Friday, March 28, 2014

Citizens on Protrol - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne

It seems every year my tweep, Natalie Muir, or Brassyn travels to Belgium for the Omloop/KBK weekend. So, it was a no brainer I asked her to do Citizens on Protrol. Nat's insights are written and snapped below. I know this was a little while ago now, but as cycling fans, do we ever really leave Belgium?  

I can't get with the mayo on chips. Belgium just can't convince me on that.

But the attitude and enthusiasm for bike racing however, I just love it.

I love being in Flanders and watching the first two cobbled races of the season.  It's a great area to be in and explore and absorb the atmosphere of everything that is going on, especially when there is a bike race taking place.

It's usually pretty cold and it mostly always rains but somehow that feels completely appropriate.  There is just a feel to it all that is hard to define but it's definitely palpable, especially that first gathering on the Saturday morning in Sint-Pietersplein in Gent.  Just a buzz of anticipation in the air.

Omloop - start
I like arriving super early and watching everything unfold as the crowd builds up. I say super early but I'm never the first person there at either of these races. I already see a few old men sitting at foldable wooden desks taking bets, and local fans in place, on the beer and with the cooked sausages on the go. And of course, lots of chips, and if this is your thing, some kind of dried or salty fish at the finish line in Kuurne.

Belgium was the first place I saw fans with complex files and folders, indexed postcards and highlighted notes, chasing down autographs to complete their collections. Bonkers, but in a good way. 

What I like about doing the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad/Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne weekend is that it's a full race experience. For both races you can enjoy the wonderful chaos of the start (one of my favourite things to do), watch the riders out on the road and/or the cobbles and still manage to make it to the finish in time to see how it all pans out.  It's not just watching and waiting for the peloton to go past and seeing the riders just once (which alone is exciting), it's taking in all different aspects of it at different points and really feeling quite totally immersed in it all.  It's a lot of rushing around - by choice! - to take everything in, but it's definitely worth it and it's a whole lot of fun.

Both Omloop and KBK allow you to get up close to pretty much everything.  You don't get all but you do get a lot of the same riders that will be at the official classics races but with lots of access and everyone within poking distance (I wouldn't recommend poking, it's just a handy measurement).

I like waiting for the team buses to arrive, enjoy watching the parking mayhem and team bus traffic jams, seeing the mechanics getting the bikes ready, watching what riders like heading out first, who talks to who, who is a bit grumpy, who happily chats to the fans, what team plays the worst music in the bus, who has brought their mum, or their dog, how truly terrible Garmin's POC glasses are up close and all that sort of stuff.

Bryan Coquard, KBK

Johan Vansummeren, KBK

Patrick Lefevre, KBK

Nikias Arndt, KBK

Lars Boom, Omloop

Yoan Offredo, KBK

Then of course there is the racing and the cobbles. It takes my breath away being that close to the peloton on the cobbles. A genuine mix of excitement and fear as they hammer over them so hard and everyone is standing so near. It's a complete thrill, it really is, just to see and feel the speed of everyone as they go past. I don't ever get used to that, happily so, it's always so exciting and impressive to watch.

Womens Omloop
Egidius Juodvalkis' bike - Team 3M - KBK

It's a perfect compact weekend of bike racing, seeing so many different riders and just generally enjoying everything.  Oh yes and KBK has the most fabulous plushy donkey prize that ever did plush. I covet it greatly.

Words and Pics: Natalie Muir

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