Last year, the Asper-Gavere race was remarkable for me because it was one the best races for me, photos-wise. This year the weather and many more things made the day unforgettable.
The course is quite long and therefore hard to cover. There is also a military base right next to the finish straight, where the press and other functions were hosted, so this was probably the only venue where they checked the bottom of my car with a mirror before entering the press parking.
I arrived a bit late and thus I missed the most of Nikki Harris’ winning effort. When I arrived at the course, I saw Sanne van Paassen, Sanne Cant and then slowly everybody else riding past, but Nikki. I concluded that she must have crashed or have quit the race for another reason. I was pleasantly surprised to see half a lap later that she was leading the race and her lead was quite substantial. She held onto that gap and won her fourth race this year. It’s a good omen for next week’s World Cup in Koksijde.
I got back to the press centre and after sorting out the photos, I decided to have lunch. Most of the time, the organisers offer some sort of food for the members of the press. It can range from a bunch of sandwiches to a proper buffet-style lunch. The latter is often shared with other ‘medewerkers’.
So when me and cyclingnews’ Brecht Decaluwe entered this big hall with a lot of people in it, we assumed we were at the right place – lot of people and a lot of food. Great food. We had starters, soup and we’re eating a warm appetiser when someone approached us and politely asked for our meal ticket.
We produced our tickets and that’ was when it turned out that it was one of the VIP lunches. That being said, the guy was really relaxed and said he didn’t really care, so we carried on eating some more great food. Upon visiting the toilet did I discover the funniest toilet sign I’ve ever seen, which forbade bombs in the loo. I’d had to check mines at the entrance so there were no problems.
By the time I headed out for the U23 race, the sun came out and soon it was all blue sky – quite different from the rain in the morning. I was trying to find a few angles and that was when I found a corner I really liked. The riders whizzed past on my left and while they rode past really close, I assumed they would slide the opposite direction if they crashed.
Well, I was almost proved wrong. Michiel van der Heijden’s front wheel slipped in one of the laps and he swerved towards my position. I wasn’t sure if he controlled it or not, so moved back but kept shooting. I didn’t see how close he came as my eyes were glued to the camera but he later said on Twitter that I was lucky. I guess I was.
The elite men’s race started with a strong attack by Bart Wellens and I was glad to see that he was able to hold the effort longer than normal, thus finishing at third place.
But the ride of the day, for me, belonged to Klaas Vantornout. His start was good (not a surprise) and he was in the leading group after half way into the race (quite surprising). So much so that he was consistently ahead of Sven Nys in the last few laps. When he held onto his lead in the last lap, I started to hope that he might actually win it.
It would have been awesome for two reasons. First of all, it would have broken the dominance of Sven Nys and Niels Albert. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that Nys is still so strong but it is getting a bit boring this year. Secondly, Vantornout is the ultimate domestique and after a few great rides, like the one in Plzen, he deserved a win.
Well, it didn’t happen today, maybe in the next couple of weeks. Next Saturday is Koksijde, a larger-than-life race, a World Cup race that attracts riders from both sides of the ocean, a race that has so much history and is the closest to Britain.
I’m really looking forward to it, unlike Gieten on Sunday, a boring course, with a sparse crowd and the worst is that it is about five hours away from Koksijde, so I’ll spend the better part of Saturday evening in the car, driving up to the North of Holland. Not my favourite race.