and we can see the top of the sandbank from here. Well, sort of.
With a break in the weather I snuck out to the Pits, just behind the tent, to catch some of the action. Toon Vandebosch (did I finally spell that right?) is having a fantastic season and rode away with this one pretty much from the start and yet, Jelle Camps, who came in second, is leading the competition. This is what I get for missing the Junior races! I do not know who this boy is, but my Start-box Verldritgid** tells me this is his 2nd year as a junior for Crelan-Vastgoedservice feeder team, Acrog, he was born in April 1999, has an outstanding haircut and yes, he’s the one with the earring.
The thing about this course is that it is so ordinary. Yes, there are little hills in the corners, a couple of manmade whoop-de-dos and a ruddy great sandbank, but apart from that it could be any high school playing field any where. So, today I give praise to the course builders for making a fantastic course out of very little.
May your ramp-building spanners always be at the ready and the sand never stick to your boots!
After a bit of a sit down I’m off to see the women practice and the first lap of the U23s at the steep drop off, where some kind bloke generously shared his umbrella for a bit and Kobe Goossens caused a bit of a pile up! When I head back to find The Guys they are sheltering from the wind and rain by the little medic tent alongside the Marlux-Napoleon Games Team Guru’s Danny de Bie and Mario de Clercq. Of course, one of The Guys is dressed up in all his Sven Nys finery (OK, he was wearing a hat and scarf), which did not go unnoticed by Mario! Isn’t it amazing how well we can communicate our feelings with so few words?
I the meantime the weather is doing its sunshine and showers thing at expert level, making for some dramatic sky. ‘Tis a grand day for rainbows, so it is (and bringing out the Irish in me, apparently!)
Danny and Mario are otherwise intent on the progress of the rainbow jersey on Eli Iserbyt, who is not having his best day, although he finally got the better of Joris Nieuwenhuis to finish second, he could not match Quinten Hermans. It must be a team manager thing that they are continuously on the phone and just like Niels, Danny seems to have his mobile attached to his ear.
As Eli heads to the finish line they look at each other and say “mobile homes?” “Ja” and off they go. Likewise, me and The Guys look at each other and decide to follow, check out some bikes, see the women warming up and give The Guys a chance to crony. Our first find was Sanne Cant and some of you may be pleased to know that even the top professionals sometimes need a helping hand getting on the rollers.
Back inside and we’re bound for the big tent and some refreshment; beers for them and some soup for me, which I am assured is vegetable! It’s starting to get loud in there though and the cigarette smoke hurts my eyes so I’m making my apologies and heading back outside as soon as possible to find a good spot for the Women’s race.
There has been some comment about smaller crowds coming to the races this year and it has been suggested this is due to Sven not riding. I do not have the answer to this, but I will tell you that there are more people out round the course to watch the Women’s race. The TV execs may choose to believe that women’s sport isn’t popular, but the rest of us know that’s bollocks. They are probably all still in the beer tent gossiping with their cronies and getting shit-faced. Let them stay there, I say, so the rest of us can get a good view of the best, most competitive racing there is at the moment. And believe me, you do not stand around in cold wind and rain just to save a spot for the men’s race. The down side to the growing popularity of the Women’s Race is that it is starting to get difficult to find a good spot without having to lean over or snap pics over the heads of the 2 rows in front of you. But then, there are always some parts of any course that are not so popular for viewing so I shall have to take note of these everywhere I go now.
And so, to the racing. After the grand exploits of Jolien Verschueren on the Koppenberg, the crowd are pumped to see her in action again. I find it way too strange that the world number 1 and Belgian champion etc..goes past in silence while the cheers are all for Jolien so I am now declaring myself a Sanne Cant fan and will now be adding KOMAAAAAAN SANNNNNNNE to my Twitter virtual cheering repertoire. I am very relieved at this, to be honest, as I was having great difficulty picking just one woman to support. I just want all of them to win!
Today it’s a very different course and very different conditions than on the Koppenberg and its Sophie de Boer relishing this situation. But it’s Ellen van Loy who takes up the game from the start and she’s the first to bunny-hop these steps whereas Sophie and Christine Majerus elect to run them. Sanne is a hopper. It is the sandbank though that is proving the difference. Sophie is riding it so well and although we think of Sanne as the real deal of sand riding, she is having some problems today and must dismount and run where Sophie is riding right through.
I head over across the ditch to that steep-as hill to get close to the run-up. Going around the back of the hill who do I run in to? The look on my face might have mirrored his, but I am now completely convinced he knows it’s me as he just started laughing when he saw me! Does this call into question my Niels Official Stalker credentials? Strange for him to be wandering around alone. The baby Nikon managed to get its shit together in time to get this.
I don’t know where The Guys are so I head over to the sandbank to see some head-on action.
And so, to the podium for some eye-rolling exercise as the Super Prestige folk think that having some blokes present to the women will show they are not sexist! One day maybe they will actually advertise their shower gear instead of naked women too!
I find The Guys, but I’m not keen on going back into the big tent so I’m off to the course again to wait for the Men’s Race.
It looks like Kevin got a decent start but then it became yet another Wout v Mathieu yawn fest and I’m not even sure who won as the races are starting to blur into each other.
Laurens was 3rd and Kevin stayed in touch in 4th while Lars van der Haar, who was battling with Kevin at the time, in fact 2 steps after this crap photo, grabbed his thigh and stopped immediately.
After checking himself a bit, he remounted and carried on, but we could all see that was a bit more serious. He probably should’ve got himself straight to the van, but I guess when you’re in the middle of a race that’s the last thing you want. Unfortunately, this means no more ‘Lars-running-up-steps’ pr0n for the rest of this year. However, I am continuing to add to my ‘Kevin-dismounting’ pR0n!
No podium for us today so me and The Guys join the other sad bastards (not really) heading for the exit.
Getting back to Antwerp and the heavens have opened in earnest now and I am regretting not taking the extra couple of minutes to put my bike in the covered multi-storey bike park. Antwerp is going under and the traffic lights aren’t working and neither is my dynamo unless I go into top gear and ride very slowly. Needless to say, the ride home took a tad longer than it should, but I at least I made it back.
Until next time
KOMAAAAN KEVIIIN J
*Blatant plug – Some of you may remember me meeting one of the writers for Start-box on the bus from the World Champs in Zolder. I don’t know his name, but I will tell you these guys know their stuff when it comes to the young up-and-coming cross talent and all about the Women riders. This season there are some excellent pieces about all the teams and the stars, including a nice piece by Katrien Thijs, who retired at the end of last season and Helen Wyman (yes, in Dutch). All this is a sniff at 10euros, so check out www.Start-Box.be and brush off your Google-translator!