The banks of rain and hail rolled across the open countryside, defying any fledgling green buds to emerge in their bid to spring Spring upon Flanders in readiness for De Ronde at the weekend. Church bells tolled under the heavy, grey skies to signal the race’s advance. From the cold, leafless branches of the trees, there it was; the eternal race-side birdsong. Meltwater trickled over and in within the cobbled track that dipped down and snaked back up into the distance as we willed the tiny, icy lumps to disperse in time.
Thirty minutes beforehand the entire scene had been blessed by modest sunshine under blue skies. Haaghoek is treacherous enough in the dry, more so in the wet- I was beginning to worry now that it was blanketed in a wintry white sheen…
The race convoy slipped easily by as the tell-tale thwack thwack thwack of the helicopter grew closer. The break flew around the corner and down into the dell of the secteur, smooth as silk over those jarring stones. Purposeful. Pursued.
And then the bunch, rounding the corner in a bar room brawl manner, a barrage of bidons erupted from within the flailing ranks and skittered their way towards our toes and shins, little marker-penned crosses denoting the sugary ones.
The head of the pack displayed the same measured aggression as their quarry for ten or so wheels before the barely in control and downright fearful looking came hurtling past. The difference in expressions on the faces of those who playfully hop up and over the rain gully whilst cranking powerfully across the cobbles and those who hang onto the hoods and say a prayer whilst wishing for the smooth roads of home, say as much as any passport in this part of the world.
Onwards to the Muur.
The good people of Geraardsbergen, given their day gratefully by this particular race’s fathers after being shunned by their most beloved of pageant’s bankers, fill the bars and cafes of the sunny main square. Timing their drinks with expert precision, they make their pilgrimage to the most iconic chapel and crucifix in all cycling.
The Muur did not miss its cue and the shape of the race was sculptured on the lower reaches of this amphitheatre that has carved out many a legendary narrative as Team Sky’s Luke Rowe punctured and bowed out of the break.
Somehow the fate of the two riders from Astana seemed strangely sealed against a quiet-so-far Kristoff, one more doomed two vs one scenario that could only find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
Photo Credits: Martin Hogg at the Haaghoek, AP Sports Photo op de Muur, Tess Langley, sheltering in the car