Driedaagse de Panne: Stage 1, De Panne to Zottegem
There was the sunshine, warm temperatures, and a staggering view from the top of the Geraardsbergen, but it was a bad day to be a pedestrian on the Dreidaagse de Panne this afternoon. At least one man dressed in blue discovered this. He’ll sleep fitfully tonight, seeing images of Katusha’s Marco Haller riding straight for him each time he closes his eyes.
Haller, who I’m sure lives a life of peaceful and dignified philanthropy off the bike, is among those riders you’d least like to see coming at you. It’s not just his size, or his beard, or his general attack posture. It’s the sense that he’ll plow straight through you if your carcass happens to be faster to ride on.
It happened as they took the early stages of the climb towards the iconic Geraardsbergen, with Haller at the front, seeking out the shortest route to the summit regardless of what that meant for anyone who happened to be in the way.
Like the man in blue who, finding himself in a kind of total-immersion no-mans land with riders coming straight for him, suddenly had a decision to make.
With remarkable dexterity, the man in blue instinctively jumped to his right first to dodge Haller, and then left, leaping for his life to avoid Rob Ruijgh right behind him.
Neither rider flinched, nor turned to look back at what we can only assume was a man in blue rolling down a hill. Instead they ploughed on, bunny hopping onto the pavement to ride in front of, and then behind, any spectators who still believed in the concept of personal space. Some quickstepped aside, but most stood frozen, being sure not to make eye contact, as if being charged by a bear, or a lion, or something.
All of which provided welcome drama on the day after cycling fans realised man cannot live on the Tour of Taiwan alone. While 19 minutes of Eurosport highlights at midnight provides some bike racing on the Monday after Catalunya and Gent-Wevelgem, what we really needed was another 200 kilometers of Belgian countryside, some cobbles, and a will-it-won’t-it breakaway.
All of which the opening stage of the Driedaagse De Panne, and eventual winner Philippe Gilbert, delivered.
They rode the Muur again on the final circuit, although this time stewards, acting fast in order to save the elderly, cordoned off the awkward bits. It was a race to provide welcome relief to cycling fans after a difficult 48-hour dry spell – for all but one man at least.
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