Station 24 – Gent Wevelgem

The High-Speed Railway Line called CHANTAL departed earlier this year from Station Blaak, a station which is located in the heart of the city of Rotterdam. Since September 23rd 2017 the train is painted in the rainbow colours of Worldchampion Chantal! It’s great you bought yourself a ticket for this train trip.
Last Sunday the 25th of March the train stopped in Gent for Station 24: Gent-Wevelgem!

‘I won Gent-Wevelgem in 2016. Every victory counts for sure, but winning in Belgium… that’s something special. You just feel in the air that cycling is really huge in Belgium. It is and it remains a true privilege to race in Belgium.’

The Belgian classic cycle races in springtime. It feels like dancing on your best friends’ wedding. Marrying means promising eternal faith to eachother.

We, athletes who move themselves by racing bike, take you, devine Classic Cycle Race, to be our everlasting partner. We promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. We will love you and honour you all the days of our lifes. After this oath, the cycling ball is officially opened. Year in, year out.
‘In a race like Gent-Wevelgem, every scenario is possible. A solo, a leading group or bunch sprint. It makes a race like Gent-Wevelgem so special. It’s tactically unpredictable, let alone controllable. The weather conditions are crucial obviously…espacially the wind…that unavoidable wind….

Gent-Wevelgem 2015. The hearts of overdramatically romantic cycling journalist melt when they are witnessing a phenomenon that’s called “echelons” – it happens when the wind blows the peloton into pieces. “Echelons” (“waaiers” in Dutch and Flemish) are reported on Twitter in big capital letters… written from their safe and warm windproof cabins that are installed at the finishline….ECHELONS!, yet the insane wind of the 2015 edition of Gent-Wevelgem went beyond words. Riders were blown away from the cycling tracks just like an autumn storm finishes the last overconfident leaves hanging on paltry branches of trees. Nature always wins and never forget: a classic cycle race in Belgium knows no mercy.

‘I won Gent-Wevelgem in 2016. It was a dry day, but the wind was pretty vicious, I remember well. I had super legs and arrived solo at the finish line. As soon as you have won a race, you start cherishing that race automatically. It becomes something special. A year later, in 2017, I took part of the leading group at the final part of the race and I came in 8th. For this year the course of the race was changed. My teammates and me hoped for a strong wind so we could try to put the peloton in the cutter…

Putting the peloton in the cutter. The cycling dictionary describes this typical Western European phenomenon as follows: “(…) when the peloton choses not to use the full width of the road, but decides to ride on the side of the road so many cyclists will be affected by the head- or sidewind…” 
It’s a rather mean speciality of Dutch and Belgian cyclists to surprise their naive and ultra-light collegues mostly from mediterrenean and South American countries. However we all know that within a few months the fun will be over. Then the Dutch and Flemish riders will be tortured by their brown skinned collegues who will show no mercy on the sides of the high mountains of Southern Europe.

‘This year the weather was beautiful. Perhaps I should say a bit too beautiful, too beautiful in the sense that a difference could not really be made. In the early hours of the race, there was practically no wind at all, but after a few hours the wind became a bit stronger meaning the stronger riders survived. Just about 20 kilometers before the finish my team Boels-Dolmans and the women of Team Sunweb tried to put the peloton “offside”… with succes… with a small group of strong women we headed for the finishline. My teammate Amy came in 5th in the sprint, it was all very close. Again the teamwork was excellent so we returned home with a good feeling!’

Ploegsteert. A small village on the map where mankind showed his very worst side over 100 years ago. Ten thousands of soldiers died on the fields around Ploegsteert, the village that was called “Plug Street” by the Brittish. In order to honor these silent heroes, the organization of Gent-Wevelgem changed the course in such way that the half-paved roads of Ploegsteert would be a part of the official race course. These half-paved roads, pounding through the calfs and wrists of the walsing women’s peloton, are called “Plugstreets” nowadays. “So that we never ever forget”, the pastor of the local Saint Peter and Paul Church spoke in this morning’s Mass…

See you all next week at the High Mass of cycling: the Tour of Flanders!

Text by Chantal Blaak and Marco Hendriks

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