Juan-Antonio Flecha finally got his first classic win at Het Nieuwsblad—though a glance over his shoulder just before his winning salute might have been a coy reference to that race he should have won.
The next day, KBK delivered wonderfully miserable conditions, through which three relative unknowns held off a high-powered chase before Bobbie Traksel of increasingly prominent wild-card squad Vacansoleil took an exhausted sprint for the win.
Sadly though, I think this might be the beginning of the end for Belgium’s opening weekend of racing. Not to take anything away from the combined efforts of Stannard, Flens and Traksel, but a sizable chunk of the big names behind them had already dropped out by the time their decisive group coalesced.
Not only that, but the chase that did form to hunt them down seemed to be missing a gear. Jeremy Hunt’s dramatic implosion—straight out of the chase and into the car—and the sight of the Cervelo TestTeam stuffing his exhausted teammate Hushovd full of energy bars in the finishing circuits suggest that back-to-back days of all-out classic racing might be heading the way of the TdF split-stage.
Spring racing used to be a different animal. Riders came in weak and flabby, and other than a few show-offs, put in the miles for fitness, not glory. But with the season now officially beginning in January, and riders keeping year-round fitness in warmer climates, the racing at Het Niewsblad seems as hotly contested as any other one-day event.
The Belgian calendar has already been altered to give riders more time between events, and to provide promoters with more aggressive, star-studded events. Despite my sentimental attachment to Saturday-Sunday racing, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if KBK were moved back a week in the next few years.
If the empty barriers in Kortrijk yesterday—more a result of DNF’d Belgian riders than the miserable weather—are any indication, it’s the right move for a rapidly modernizing sport.