Morning note, before a ride along the canals to Kortrijk -- Het Laatste Nieuws is focused on the fact that many toppers are slated to "do the double" this weekend, attempting both the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. This isn't quite news, though I think the commitments have been trickling out some and their ultimate meaning will be debatable until Sunday evening. There is nothing stopping giants of sport -- or any cyclist on this level -- from contesting 450km of cobbles and hellingen over a two day period. So if Boonen, Ballan, Boasson Hagen, Burghardt, Cancellara, Flecha, Ivanov, Petacchi and Pozzato want to square off twice in a weekend, for our entertainment, I shall not be heard to complain. Still, color me dubious as to whether anyone from Saturday's top ten will be heard from on Sunday.
NOTES: Garmin are not on the E3 startlist, so nothing but fresh legs on Sunday.... Greg Van Avermaet is on for E3, not sure about Gent. I guess it has to do with Saturday being before Sunday, but you would think his priorities would be the other way around? Weather conditions for the weekend are middlin' -- cloudy and maybe wet, or maybe not. But the winds will supposedly be blowing pretty hard on Sunday, 28kph out of the south. That should break up G-W rather decisively if the prediction holds. OK, off to perform my own double: climbing and surviving the Kemmelberg. They said it couldn't be done...
Update! OK, day is done. Deets on the flip. Just tourist/journo stuff, no real news on the sport itself. Proceed at your risk.
I rode just shy of 70 miles today and still didn't get to the Kemmelberg. Air miles and fietsroute miles are not the same thing. Also, some 50 of that was in a headwind. I can't say enough about the winds. Yes, we have them at home, but in Belgium there are no hills or trees to redirect them on occasion. Also, routes between towns are long straightaways compared to my rides at home. And, well, from Gent to Wevelgem (my turnaround spot today) (and the fietsroute, not the 230km race route) you go southwest for a long time. Luckily for me, the winds were headed northeast today. I sailed back for a bit but had to abandon in Waregem on account of darkness. To quote my zombie leg muscles... "TRAAAAAAAINS!"
Auspicious moment of the day: upon getting unlost after some time wasted in Greater Deinze, the second I hit the fietsroute I encountered the maltiest headwind I have ever known. Not being Belgian I couldn't place the specific brew, but I've driven through Milwaukee. I know a nice malt breeze when I smell it.
Good luck on the journo front, it seems I have creds for E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. The E3 guy was sure to let me know how much contempt he had for me as he threw a press pass my way, and in fairness I did spend some time this winter predicting the death of his race (prematurely, I now believe); maybe he read my posts. His main complaint was that I was a guy with a website and no AIPS card, even though I am registered and provided my number. Stoopid thing was mailed from Italy to Seattle, didn't arrive before I left. [Stoopid me didn't know I needed one until a month ago.] My journalism experience consists entirely of outsider stuff: stringing for local papers, college rag, I even did a couple stories for the magazine that was trying to destroy the Red Sox' worthless, overpriced game program. So I am used to event media people who want nothing to do with me. [Aside: cycling team media people do not fit this description at all.] He said there was nothing more he could do as he handed me my pass, as if my real purpose was a goodie bag. 180 degrees different at the ramshackle "headquarters" of GW, where they were exceedingly nice, even at 5:30pm. Maybe they read my posts about how their move to Sunday of Wielerweek was a stroke of genius.
Sunday's starthouse in Deinze:
Englutch word of the day: "Overzetweg." As in, "Excuse me, where's the number 7 Fietsroute?" "Ah, it's overzetweg." "Bedank!" Also, is a slagerij what I think it is? Why would anyone go there?
Cobblestones suck. I have spent how many years romanticizing them? That lasts about 30 seconds on the bike. They kinda hurt. In fairness, I will probably get used to them; I really just rolled over them a bit in Gent on my way out of town. And since they make the Classics what they are, I will always love them... but in a less fairytale way. More in the guilty way that I love Alpe d'Huez, as a venue for watching the gods of the sport do something absurdly painful. They seem OK with it, so I should too.
Cycling-wise, Kortrijk is apparently where it's at, not Gent. I should have listened to CycleGirl... except that being here on my own for a week I chose Gent because it's so substantial. And because Tyler Farrar extolled its virtues, which colored my judgment, though he probably cuts through the headwind better on his way to Kortrijk. Anyway, as I got closer to Kortrijk I started seeing more riders. Here, I think, is Xacobeo Galicia, in town for E3:
Kind of a lame picture. What can I say, I was riding. Also, Lampre sped past me in the other direction, getting a few "vai's" out of me along the way. I promise real photos from the races, when I'm standing still. Anyway, though Gent doesn't have the same cycling vibe -- no Quick Step pictures in pub windows -- it's utterly lovely, even stunning at night. Even if virtually all the streets are under construction.
Speaking of cycling vibe, where's the Lotto love? All I see in pubs and shops i s Quick Step. I did see a couple Silence kits go by, but those were probably closeout sales after the name change. People vote with their beers, and Quick Step are the people's choice, it seems. Being the quintessential Flemish team might have something to do with it.
Much love to the fietsroutes, the cycling paths that are literally everywhere in Flanders. They come and go occasionally, but most of the time it's a nice peaceful slog with no cars or stopping. This really is cycling nirvana.