By Bjorn Haake
Nico Mattan quit the Circuit Franco-Belge a day early, so he could participate in his own farewell activities in Sint Eloois Winkel, West Flanders. His wish to do something special was granted, and the two-man time trial was a complete success.
Current and former professional cyclists were paired with cyclo-tourists to complete one lap of a 1.5-kilometre circuit. 45 kopples took the start and raced under the watchful eyes of Mattan's family and friends, as well as the residents of the small town where he lives. They may not see him much more than before his retirement as he is looking into becoming directeur sportif with his current team, DFL-Cyclingnews.
Freddy Maertens was the first to set off, with his partner, also named Freddy. Maertens was eager to get started and ignored repeated demands from the referee to edge back from the start line, which caused lots of laughter. Maertens and partner then were counted down, and the former World Champion managed to sneak off a few seconds early. The duo to set the "the first best time" as the announcer put it. Sadly for Maertens, all the younger pairs were able to better it in the end.
Some current racers were in attendance as well, with Gianni Meersman from Discovery Channel taking the start. Peter van Petegem and Serge Baguet are still officially racers, but both will soon retire during a farewell race at the GP Briek Schotte.
Cadel Evans was introduced to the audience with his partner Davide Rebellin, but the Predictor-Lotto rider turned out to be Jo Planckaert, with his cyclo-tourist partner. Actual Predictor-Lotto rider, Wim Vansevenant, completed the circuit just before the main act, Nico Mattan, started.
The latter also set the best time with 1'49"11. However, the last team to take off included Frank Vandenbroucke, who has had decent results lately, and is hoping on coming back strongly next year. Mattan's attempts to block the finish line were disrupted by the referees, to the delight of the fans. In the end, 'VDB' and partner could not win; with 1'51"19 they finished in second place.
After some mingling between pros and fans, the criterium was started. 20 laps around the same 1.5 kilometre course. No crashes were reported and the evening ended with beer and music, provided by DJ Cotton Sound.