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Hills, cobbles, wind and rain: a Sunday in Flanders
Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) triumphs at the end of an epic Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne
Sunday sees the peloton tackle Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the classic follow-up to the previous day’s opening salvo at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Together the two races form the Belgian opening weekend and some consider them to be the unofficial start of the European road season. Kuurne, a suburb of Kortrijk, welcomes the riders during the town's biggest day of the year. The town is widely known as the donkey-town and typically the winner receives a donkey toy on the podium.
The word ‘epic’ is often overused in cycling, but last year there was no discussion about the circumstances between Kuurne and Brussels, it truly was an epic race. While the sun was still shining when the riders left the hippodrome in Kuurne, they quickly encountered the effects of a hurricane called Xynthia.
Not only did the riders have to negotiate the significant obstacles of the race distance, the hills and the cobbles, but storm-force winds, rain and hail quickly brought down the numbers in the peloton. After completing the two local laps, only 26 riders made it to the finish in Kuurne. Not surprisingly, the stands along the finish line were far from crowded and few people actually witnessed the arrival of these heroes.
There's no official definition of what a so-called flandrien is but heroic men like Briek Schotte were surely supposed to be able to fight through all the above difficulties. If one doesn't consider all finishers of the 64th edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to be flandriens then who can be considered thus in modern cycling?
The most flandrien of them all in 2010 was winner Bobbie Traksel, who has since moved from Vacansoleil to Landbouwkrediet-KDL. Compared to fellow podium finishers Ian Stannard and Rick Flens, the flamboyant Dutchman was in good condition. The others were shivering from the cold and quickly left the press room to find a warm bath, while Traksel gave the impression that he could have stayed and talked forever.
The weather forecast for next Sunday doesn't seem set to bring last year's epic conditions but certainly the circumstances on the wet Flemish farm roads are going to be far from ideal. After the demanding middle section of the race, the two local laps might allow large group to come back to the front, resulting in a bunch sprint finish.
The favourites are the same as the previous day at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, although some big names are to skip Sunday's race, including Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Most teams add some fast men to their team so in-form sprinters like André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Tyler Farrar (Garmin) could add a nice one-day race to their palmarès.
The race gets under way at noon in the Kuurne hippodrome. After 90 flat kilometres the hill zone shows up. The classic passages of the Oude Kwaremont, Kruisberg, Kanarieberg and the Tiegemberg should make the selection. After 166km two local laps between Kuurne and Kortrijk conclude the 193km long race on the long finishing straight in Kuurne and arrival time is expected to be around 4:30pm.