Pile up in De Panne sends Kittel off the rails

Driedaagse De Panne: Stage 3a, De Panne to De Panne

Kittel eventually finds his bike…

Stage 3a turned out to be an old-fashioned clash between two long time rivals: not riders necessarily, but the bike, and public transport. Which would come out on top?

Marcel Kittel did his part to advocate the humble €9,000 S-Works push bike, while the De Panne public transit system, and the rails it ran along, attempted to prove otherwise.

As riders passed through the finish line on the circuit around De Panne it seemed like the transit system would win.

Riders found themselves on a busy stretch of high street with tramlines running through the middle. These thin death traps are usually enough to encourage anyone to slow down, and maybe walk for a bit, but riders ploughed on, trusting their instincts and hoping they weren’t about to find themselves looking back, as they slid on their backsides across the asphalt, at their front wheel stuck in the middle of one.

Pile up in De Panne

As if to prove how lethal these things were six riders went down in a giant tangle, as shoppers looked on. Others had bunny hopped across the rails successfully, but these six were from the wrong side of the tracks, and had failed miserably.

A lapse of concentration somewhere led to a touch of wheels, and the pile up that brought Kittel crashing down. The cameras picked up on them all trying to extricate themselves, and their bikes, from an enormous tangle of spokes and top tubes. Much like a child’s puzzle – you simply picked a piece of metal, followed it to the end, and hoped it led you to your bike.

Kittel was down for at least a minute as the pack rode on. Tim Declercq and Fabio Sabatini were waiting to pace him back, but the camera showed the damage – a long empty road reaching to the horizon, with the peloton at the end of it. Could he get back in 13.5 km?

Logic suggested that you’d need to catch a tram to make up that sort of distance, but Kittel soon had four teammates working with him as they raced to rejoin the group, which by now was taking on the tramlines for the final time.

Most riders had learned their lesson the first time around not to mess with them, and one rider in particular had figured out that the safest way to cross them was as close to 90 degrees as possible. Which he did, knocking Julien Morice of Direct Energie clean off his bike in the process.

Kittel meanwhile had finally reached the back of the peloton, his teammates sending him to the front with 2 km left to race. That he won the stage, and from so far back, is credit to them as much as the talents of the German sprint star.

A win for him, and his team. Plus an “up yours” to the tramlines.

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Things getting out of hand for Van Goethem

Driedaagse De Panne: Stage 2 – Zottegem to Koksijde

Trouble for Van Goethem

It’s not easy to take a turn up front in the break when your shirt is up to your armpits, your left arm is nearly dislocated trying to reach a pocket, and two different riders have tried and failed to help you put a radio transmitter, now kaput, into the pocket of your bib short. But this was the fate of Brian Van Goethem today, on stage 2 of the Driedaagse De Panne.

With 70 km still to race Van Goethem problems were two-fold: mechanical, and wardrobe. Noticing this, and figuring a problem shared was a problem halved, two fellow riders stepped up to help.

Shalunov takes matters into his own hands

First there was Evgeny Shalunov of Gazprom-RusVelo who, noticing Van Goethem’s distress, reached over to hoist the jersey up over the radio and help a guy out. The Dutchman looked back at Shalunov. From TV pictures it was unclear whether he was thanking him, or telling him to keep his hands off the merchandise. Either way Shalunov quickly pedaled away.

Moments later Lawrence Naesen of WB Veranclassic appeared alongside. Van Goethem had by now managed to get the radio into the pocket, but his jersey was still all over the place.

Naesen reaches over to help

Naesen looked on, in that way you watch a child trying to tie shoelaces for the first time, and unable to stay out of it any longer reached over to help, trying to pull the jersey down from Van Goethem’s ribs down to his waist. Again Van Goethem looked over, and again it was unclear what was said. All we do know is that Van Goethem isn’t ticklish.

They rode on, Van Goethem looking back for his team car, then back at Naesen who now laughing. Meanwhile there was no sign of help.

Or was there?

In the distance Van Goethem might have seen his Roompot team mate Pim Ligthart (and Alex Kirsch of WB Veranclassic) furiously trying to bridge the gap. Who knows, maybe Ligthart was on a mission to inform Van Goethem that his radio wasn’t working, and that perhaps he should drop back to the car and get it replaced.

We’ll never know for sure whether Ligthart delivered such a message, or whether Van Goethem subsequently told Ligthart where he could shove that message if it was. If so Naesen and Shalunov were on hand to help.

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Man in blue sees red, turns white

Driedaagse de Panne: Stage 1, De Panne to Zottegem

The man in blue, having jumped right, is pictured here (centre) about to jump left

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.

Marco Haller, an expert at finding the shortest route up the Geraardsbergen

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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