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Belgian Classics – The real Cycling Season starts here!

And so to Flanders and the first two semi-classics of the year: – Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne!

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad or Het Volk as it has been known for most of its 63 editions is nearly always won by a Belgian, right? Big surprise, for the first time ever no Belgian even on the podium!

No major cause for concern, more to do with bad luck than lack of talent. Boonen, who looked super strong attacking on the Taaienberg and previous winner Nuyens both punctured at critical moments and another previous winner Gilbert actually launched the winning attack, unfortunately it wasn’t him that finished it!

Juan-Antonio Flecha went after Gilbert when he attacked at 20k to go and simply rode away from him on a flat section of cobbles! Flecha has always been near the front on these cobbled races since his Fassa Bortolo days, when he and a young Fabian Cancellara made the selection at Roubaix. He has missed out on the big wins though.

Saturday was definitely his day! The way he dropped Gilbert was very impressive and once he was away on his own he never looked like he was going to get caught. He reminded me a lot of the late Franco Ballerini – similar style and very strong on these windy, exposed roads.

Flecha will need a few more big wins to justify the comparison, but it was great to see him win alone like this, with his new team Sky.

Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne follows on the Sunday and gives an immediate opportunity for teams and riders who missed out the day before. It is considered a little easier than Het Volk (sorry I still think of it by the old name!) with less hills and often ends in a bunch sprint.

Well forget about what normally happens, this turned into one of the hardest races I have ever seen! The weather was so bad, with freezing rain, gale force winds, that the race was literally blown to pieces, with little groups spread all over Flanders!

It really was a battle for survival with former Paris Roubaix winner and proven tough guy Stuart O’Grady describing the conditions with one word: – “ridiculous”!

The three guys who survived the best were unsung heroes Bobbie Traksel, Rick Flens and Ian Stannard. These three were out front and being chased by a second trio of Hushovd and Hunt (both Cervelo) and Roulston HTC for the last 60k. They almost made it across, bringing the gap down from 1.35 to 23 seconds until Jeremy Hunt who had been doing a lot of the work blew up big time.

The man with the hammer hit him HARD! You don’t often see that at this level, where a rider who would have finished Top 6 has to get in the team car!

So the three guys up front stay away to fight out the finish. Two Dutchmen and a Brit? Last time that happened Malcolm Elliott got worked over by the two Dutchmen at Amstel – so Ian Stannard must attack!

Stannard tried to get away, then got dropped and fought his way back on twice! All three looked hammered at the finish, with Traksel really the only one with any snap left in his legs getting the win for Vaconsoleil. Flens of Rabobank second and Stannard third to complete a great weekend for Team Sky.

How hard was this race? Out of 198 starters only 26 finished! Oh, and one more surprise, after this war of attrition no Belgians on the podium again!

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