Matt Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka) set himself two goals for his debut Tour of Flanders, make it into the break and take the intermediate sprint at kilometre 34. The Irishman nailed both of his objectives and was rewarded handsomely for his endeavours with his weight in Steene Molen beer - much to the delight of his teammates. The time out front also gave him an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of one of his favourite races, in his adopted home of Belgium.
“It couldn’t have gone better really my objective of the day was to get in the breakaway and put everything into it. I did that and I managed to get into it so I was pretty happy,” Brammeier told Cyclingnews at the finish.
“It was awesome. I was actually overwhelmed by the amount of support I had out there. There was a lot of Irish and British support, and also a lot of Belgians and locals shouting support for me, so that was really nice. It was the whole route and the whole day, and the roads were just lined with people. It was insane, I think it was one of the best days of my life on a bike.”
After a Twitter exchange with former rider Daniel Lloyd on the eve of Flanders, Brammeier put a little reminder of the intermediate sprint with a piece of sticky tape placed on his handlebars with a hand-drawn pint of beer on it. The little incentive seemed to do the trick and he was the first rider to pass through the town of Sint-Eloois-Winkel at the 34-kilometre mark.
“We had a little bit of a joke last night when we saw it and once I was in the break I had to win it or otherwise the guys would have killed me if I didn’t,” he said.
The sprint should earn him about 74 kilos of beer, although he joked with Cyclingnews that he had taken on around six litres of water at the finish, which will be awarded to him at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday.
Jokes aside though, Brammeier is happy to be back racing some of the biggest races on the cycling calendar. Following his exit from Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the end of 2012, he struggled to find a contract that would allow him regular racing in Europe, and spent the past season at the Continental outfit Synergy Baku.
He was a late signing for MTN-Qhubeka this winter, the last of nine riders to join the team and he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. “I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I got going again this year. The last couple of years I had a bit of bad luck with contracts and teams,” he explained to Cyclingnews.
“It wasn’t the best couple of years of my life but now I’m back where I want to be and this team’s just perfect for me. They’re giving me such big opportunities to come to these races and I’m fulfilling my dreams essentially.”
Brammeier is also part of the line-up that will ride MTN-Qhubeka’s debut Paris-Roubaix this coming Sunday. Brammeier has ridden the Roubaix pavé once before back in 2011 and, while he was one of nine riders – including Geraint Thomas - to finish outside the time limit, it’s an experience he’s keen to repeat. “It’s my favourite race,” he said.
“I did it once before and it was one of the best day’s I’ve ever had. I didn’t do a super performance or anything, and I was a first-year pro at the time, so I’m hoping that I can go back this year and do a little bit better and just enjoy the day I think, and hopefully do something for the team.”
MTN-Qhubeka are without their main hope Edvald Boasson Hagen, after he suffered a fractured collarbone following a crash at Gent-Wevelgem. Brammeier is confident though that the team can still get something from it, and we may see him in the break once again.
“We still have some strong guys like Gerald, Tyler and Reinhardt and I think for next week we have some big strong guys and we just have to try and get stuck in and try to do something,” Brammeier said. “I’ll be trying for sure. It has to be an objective to get into the breakaway for our team and so we have one more guy in the finale… I just need to try and go as deep as I can into the race and normally getting into the breakaway is the best way to do that. For sure I’ll be trying.”
After the cobbled Classics, Brammeier will race Amstel Gold before enjoying a well-earned break ahead of the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of California.
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