Words later. Pictures now:
OK, those earlier pictures were unedited. Check the Flickr site for more but here are a couple favorites. Words on the flip. Here's the kid, the beautifully-named September Vanmarcke, chatting with his family in Deinze, no idea that he's about to make a name for himself in the big-time. [UPDATE!!] It seems as though Google hornswoggled me into thinking his name was "September" because that's how they translate "SEP" from Dutch. F-- you google.
More thoughts and pics, on the flip:
With the possible exception of the press room, Gent-Wevelgem seemed like a bigger deal in many ways. Maybe just because it's Sunday and almost nobody is working, but the buzz in the air was thicker, from the larger, fancier pre-race scene in Deinze to the covered grandstands in Wevelgem. Unlike Harelbeke, where the buses parked on city streets like the rest of us and riders were left to battle the throngs to the start, today they could brush through the more spacious, VIP-only bus zone into a habitrail of enclosures that led to the race. Not that the race is at all fan-unfriendly; just before the starthouse riders were squeezed into a narrow passage with autograph-hunting fans on both sides, in a manner eerily reminiscent of castles in medieval Japan where attacking armies were lured into tight corridors for slaughter. Fortunately, in Belgium the rider-fan relationships could not bear less resemblance to rival samurai factions; nothing but friendly greetings and autograph requests, indulged as often and happily as possible.
I suppose this can be ascribed in part to tradition. Gent-Wevelgem has 75 years of experience under its belt, to a mere 51 for the E3. It also has the distinction of being part of the "settimana santa" in recent decades, sandwiched between Flanders and Roubaix. Some serious branding there. Some of it may owe to the linking of two places, giving both Deinze in the south-western outskirts of Gent and Wevelgem just west of Kortrijk a day in the (ahem) sun. For my money, it's the uniqueness: while the riders love E3 as a dress rehearsal (and if they love it then how can we not?), Gent-Wevelgem is its own race, a hard classic that dangles the prospect of involving the sprinters forever in front of our nose and theirs. Today the sprinters contested to the end, but not in an orderly enough fashion to be called a sprint finale. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a lot more VIP money flowing into Gent-Wevelgem. Maybe even enough for a space heater for the press room.
In any event, the streets were busier during the race and the pubs far busier afterward in Wevelgem than in Harelbeke yesterday. I think if you surveyed the riders they might vote for the E3 over GW, but the fans vote with their beer glasses here, and the results are in....
Up next for Omega-Pharma: second-guessing for having Roelandts do the chasing and Gilbert the sprinting. Eisel, who seems very candid, expressed some surprise on that score, though he was pinned to Daniel Oss's wheel regardless. Can't wait for tomorrow's papers, especially after loading a Dutch-English translator on my iPhone [update] Sporza headline: Eisel vloert Omega. Doesn't sound good... Turns out I wasn't crazy for thinking you could cover these races without a car. Sure, with one I could have driven out to the Boonen-berg for yesterday's fireworks, or the Kemmelberg today, and made it back to the press room for the finale. Whereas next weekend, when I have a car, that plan may be more difficult. No matter though, Wevelgem is four stops on two trains from Deinze, and the race organizers even had a VIP train car waiting in Kortrijk to complete the journey. Classy!... If Eisel looks a little scruffy in the pictures, he says it's because he wasn't thinking of the win when he woke up this morning. Is this the first incidence of self-sandbagging?
OK, last pics, then bedtime. Tomorrow, a look at the teams. Eisel, FTW:
And your strongest man of the day, adding one last, frustrated exclamation point:
Photos by Chris Fontecchio, all rights reserved.