Team Sky fan blog: Eneco Tour
Roadside tales from our intrepid supporters
Last Updated: 23/08/14 5:05pm
Neil got to see an epic finish in Geraardsbergen
Team Sky race all over the world, from picturesque mountain ranges to the unforgiving cobbles. Cycling is a sport renowned for getting fans close to the action, whether on the roadside or at the team buses. Have you ever wanted to watch top-class cycling on the continent? British fan Neil Care made the trip to Belgium to take in a special stage of the Eneco Tour. Over to you Neil!
Last Friday was my 10th, and probably final trip across the Channel this season to cheer on Team Sky. From Ian Stannard's magnificent win at Het Nieuwsblad in March, to the Tour de France itself, with several races in between.
Every race has been memorable in its own right and well worth the middle-of-the-night alarm clocks, the crack-of-dawn ferries, and the miles of driving on monotonous Belgian roads.
Stage five of last week's Eneco Tour was another 'must see' and took place only a couple of hours from Calais. With the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen due to be tackled three times, it made for a fantastic final excursion.
Parking on the outskirts of Geraardsbergen, I walked to the Market Square where it appeared the whole town was having a party. It was a little after nine o'clock, nearly four hours before the race even started, but the iconic square - through which the famous climb threaded its way towards the Chapel at the summit - was heaving.
The bars were packed and the aroma of frites and fried onions filled the air. I love the way a big bike race brings communities together, we saw it in Yorkshire and London this summer, and Geraardsbergen was no different.
After soaking up the atmosphere, I left the madness and wandered over to the area set aside for the teams. I didn't have to wait long before they started to arrive - each bus polished within an inch of its life and followed by a host of equally-shiny support vehicles.
Team Sky were one of the last teams to get there and I caught up with mechanic Richard Lambert as he was setting up the bikes and conducting last-minute checks.
From where I stood, I could see that the pre-race briefing taking place on the bus, and when it finished Kurt came over to say hello - something he never fails to do. The interaction Team Sky has with its fans at the roadside never ceases to impress me. I can't see a Premier League football manager taking time out to chat with supporters at an away fixture somehow...
Quite a few Brits had made their way over to the Eneco Tour and one chap had brought his two daughters over to see the race. They were desperate to obtain Edvald and Geraint's autographs, and I was delighted to see it when both riders made their day.
As the riders went to sign in and begin the race, I wandered up the Muur to find a decent spot to set up camp for the day. The rain had sent many fans scuttling for shelter and I found a gap just a few feet behind the finish line which gave me a perfect view down the final ascent.
The rain had thankfully passed as the riders returned to Geraardsbergen and the tension rose as they made their way through the town. As expected, there was a four-man breakaway who crossed the line to generous applause.
With 51km to go, there was still plenty of racing to come, and three minutes later the main field swept up the climb in pursuit. Geraint was right there, as was Christian Knees. I screamed encouragement as they passed.
35 minutes later and it was time to do it all again. Pressure at the barriers had increased on the penultimate lap as more spectators left the bars and cafes to line the roadside. I could see the big screen as the break swept back into the Square, and hear the cheers shortly before I saw the riders emerge.
The peloton weren’t far behind and their pace was visibly faster as they chased the escapees down. With 26km to go, this was the business end of the race and fascinating to watch. G was still handily placed, but so too were other big guns like Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen.
It was four or five deep we readied ourselves for the finish, and the commentator was working the large crowd into a frenzy, especially when the breakaway was caught and local boy Greg van Avermaet launched a solo attack.
The bunch was closing as Van Avermaet hurled himself into Geraardsbergen one last time and the locals were unbelievably excited. As he came into view the cheers were deafening, and those at the barriers were banging the boards so hard that they swept Van Avermaet up the hill in a wave of encouragement.
Despite being outnumbered several thousand to one, my cheers were for Geraint. I could see his face - a picture of pain - as he hauled himself up the climb alongside Niki Terpstra, but despite my support the chasers ran out of road and Van Avermaet crossed the line a deserved winner, just about having the energy to raise one arm in salute.
Only a few seconds later, Geraint claimed 7th place with no real damage done to his overall chances.
As I made my way back to the car, the riders were still coming in. The stage had been a war of attrition and a magnificent day's racing.
I love these races in Belgium and Northern France, and whilst this may be my last trip abroad this year, I am already making plans for 2015. After all it's only 196 day's until Het Nieuwsblad!
Heading out to watch Team Sky this season or next? Let us know and send your tales from the roadside to email@example.com. If we like it we'll feature it on the site.