Great day for a race, and the heroes of the cobbled classics didn't disappoint.
Harelbeke definitely presents one of cycling’s unique stories. The village itself seems quiet, a "suburb" adjoining Kortrijk which itself isn’t especially large or city-like. Just guessing, but I can’t find any information suggesting Harelbeke has much of a tourist draw for the rest of the year, and it certainly isn’t featured in the top-level pro cycling calendar those other 364 days. Today was its day. There is nothing glitzy about the race, or the day, however: the VIPs sit on worn wooden grandstands, the town quiets down rather quickly after the race (save for a couple pubs with tables and patrons spilling out into the street), and the festival is a few tents with beer, food and cycling jerseys. The main activities besides the race are the kid biking events: skills contests like obstacle courses and "place the bidon on a table," and a series of short races around the start/finish area. No ferris wheels. No neon lights. No rock concerts or jugglers or parades. Minimal commerce beyond what’s normally available in Harelbeke. Pretty a propos for a race which passes by at 30+ mph.
More pics and chat on the flip...
Fabian Cancellara might be feeling fully confident, as he should, after leaving his nemesis Tom Boonen behind today, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions regarding their next appointment a week from tomorrow. E3 Prijs comes back to Harelbeke in a crosswind or the odd headwind, a hard finish which favors the ultimate strongman Cancellara. By contrast, de Ronde runs northeast to its conclusion in Ninove, making the prevailing winds a tailwind. In a roughly equal match, the tailwind generally makes it hard to get away. And in the same finishing group, if Cancellara can’t drop Boonen, Boonen likely wins.
When I asked Lars Boom about his day (my only attempt at a personal post-race interview), he seemed both satisfied and disappointed --he spoke of things going well and feeling strong, but there wasn’t much joy in his face. I know, he’s a cool cat, and 5th isn’t exactly the top of the mountain for a racer of his stature. Walking away, I chatted with a Belgian guy who seemingly has devoted his life to following Lars (people here are serious), complete with a Rabo hat home-printed with "LARS BOOM" on it. His take was that Boom is really targeting races in the 200km range, versus just looking to finish the 250+km races like next week’s Monument. Of the 200km classics, today’s race was perhaps the most selective. So while saying this was his big chance might be a bit strong, it’s fair to call it "gettable"... were he just ever so slightly stronger.
Things were very civil in the press room today, and work went off without a hitch. After a few decades of practice, it comes as no surprise that the press have a nice system going. Yes, every race has its own organizer, and perhaps at some point things will crumble, but I kind of doubt it. But then, all I did was attend the start and the finish, in the same town, and sit in the press room otherwise. Easy lifting for me and the organization, compared to trying to catch it in a few places.
Couple notes: in post-race interviews Cancellara referred to "la settimana santa" and mentioned that he doesn't plan to do much between now and next Sunday. He will officially preview the Ronde course on Thursday.... Just asking, what's the plan at BMC? They are a bit too quiet for my money. Ballan and Burghardt were in the main group, 3' back. I don't recall them ever attempting to move up. Perhaps the tempos of Saxo Bank and occasionally Sky or Quick Step were too high.... Rabo missed the one move that really mattered, but when Boonen, Cancellara and Flecha get away in the Flemish Ardennes, are there tactics which allow you to do something or is it just game over?... One question I am interested in hearing asked of Boonen: did you spend a lot of energy keeping Filippo Pozzato from joining on the Knokteberg? Was the threat posed by last year's sole rival what cost Boonen in the final km?... Chocolate beer FAIL. Back to oude bruins tomorrow.... From the other media, Nick Nuyens will be back next week after his trio of crashes today. Just bruises. Unreal what these guys will put up with.
Honestly? I feel like I have suddenly dropped into the middle of a movie that I’ve been watching for 20 years.
And now the pics, which cry out for editing... another day. Italian Conspiracy:
Victory fist pump:
Sprint for second:
Cancellara is totally trying to spray me. Might have got a few drops on me...
OK, just to mess with me Europe is moving the clocks tonight. Less sleep means I’d better get started. For more photos, see my Flickr set. [Will integrate into PdC Flickr page when time allows.]