Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Henk Ballet Classic III

As promised, the director's cut in all its gory details: the return of Henk's Fietstocht, which is now known as the Henk Ballet Classic. Now in its third year, the tour's increase in status was predicted. In fact, next year it will be upgraded to a UCI event on the European continental circuit, with ambitions of becoming a ProTour event in 2009. That's what Henk told me anyway, and as a journalist, I never ever fabricate things.

It was a small, but quality field of eight riders that met in Henk's garage in Ouwegem. Henk Ballet, Philip 'Pippo Pozzato' Boutens, Gunther Petrens (Henk's mechanic), Domien Bracke (physiotherapist and WAOD rider), Jan Hoef, Bert Vertriest (organiser of Davitamon Classic), Peter 'Dario Pieri' Achtergaele, and ik. There were a few dark horses among them, but everyone was clearly prepared for the 100 km tour through the Henegouwen countryside. None of us were familiar with the route, although Henk had reconnoitred it and knew every little twist and turn.

Interestingly (or coincidentally?), the WAOD was holding its national championships in Ouwegem on the same day, so we could watch the field of very fit looking 50 year-olds race around the tough circuit with the aim of becoming national champion for the day. And a nice day it was: 25 plus degrees, no wind, no rain. We set off at 1:00pm and had planned about four hours for the ride, including stops.

We are gathered here today in Henk's garage
© Jeff Jones

Philip Boutens with his Johan Museeuw autographed jersey
© Jeff Jones

Watching the WAOD Championship of the Universe
© Jeff Jones

We made our way towards the Schelde on the back roads, enjoying the afternoon and trying not to get run over by the WAOD broom wagon. Then it was over the bridge at Eine and up towards Mater, which provided me with my first lengthy sector of cobbles for some time, but the wrist handled it well enough. The first of the day's climbs was nestled somewhere around Mater, and although I've ridden most of those roads, this one was totally new. I love that! And I know where it comes out now.

We crossed the main road, and descended towards the next climb, Berg ten Houtte, which is another new one for me. It used to be used in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but is now fairly quiet. Filip Meirhaeghe lives at the bottom, I believe. It's a tough little climb - quite steep at the bottom, but then flattens out at the top and you end up at the vending machine at Koekamer. One of our number inconveniently had a phone call at the bottom, so I waited for him and we chased back on at the top. The rest waited, which was jolly decent of them.

I know how fast I can go without crashing
© Jeff Jones

Cruisin' through the Flemish countryside
© Jeff Jones

From then on, we followed the end part of the Berchem ride in reverse, through Flobecq and Wodecq, then instead of going up towards Lahamaide, we went straight on in the direction of Ath. Then it was all unchartered territory. It's a rather pleasant part of Belgium to ride in, with lots of quiet small roads, little forests, ups and downs, and so on. Henk didn't miss a turn, although we did a few times.

We eventually stopped for some bevoorading at a vending machine in the vicinity of Moustier. A Coke went down very well, but I was still thirsty so I put in another 80 cents for a Gluck, not knowing what it was, apart from being the cheapest drink. It turned out to be beer, but only 5% strength, so I barely noticed it. Unlike some other times.

© Jeff Jones

Why am I always at the back?
© Jeff Jones

© Jeff Jones

We went a different way home and it was clear that folks were getting tired. We did a climb that was very similar to La Houppe but was nowhere near it, so maybe it was some sort of temporal space shift. En route to the last climb, Gunther suffered a puncture as we went through some stones. It had to happen, but fortunately it was our only mishap of the day. Contrast that with two years ago when we had at least n flats, where n is greater than four.

Puncture time for Gunther and Jan
© Jeff Jones

I tried to get up the last climb quick enough so that I could take pics of everyone, and I almost succeeded, except Henk and Bert were a bit too quick to get in the shot. You can't be both fast and famous!

Gunther comes up the final climb
© Jeff Jones

The autobus
© Jeff Jones

The hills had started to take their toll, but fortunately it wasn't too far (or too windy) to get back to home base in Ouwegem, after a 100 km round trip. Great stuff, and we indulged in a few special recovery drinks that go by the name of "Ename", and come in dark or blond.

Back in the garage in Ouwegem, ready for refreshment
© Jeff Jones

From L to R: Ikke, Philip 'Pippo Pozzato' Boutens, Gunther Petrens (Henk's mechanic), Domien Bracke (physiotherapist and WAOD rider), Henk Ballet, Jan Hoef, Bert Vertriest (organiser of Davitamon Classic), Peter 'Dario Pieri' Achtergaele
© Ilse Stevens


peter achtergaele said...

thanks for the nice report and pictures, which painfully reveal why I always ride in last position: what a big arse I have, even in black ...
See you next year, hopefully slimmer, quicker.

Rosa said...

Mr. Balletdanser

Tuesday report ok but where is the Sunday-report?
My MI5 spy informed me some surprising news, why didn’t we read it???


Jeff Jones said...

Hi Peter,

Next year, you can be fitter, happier, more productive, regular exercise at the gym, three times a week (etc.) for the Henk Ballet Classic IV - The Revenge.

Philby de Rosa,

The Tuesday report took me six weeks! I am slow these days. Sunday: not much to report, except that I again failed to drop Guy Callens on a climb :-) He's bigger than me. It's not fair. We were the only two left at the end though.

I have my racing licence again, so if my left crank stays on (came loose yesterday on my way down to Aalst...couldn't race), then I might even be able to start in a race. Maybe Knesselare tomorrow, if the weather isn't too bad (ho ho).

Any other surprising news will have to wait 'n beetje.


gun-p said...

Thanks for the report and the "kopwerk" .Next year i try a Gluck , maybe it will give me wings to . See you next edition ?
Henk's mechanic

Jeff Jones said...

G'day Gunther,

I'm not sure about the Gluck. "Rosa" prefers Rodenbach/Bush/Westmalle/Cnudde/etc. But I guess these can be hard to find in vending machines.

Next year, I'd certainly like to take part. As I always say, we shall see!