Het Volk, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Ghent-Ghent, pick your name, just don’t call it a semi-classic. Because, while it lacks the reverence of the monuments, the Ronde, the Paris-Roubaix, et. al., it does take on a special significance merely for opening the Belgian “road” season. By tradition it’s a semi, but in my heart it’s a real classic.
I place road in quotes above, because these cobbled races really sort of mark a transitional state somewhere between ‘cross and the road proper. Yes, there are roads involved. Road bikes are used, but success in these races goes beyond being able to ride a bicycle fast over a paved surface. They are part road race, part bull ride.
And so it begins.
This race has been on since 1945 and only failed to go off three times, all weather-related cancellations, which, in Belgium, is like saying they called it off because there were four horsemen galloping up the Koppenburg. This European winter has been pretty harsh, but we’ll likely get a race in this weekend anyway. I’ve seen that a number of the riders have been spinning around Spain and Italy to top off their training. I wonder what it will be like to step off the plane in Belgium and feel the weather and contemplate the saddle thrashing brutality of race day.
Rather predictably (and mercifully) this week’s Group Ride asks you to pick a winner. Keep in mind that Belgians almost always win this race. In 63 runnings, only nine have been taken by non-Belgian riders, though, in recent years Pippo Pozzato and Thor Hushovd have both claimed the honors.
There are too many potential winners for me to list them all here, which is exciting and saves me a bit of typing. I will ask that in naming your projected winner you give something of your rationale. “He has the best hair,” or “Because he really kicks ass,” are both acceptable, but I’m sure you can do better.
You get extra points (redeemable for blenders or luggage) for naming a winner of the women’s race. You win the day if you can name both in Flemish.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International