Trouble in Kuurne

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Trouble in Kuurne

They came, they saw, they remained on their buses, and left.

Kuurne, a small town in West Flanders, briefly played host to cycling’s biggest teams today, but the cars, support trucks, and giant, liveried coaches in which the riders stayed cocooned, melted away as the snow fell. The 2013 edition of Kuurne Brussels Kuurne was cancelled.

Much of Belgium had succumbed to heavy snow overnight, but hopes that temperatures would rise with the sun were soon dashed. Race organisers announced early in the day that they would delay their decision until 11am in the hope of improving conditions, but the snow continued to fall as their self-imposed deadline was reached.

Ag2r-La Mondiale’s truck is driven through the falling snow on Kuurne’s Kattestraat

Lotto Belisol’s mechanics were the first to arrive on Kuurne’s Kattestraat, with Frederik Moons among the three-man team swapping cassettes from the aluminium wheels used for the previous day’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to deep section carbon hoops. Temperatures considerably colder than those at the team’s pre-season training camp in Valencia seemed of little concern to him. “This is Belgium,” he remarked dryly. “This is Classics weather.”

Kuurne has played host to some exciting finishes in its 65-year history, and has a winner’s list to rival any. De Vlaeminck, Raas, Museeuw, and Boonen are among those to win here twice. Last year’s victor, Mark Cavendish, triumphed in the colours of world road race champion, and, with a position among the favourites, was well backed to join the aforementioned quartet. Belgian newspapers had devoted several pages to considering the possible outcome of this year’s edition, but the journalists, like the riders, were ultimately left with little to do on race day.

Much of the anticipation surrounding this year’s race had centred on the first of the season’s clashes between Lotto Belisol’s sprint king, Andre Greipel, and Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). The positions of both men on Belgium’s top two teams had provided another angle for the newsmen. Greipel’s bike was briefly pulled from a rack of Ridley Fenix machines, but, like its stablemates, did not make it out of the Lotto Belisol truck.

Neither did their pilots. The Omega Pharma-QuickStep bus drew the greatest attention, but the majority of the team’s riders remained safely inside. Lotto Belisol’s team bus arrived long after the mechanic’s truck, and left before it.

Residents of much of West Flanders woke up to heavy snow on the day of Kuurne Brussels Kuurne

Orica GreenEDGE directeur sportif, Neil Stephens, paced outside his team’s bus, a phone clamped to his ear, breaking off his conversation to announce to the team’s support workers: “We’re cancelled.” Rob Brown, the team physio, who left a career in football to join the team at its inception last year, greeted the news philosophically.

As paid professionals, his riders would be disappointed by the news, he told RoadCyclingUK, but grateful at least that a decision had been made quickly, allowing some of the team to make an early start on their return to the Orica-GreenEDGE team headquarters in Varese, Italy.

David Millar’s caustic epithet for the Team Sky bus – “the Death Star” – might have been coined in Kuurne. Amid the unassuming surroundings of a provincial Flemish town, it could hardly have looked sleeker, or more imposing.

The snow did not deter the fans, who arrived early in Kuurne and in their hundreds to swarm around the team trucks and buses, eager for a glimpse of machines and riders. While the town’s central streets remained largely clear of snow, the narrow rural roads encompassed by much of the route would have presented a serious danger. The correct decision was reached, despite the disappointment of all involved.

RoadCyclingUK traveled with Hammer Sports, organisers of the Hammer Sportive, and UK distributor for Thompson Bikes

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