Le tour de France in Belgium!
It is not the first time that the Tour de France comes by in Belgium...but it doesn't happen each year. And the cycle frenzy sure doesn't come often through my old home towns of Deinze and Ghent (well, they did in '99...and I was in Canada at that moment).
So that was reason enough to take the day off and to go and to have a look and feel the atmosphere. We parked at 3 PM at Flanders Expo to use the P&R. It's simply the easiest thing to do. There was a lot of people out and the vibe of the event was alive in Ghent, but I had expected a bigger crowd. (there were about 100000 people, half of what the city had expected However 90 minutes before the arrival you could still easily walk the big city borders among the crowds, the food stands, the stages and the VIP villages. Many people had come by bike and were riding along, dressed in the shirts of their favourite teams.
Because it was too busy at the arrival, we walked up to 2 kms from the arrival where we could still post ourselves at the fences (because there was no big screen nearby...which left us out to guess what was happening).
One hour before the actual race, the publicity parade came by. It reminded me of the Canteclaer parade in Deinze were also candy and vegetables were handed out (the characters were farmers on their way to the market). This time the cars raced by faster and all the hostesses were in 'mountainclimbing' -like harnasses and attached to poles on the cars to make sure they could not fall off. It must be an interesting summer job: 3 weeks driving the parcours of the Tour the France, waving enthousiastically to the crowd along the road and throwing now and them some silly gadgets. My reflexes were clearly not very much trained but together with Jan we did catch 2 hats (Skoda and Le Faillitaire) , a 'La-vache-qui-rit' magnet and 2 bottels of Nestlé water. Woohoo. It was also quite funny that the entire caravan was french with all comments and publicity in French with sometimes companies or brands that were totally unknown to us. Even the French motorized police was accompagnying the caravan. Hihi funny.
"Oh la la la, vite..eu, c'est la folie en Belgique"
"Profitez-en, venez venez, demain on est de nouveau partie..euuu"
After the last publicity cars had gone by, the tension started rising...where was the peleton? how far where they? Was Tom Boonen in first position?
Some phonecalls nearby learned us
* the peleton was in Deinze at 20 kms,
* 3 cyclers were 3 minutes ahead of the peleton (oh no...it had to be a sprint in Ghent if our 2 Belgian teams wanted to have a chance to win: Tom Boonen or Robby Mc Ewen)
* it was raining in Deinze (yes threatening dark clouds were assembling above us as well!)
Another phone call
* they were now at Vosselaere Put in Deinze (hey...I know that...I swam there in the river once as a kid!)
A new phone call
* The peleton was at the edge of Ghent and they caught the head group (yes yes mass sprint ahead of us..in minutes we'd see them during a few seconds racing by!)
Everyone was staring, everyone was leaning over the fences, everyone was looking in the air to see the broadcasting helicopter approaching, ... Cheers got louder, screams, ... I honestly had no idea what was going on.
And all of a sudden they are there. I see the first racers, have the time to step back (I was on the inner circle of a bend and at 2 km before the finish those sprinters race at 60km/h by!), I had the time to realise a little group had gone by and that there was a gap. I honestly had totally missed which runners had gone by, whether Robby or Tom or other Belgian team members were at the top.
People immediately spurted to a nearby garage that had a tv on, but I wanted to see the other cyclers rather than watching tv...by the time I was there they would have reached the finish anyway and I would have missed both.
What was confusing was the fact that instead of the expected mass sprint only about 10-30 sporters had gone by and then there was a gap. We heard rumours about a falling incident just before us, which explained it all. In the mean time a lot of cheers came out of the direction of the garage...I think a Belgian had won this etape! The cyclers that came afterwards were not in a rush anymore...one or 2 extra minutes wouldn't make the difference , the sprinters were ahead , the decision had been made and those men were helpers or ... So then I had a chance to have a better look at all of them coming by.
Some of them were clearly hurt by the fall that had just happened: torn shirts, scratches, bleeding knees and elbows... The last ones got the most applause though: we had the time and they looked as if they needed the support.
A bit later we learned that Tom Boonen's helper, Gert Steegmans, who has to speed up the sprint for Tom, had actually won. With Tom coming in second, we had 2 Belgians on the stage in Gent! And a Belgian in the green jersey again. Yihaa, the Tour has started well :-). Yesterday the Belgian team Lotto-Predictor had a winner in Canterbury with their Australian ( almost Belgian) sprinter Robby and today the other Belgian team Quick-Step Ennergetic had another winner. That's good, because we can only count on some sprint wins....we don't really play along anymore once the mountains come in sight.
Ah a funny story: this morning the finish line still had to be painted in Ghent. The arriving boulevard had been completely renewed in the last months to ensure a smooth arrival for the cyclers. A French official had come to measure it all out and to decide precisely where the finish would be. That turned out to be a problem: the finish line would be across a pedestrian crossing and therefore almost invisible to see. So first the technical team of Ghent had to show up with black paint to make the crossing black, then it had to be dried especially and only afterwards the finish line could be drawn :p. Funny.
Anyway, it was a fun day, but a lot of organisation for only a few minutes that you can see the cyclers coming by. In 5 minutes they were all gone by.
the promotion caravan
the tension is rising...are they coming just around the corner??
Here are the sprinters of Quick-Step team racing for victory!
The tension was gone, the tempo got more relaxed
Rodriguez was clearly hurt in the falling. He passed by last.
all our politicians like to show up at cycling events, but our potential future prime minister came by in the team car.