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Sergeant and Lotto Belisol accept decision to cancel Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne
Kuurne's town hall played host to a conclave of sorts on Sunday morning as organisers, police and team management assembled in an upstairs room to discuss whether Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne could go ahead after a night of heavy snowfall.
The decision to cancel the race arrived shortly after 11 o'clock and the news was signalled to the journalists gathered downstairs not by white smoke, but by a shake of the head from Lotto Belisol manager Marc Sergeant as he emerged from the meeting.
"The decision came pretty quickly," Sergeant said. "The organisation and the police said that they couldn't guarantee the safety of the riders and the other people around the race, including the spectators."
Snow is a regular menace to Belgium's opening weekend: Sunday marked the third time in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne's history that it had fallen foul of the weather after 1986 and 1993, while Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (then Het Volk) suffered cancellation in 2004 and 1986.
While the snow had held off for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this time around, the word in Ghent after the race on Saturday evening was that the organisers of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne might not be so fortunate. As soon as the curtains were drawn back in the Lotto Belisol hotel on Sunday morning, Sergeant and his riders realised that the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Belgium.
"Our motivation was sub-zero," Sergeant said with a wry smile. "This morning when the riders woke up and looked out the window, they realised it would be difficult for the race to take place today. Nobody was looking forward to riding."
Lotto Belisol were not alone in their reaction. At one point on Sunday morning, a shorter route of 80 kilometres that missed out on all of the climbs was touted, but there was consensus among the teams that the race should not go ahead at all in such conditions.
Regardless of the efforts made to clear the roads, snow was continuing to whirl around Flanders and the reduced visibility would have posed a significant risk for the riders. "In the meeting, nobody said that they wanted to ride," Sergeant confirmed.
While Sergeant and his riders supported the decision to cancel Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, there was a distinct sense of regret that his sprinter André Greipel would be denied his first match-up of the season with his fierce rival Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Greipel and Cavendish have raced different programmes so far in 2013 and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne had been billed as a battle between the two sprinters. When Sergeant and his Omega Pharma-QuickStep counterpart Patrick Lefevere appeared in studio together at the end of Sporza's coverage of Saturday's racing, they seemed almost to be playing the role of Don King, promoting the following day's title fight.
"Our riders have already had plenty of racing already, so it won't be problem later on that they've missed this race today," Sergeant said. "But I think everybody wanted to see a sprint between Cavendish and Greipel. That will have to wait for Tirreno-Adriatico, I think."