Right from the start of Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem we knew it would be a tough day. There’s a flyover just after the start and everyone on two wheels felt the force of the wind, accompanied by horizontal rain, as they headed out for the true roads of Flanders.
Not the cobbled climbs – they are the exceptions. Flemish lanes follow dykes and are often straight, narrow and cruelly exposed to the elements. If you can propel a bicycle at speed in these parts you will win races, lots of them.
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One such rider is Geert Steegmans and he was the first one we saw blown off the road by the near gale that obliterated the bunch as the race battered it’s way across west Flanders.
A splash of water is not normally the sign of a crash but in this case it was. Steegmans had been lifted off the road and down a grassy bank in to the dyke below. We saw him looking dazed with one black gloved hand over his mouth looking like an actor from melodrama reacting to a shocking scene. Maybe he had chipped a tooth but it could have been a lot more serious.
Experienced moto drivers and photographers were saying that they had never experienced a day like this. At one point the race was neutralised due to the wind but it didn’t seem to make much difference as riders struggled to stay in contact with the back of the peloton.
It’s when the riders in these situations stop shouting at you that you know that the racing is serious. Normally they are quite vocal, warning the moto drivers and team cars that they are coming back to the bunch or that you are in their way. Today they were concentrating too hard and riding flat out to do anything other than survive. It was eerily quiet as every struggling rider gave everything to fight the tempest trying to part them from the bunch.
It’s a challenge to work in these conditions but when the race explodes it becomes a target rich environment for us. There aren’t enough officials to police the moto photographers and we more or less have a free hand to work our way around echelons and disparate groups. Then its a case of keeping your eyes open to spot our ‘client’ riders and teams.
By the end of the race, parked up beyond the finish line in Wevelgem, there was a sense that we had been a part of one of those exceptional days in sport when you are privileged to see just how brave, tough and loopy pro cyclists can be.
Luke Evans was photographer Graham Watson’s motorcycle driver at Ghent-Wevelgem