Opening weekend provides excitement (even with sprint finishes!)

Saturday 27th February – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The world champion Julian Alaphillippe almost pulled off a typcially swashbuckling move to take this one before getting caught on the Muur in Geraardsbergen.

He had, however, taken enough sting out of the legs of his opponents leaving the man of the early season, Davide Ballerini to easily take the sprint finish.

The perennial locally based classic contenders such as Oliver Naessen, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke were left in his slipsteam and in my view look even less likely to land one of the big April races between them.

Having said all that, if you take the British sprinter Jake Stewart out of the top 10, the results could well have been from 2017 with Heinrich Haussler and Phillippe Gilbert rolling back the years.

It was so nice to see narrow Belgian farm tracks back on the menu and even from all the way over here in the UK, my fillings were clattering around my mouth remembering some of those crazy sectors that they had to ride over!

1 BALLERINI DavideDeceuninck – Quick Step3002004:43:03
2 STEWART JakeGroupama – FDJ250150,,
3 VANMARCKE SepIsrael Start-Up Nation215120,,
4 HAUSSLER HeinrichBahrain – Victorious175100,,
5 GILBERT PhilippeLotto Soudal12090,,
6 ARANBURU AlexAstana – Premier Tech11580,,
7 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step9570,,
8 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates7560,,
9 GENIETS KevinGroupama – FDJ6050,,
10 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe5040,,
The top 10 from 2021 Omloop

Sunday 28th February – Kuurne/Brussels/Kuurne

Aka the Mathieu van der Poel show (again). There were over 80km left to ride when MvdP went surging out of the front of the peloton.

He attacked with further to go to the finish than Alaphillippe 24 hours before to start the pre-Tour of Flanders mind games.

Jhonathan Narvaez of Ineos was his unlikely co-contributor, a rider more suitable to the mountains than the bergs but both sped across the gap to the days no-hope breakaway making contact before we got our first glimpse of the Oude Kwaremont for 2021.

This cobbled beast has a special place in my heart, and not just because I enjoy the beer from the bar half way up!

After that we saw the race settle down a lot with a flatter run in and circuits around Kortrijk. A new group with some original breakaways and Van der Poel seemed to be living a charmed life off the front at about 17 seconds but with only 3km to go it looked enough.

However a long drag of crosswind was enough to let what was left of the peloton get back on.

The sprint finish saw former rainbow jersey Mads Pedersen of Trek win easily. Worthy of note was Tom Pidcock making his Flemish debut for Ineos getting up for for third place.

He will be a marked man now!

1 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo2001254:37:04
2 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie15085,,
3 PIDCOCK ThomasINEOS Grenadiers12560,,
4 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates10050,,
5 BIERMANS JentheIsrael Start-Up Nation8545,,
6 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious7040,,
7 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe6035,,
8 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team5030,,
9 VAN LERBERGHE BertDeceuninck – Quick Step4026,,
10 RESELL Erik NordsaeterUno-X Pro Cycling Team3522,,
2021 results from Kuurne.

In conclusion

There will be those who say that 2 sprint finishes and the mild weather will not make this a memorable opening weekend of classic racing but I thoroughly enjoyed it and now look forward to seeing Mark Cavendish in Le Samyn tomorrow.

This is a race which has a brutal finishing circuit and finishes in the town of Dour… which looks a bit bland!

Winter blues leave me to ponder the question… Am I close to completing cycling?

It sounds quite an arrogant or big headed question when you look at it in isolation. And I suppose if you judge it against yellow jersies and number of participation’s in the world championships then no, I am nowhere close to completing cycling.

But if you go back to the 1980s when I was a small boy growing up in the fens spending my summer holidays in the maroon and gold Fenland Clarion jersey riding all day, my dreams of what I wanted from cycling were quite specific.

I dreamt of being a racer, riding up Alp D’Huez (like Steven Rooks was doing in the 1988 Tour de France), hitting the cobbles of Flanders and riding through my home village of Yaxley with a number on.

It has taken me some time but I have met all of those goals.

Racing has been part of my summer schedule since 1991, and apart from a couple of years break at the start of the 2000’s I have regularly competed in summer club 10’s with a smattering of opens.

The course have been based on variants of Helpston (3 of), a run between Weymouth towards Lulworth Cove on the South Dorset coast before a couple of variants for St Ives based on Sawtry pavilion.

Since moving to Lincolnshire I have come full circle and am back to riding around Helpston.

Road racing was always something I struggled with as I was quite little and used to get bumped of wheels and blown away by the wind (believe it or not!). I have latterly got into the less competitive world of sportive’s.

I have been up Alp D’Huez twice now and have scratched the itch of riding mountains in both France and Spain. There is something about watching grainy 1980’s TV pictures of a road and then getting the full clarity and enhanced senses from riding up it.

Those blurred images were crystal clear as the sun beat down and the sights and sounds of the mountain seemed to cover up my rhythmic breathing and struggle to get up. I love the pro spotting element of these sorts of rides and the image on this website of the aG2r hunting me down on the Croix de Fer remains one of my best memories on a bike.

ag2r get worried by the pace of the rider in the Fendrien jersey

One day races always appealed to me and it felt like the weather would start to warm up and the daffodils bloom as the Northern classics appeared on Eurosport. Flanders in particular felt like “my” race and to ride the sportive in 2015 with my name on the start list next to the union flag was something quite special. Those of you who know me will know that my family was going through a terribly tough period and it was touch and go I would get chance to ride.

But it all came good (apart from the Flemish weather) and despite the pain and suffering of that last 15km or so, my friend James Fordham and I battled through before I had a good cry at the finish.

4 Mr Kipling apple pies post ride remains my record and it was set in Oudenaarde on that day.

Later in 2015 came the first Tour of Cambridgeshire and I rode through Yaxley, my home, in the race part of the Fondo. Again there were tears as I passed my home, my old infant school and the house I grew up in with my Parents and Grandparents. In true cycling tradition the group I was in allowed me to go a few bike lengths ahead to blow a kiss to my wife and kids.

So what next?

That is the question I am currently facing. As I get nearer to 50 than 40 the winters seem colder and the effort required to get on the turbo trainer at six in the morning seems greater. I can’t be the only one thinking the drivers are getting closer to me and the headwinds are getting stronger?

I have had a few accidents and a few concussions and the fear that something like that could happen to me again does play on my mind.

Maybe its just the fact its windy, cold and dark outside that makes me think I have done all I can in cycling for the moment, or maybe reading the Cyclist magazine interview with Phillippe Gilbert where he explains that when he retires he will be gone from cycling so he can spend another portion of his life doing something else is food for thought…

Time will tell.

Milan – San Remo finale in doubt

A landslide has recently hit the Poggio climb leaving over €10m of work needed to get the road repaired.

There are rumours that the organisers of the race might be tapped up by the local council to foot the bill.

Whether the work will be done ahead of the race arriving in March is a moot point.

It might affect Phillippe Gilbert’s chances of completing his 5 monument hand so we will be watching with interest.