Navigators Report Flanders, Belgium
The Navigators Insurance Team Report from the Three Days of West Vlannderen.
”this is why I want to race in Europe. This stuff lets you know you’re alive”
RECORD Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen (UCI 2.1):
Stage 1: Kortrijk-Bellegem 168 km
After starting the season in the 100 plus degrees of Adelaide Australia, and
then heading to the 95+ degrees, and nearly 100% humidity of tropical Malaysia,
the Navigators Insurance Cycling team was treated to a trip home, and the
relatively mild climate of the inaugural Tour of California.
Although the temperatures may have dipped into the upper 40’s, the 8 day tour
finished with the temp comfortably over 80 degrees, and the peloton happy to
sport short sleeves and knicks. Well, so much for the Navigators vacation!!!
Navigators Insurance Team signs in. Stage 7 Tour of
Almost immediately following the finish of the Tour of California, a part of
the team headed east to begin their European campaign. Welcome to Belgium…a
pleasant greeting in Brussels airport, but perhaps a shocking introduction when
the terminal doors opened, and the frosty chill of a sub zero thermostat smacked
the lads in the face with their first step on Belgian soil. It took but a moment
for the “real world” of Northern European Spring to hit home, and the somewhat
sarcastic words of Ben Brooks revealed the dichotomy of the situation…”this is
why I want to race in Europe. This stuff lets you know you’re alive”. There is
nothing pleasant about the harsh conditions of a Belgian March, but if you truly
love cycling sport, then you want to be a part of the experience, and you want
to triumph over it.
RECORD Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen…if
you say it fast enough (perhaps with a Russian accent), you may get the gist
that this UCI 2.1 stage race is a three-day event held in the western Flemish
section of Belgium. The west of Flanders is a region every cycling fan will
recognize as the home to many of the great epic classics which have created so
much enhance the image of cycling as a sport of drama and perseverance. The area
is infamous for its short, sharp steep climbs, cobbled roads, and ghastly winds.
It is the kingdom that first Mercx, then Museeuw, and now Boonen lord over, and
it has been the proving ground for many aspiring young Belgian, cyclists.
The three days that make up this early season contest represent three varied
aspects of Flemish cycling culture, and stage one gives the riders a chance to
test their skill on the Northern European equivalent of a “sealed road”…COBBLES.
The stage start at the Marketplace in the West Vlaanderen “capital” of Kortrijk
opened with a 50 km loop through the farming roads on the outskirts of the city
before heading back on a tight circuit that was repeated 2½ times. The circuit
contained two long cobbled sections, giving the riders seven opportunities to
perfect their bump control skills on the slick pave.
Although the day began with a subtle peppering of white flake from the skies,
the full blown snow storm of a year ago did not develop, and the peloton was
treated to a very cold, but thankfully dry day.
Multiple attacks led to an early break that never presented a threat as the gap
was always contained, and the margin never exceeded three minutes. As the bunch
approached the first pass of the finish line, the leaders were absorbed, and
despite a few futile attempts at escape, a bunch kick was inevitable.
The powerful Quickstep team led the charge to the short accent 700 meters
from the line, and their man Francesco Chicchi showed the form that earned him
the U-23 Championship bars in Zolder (2002) taking the bunch kick in front of
Unibet’s Jeremy Hunt, and German national champion Gerald Ciolek. Chicchi copped
the leader’s jersey, but Chocolade Jacques’ Frederick Willems, and
Landboukredit’s Filip Meirharghe moved into 2nd and third based on the bonus
points they scored during their break away efforts. The Navigators used sprinter
Oleg Grishkin to set up Sergey Lagutin on the uphill sprint, but the former
World champ got hooked in traffic, and could only manage 36th place.
1 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Quickstep 4.09.18
2 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com
3 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Wiesenhof
1 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Quickstep
2 Frederik Willems (Bel) Chocolade Jacques 0.02
3 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago