I'm really enjoying the countdown ticker to Het Volk Chris has posted on the lhs. It gets my grits up to go and see it again next year. In Feb 2003 Kaila and I honeymooned in Paris. I swear I did not plan our honeymoon around any bicycle race. But while we were in Paris it became clear that it would be very easy to drive up to Ghent and see a Belgian semi-classic. [Updated: fixed broken links to photos]
We rented a car and determined to take the scenic route. We'll take all back roads, no superhighways. Six hours later we realized that Northern French and Flemish back roads connect a denser matrix of towns than Texas back roads do. Do not try taking the back roads from Paris to Ghent. Pay your toll and take the superhighway, as we finally did. Explore the country roads later, when you've nowhere to get.
Finally arriving in Ghent after dark, we drove toward the town center and found a tourist hotel. We just stopped at the first hotel we saw and it happened to be six blocks from the race start. Luck!
Next morning we went to the start, in the gardens of a museum. Chilly but not cold. Damp not wet. Gray. A vendor sold me glossy photos of Museuuw and Hincapie.
After the start, we set off in the car to find Geerardsbergen. I thought we'd watch a battle on the Mur. But we got, well, lost. I would not say my innate infallible male sense of direction failed me, so much as i would say it ran out of time.
But we had plenty of time to fall back to the Molenberg, last climb of the day. It's a cobbled climb with a nasty ninety degree right hand turn at the bottom from a regular road onto the narrow cobbles. So there's a mad race to make that turn first.
We waited about an hour on the hillside and had a great position. The hill filled up slowly with Flemings who'd been to one or two other viewing places before. Everyone excited about the first real race of the season.
First to come through were the enthusiasts doing the course in front of the race. I don't think I'd want to try to keep up with any of them for more than a few K.
Finally the lead cars and motorcycles come through and then Jacky Durand on a break. Of course I had to wait until later to know for sure that's who it had been. But a few seconds back, Museuuw and Quick Steppers followed. The Lion went on to win; I guess it was the last win of his career(?).
The peloton came through shortly thereafter, and we retired to watch the rest of the race on TV from a kind of seedy pub but with good ale of course.
If you're in Europe at the end of February, it's worth the trip.
Jacky Durand on... go figure.. a lone break
Museuuw and friends, chasing
Some locals don't really give too much of a shit about the bike race.