Freeman Cebu Sports

Belgian Week

ALLEZ - ALLEZ By Jose Vicente Araneta -
We got home from the holidays two Sundays ago to a dead phone, courtesy of Globelines. Last week was what is called in pro cycling as the Belgian Week, the Belgian equivalent of the Tour de France. It''s the acme of the Belgian cycling season, 365 days squeezed into 3 racing days. I had me a 1-year subscription to www.cycling.tv so that I could watch the 3 races in the most intense one-day racing in the world.

Unfortunately, Globelines put that to rest. Two days and lots of angry calls later, I was informed that technicians were still working with phase 1 of the 3 processes problem! What? For crying out loud, it''s a single phone line problem, not the Chernobyl nuke plant! Anyway, the sweet sound of the dial tone suddenly came alive Wednesday noon so I (and my kid) was happy again.

The Belgian week is composed of the Tour of Flanders (259kms) on Easter, followed by Gent-Wevelgem (220kms) on Wednesday and Queen of the Classics, the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix (259kms) 4 days later.

Going into 91st edition of Flanders, 26yo Tom Boonen, twice a winner, was expected to win at least 2 of the 3 monuments. The main difficulty of Flanders are the 19 short (from 360 to 1200m in length) and steep (as much as 21% gradient) "muurs''" or climbs described as "walls" scattered along the race parcours. But local boy Boonen faltered on the penultimate cobbled climb of the Muur of Geraardsbergen allowing Italian Alessandro Ballan to escape and win by a wheel, upsetting breakaway partner Leif Hoste, another Belgian rider. It was a dark day for Belgium indeed.

Sandwiched between the Flanders and Paris-Roubaix is the semi-classic, Gent-Wevelgem. While there are still narrow cobbled roads and climbs, the strong winds from the coast buffeting the peloton are enough to create havoc for the timid. While this race is more of a warm-up for Pars-Roubaix, it still is an important race. The cobbled 700m descent on the Kemmelberg caused 14 riders to crash and they suffered injuries from a broken kneecap to a broken collarbone. Well, these classics are not for the faint of heart! This year, T-Mobile finally opened their account with a 1-2 finish in German Marcus Burghart and Brit Roger Hammond. Still no Belgian!

The final chapter of this week is Paris-Roubaix (last night), the toughest one day bike race in the world. The race is 259km long over mostly flat farm roads but 52km of it is over "pave", (see picture) the ancient cobblestones that was believed to be used by the invading Romans. The pave are divided into 28 sectors with each sector''s length ranging from 1500m to 3000m. This race is a race for the hard men, and crashes are a part of a day''s work. If it''s rainy, the cobbles will be slippery. If it is dry, then swirls of dust will engulf the peloton. This race is so wrought with danger that the last Tour de France winner to ride this race was Greg Lemond in the early 1993. Lance Armstrong didn''t even bothered to show up in his last 7 years as a pro.

Interestingly, the last rider to win the Paris-Roubaix-Tour de France double was the 5-time Tour winner Frenchman Bernard Hinault. He hated Paris-Roubaix ("it is bulls-t!") so much that he rode it once in 1981 just to show everyone that he could win it which he did. True to his word, he never raced the Hell of the North again.

The love-hate relationship of the riders and Paris Roubaix is exemplified by Dutch rider Theo de Rooy when after the race he said that Paris-Roubaix is, "a pile of s-t!" When he was asked if he''d ride it again, he said, "Sure, it''s the most beautiful race in the world!"











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