The traditional opening weekend of the northern European Pro Cycling season is always hugely anticipated. Forget the skirmishes in far flung corners of the world, this is the start of the racing in northern Europe. Filthy, cold, hard cobbles cut through the cycling media noise of who’s ‘looking good’ for the upcoming season.
As a weekend to watch a bit of racing, this weekend is tough to beat. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Saturday, followed by Kuurne Brussels Kuurne on Sunday. After the winter break for northern European race fans, it’s like a long anticipated sugar rush. Both races feature some of the hallowed roads around the Belgian cycling hotspot, Oudenaarde.
The 2015 edition was a good one to watch. I was there to capture the action of the Omloop Sportive, the day after the race for Cyclist Magazine (above).
On the day of the race, excitement mounted on the Muur de Garaardsbergen. The freshly rebuilt wall was topped with fans early, staking their claim on the skillfully pointed brickwork to see the action. The early breakaway had a few minutes lead over a group of possible winners.
The end of the Haaghoek section of cobbles proved decent place to watch the action. After powering the chase group in the early kilometres, Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto Jumbo) punctured. Luckily enough for Sep, he puntured 150 metres away from his mechanic. Luckily for me, I was stood next to his mechanic.
After the rear wheel change, Sep took on the hard to chase back to his group. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) was at the sharp end of the action (below).
After watching at the end of the Haaghoek, I watched the last few kilometres of the race from the packed bar at the CRVV Tour of Flanders Museum in Oudenaarde.
Watching Ian Stanard refusing to be bossed by 3 riders from Etix Quickstep surrounded by Belgian cycling’s hardcore fans was an absolute joy. The hushed whispers of which Etix rider was going to win, were replaced with loud whoops and cheers as Stannard did the unthinkable. He outsprinted Terpstra after the pair had distanced themselves from Terpstra’s two Etix Quickstep team mates. Even more remarkable because Stannard had won the same race the year before.
While I was happy to see such a plucky win for a British rider, I was even happier to see the reaction to the win from the Belgian fans. None of the expected pro-Belgian partisan ‘our team was robbed’ mentality. They loved the fact Stannard had pulled off a seamingly impossible win and made a very memorable race. Needless to say, the Belgian beer flowed.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is on the 29th February.
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Highlights of the 2015 race below;