If Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is for the tough guys of the peleton, then Kuurne Brussels Kuurne is a sprinters’ race. The two come together over the last weekend of February or the first weekend of March, although they seem to have different promoters. That also possibly explains why no broadcaster took the more exciting Het Nieuwsblad while Eurosport covers KBK.
When I was looking at maps trying to determine where would be an interesting place to watch the race, my eyes first drifted to the various hills on the parcours. But they’re not massive, and the race is always expected to be a sprint. The peleton will let a breakaway form, gain a few minutes, and then get pulled back.
At first I was going to head down to Ronse. The only problem was that I’d need to get a train back to Brussels to make Eurostar within 15 minutes of the peleton passing through. And while the timings that the race promoters publish are usually pretty accurate, I really couldn’t be doing with missing the race altogether because I had a train to catch. So instead I headed to the eastern most part of the course – the “Brussels” bit if you will. The first thing to note is that like many classic races, the name is a little misleading. The point at which the race turned was a good 30km from Brussels.
I relied on the ever efficient Belgian railways to get me close by. I had a solid five minutes to make it from platform 1 to platform 9 at Denderleeuw. Perhaps the trains officially connect? I don’t know. I ignored the loud music the station seemed to be playing and headed quickly to waiting train. I was only going a couple of stops anyway, to a nondescript town called Ninove. All I could really tell you about the place is that most car manufacturers seem to have a dealership there.
I slowly pedalled my Brompton, this time with the full weight of four days’ worth of clothes and my assorted camera gear, the few kilometres to the edge of town where the course map suggested I’d be able to see the race.
When I said a bit earlier that the race turned at Ninove, it literally did. This was simply a road junction with an acute right-hand turn for the race.
I got there about thirty minutes before the race was due, and frankly, were it not for the tiny sign indicating the race came through, I’d have been convinced I’d made a mistake. But then a police van pulled up, and a few spectators and Sunday cyclists arrived.
As predicted, there was a breakaway with eight riders being allowed to have some time in the limelight (That said, I Belgian TV was only just coming on air around now, and I didn’t see a helicopter camera or camera bike when the race passed).
Around three minutes later the peleton came through. I’d taken the precaution of standing on the grass verge rather than the pavement, because so tight was the turn, various riders bunny-hopped onto the pavement to get around the corner.
But they weren’t pushing hard. They had a tailwind at this point, and were content with the break.
And then they were gone.
By the time I’d packed away my camera, the police had reopened the road, and all the spectators had disappeared.
My plan now was to cycle back to Denderleeuw and get the train to Brussels from there. I did consider riding all the way to Brussels, but crosswinds and a heavy load mititgated against it. Besides, the ride to Brussels was largely on the road, whereas the ride to Denderleeuw was along a river.
And so I spent a very pleasant 45 minutes or so cycling along a paved cycleway by the side of the river – pan flat and mostly protected from any wind.
In Denderleeuw I was hit with music once again. On heading into town I first found a fairground, before my route was blocked by what looked to me like a full blown carnival. The streets were alive with bizarre floats, marchers, dancers, and some of the loudest sound systems I’ve come across.
The kids had all come along with empty bags. That’s because every float was scattering sweets as it passed by and the kids ran to gather them up. In return, they were largely in fancy dress and there was a liberal amount of confetti being thrown by both the kids and those manning the floats.
I couldn’t help noticing there were a lot of blokes in drag on the floats – although a couple of guys smoking fags on a Disney princess themed float perhaps spoiled the illusion.
The parents standing with their kids at the roadside all seemed to having a good time – not least because they were swigging back the popular local lager, Juliper, from cans.
I navigated my way around the whole procedings, got into the station and caught an express back to Brussels. I figured that if I could find a bar, I should still be able to watch the closing stages of the race.
Unfortunately in Brussels Midi, the only place showing sport seemed to prefer speed skating. I hunted around outside and found a Turkish restaurant that was showing the last 30km (although playing an eighties radio station).
And so it was, I ate a kebab, and watched Mark Cavendish take advantage of a messy finish. Tom Boonen tried an attack but it was captured with just less than a kilometre to go. But the sprint trains which had been together for the last twenty kilometres or more, were now completely fractured, and Cav beat the in-form Alexander Kristoff to win the race with Sky’s Elia Viviani coming in third.
After the complete pig’s ear that Etixx Quickstep had made of yesterday’s stage, when a three of their riders had the odds massively stacked in their favour against a single Sky rider in Ian Stannard, the pressure on Cav from his team and an expectant Belgian public must have been immense.
All told a great weekend to go and watch some Belgian classic cycling as a Brit!