The sight of Jimmy Casper?s teeth bouncing down the cobbles of the Kemmelberg was one of the most disturbing things I saw last year.
Casper crashed face first on the 25 per cent, cobbled descent of the Kemmelberg in last year?s Ghent-Wevelgem, and in doing so wrote off the first half of his season. He was one of several riders to crash after a loose bidon set off a horrible chain reaction.
As the bunch tackled the descent, one of the first riders lost his water bottle as it bounced out of its cage. A following rider panicked, and did the worst possible thing ? he hit the brakes.
Touch your front brake on cobbles and you?ll be lucky to stay upright. Once the first rider had gone down it was just a question of how many more would follow. The answer last year was lots.
As lycra clad bodies littered the side the of the road and the severity of some of the injuries emerged, it was obvious that the use of that descent was going to be brought in to question. Unsurprisingly it was ditched this year. Some riders favoured the decision, others didn?t.
A nasty bike crash can happen anywhere, in any race. Last year?s was the fault of riders panicking, not because of anything on route that was exceptionally dangerous. The descent off the Kemmelberg has been used for years in both professional and amateur races, and is as much a deciding factor as the climb itself.
This year we witnessed something different. After the riders came over the top of the cobbles of the Kemmelberg they forked left and descended a narrow, tarmac road with one tight right-hand bend.
All very safe, and all very sensible. But did it help nullify the race?
In the past, riders battled to get to the top of the Kemmelberg in the top 20 places to avoid any splits or crashes on the descent. This year there was far less pressure on the descent, so riders didn?t have to fight for position on the climb, making it slightly easier, and that can be the difference between a group staying away, or a group getting caught.
It may be no coincidence that this year we saw the biggest bunch in many a year riding in to Wevelgem. Had the weather been bad the race would have split, but with a safer descent of the Kemmelberg, Ghent-Wevelgem could be a race for the sprinters for the foreseeable future.