Fabian Cancellara’s spring Classics came to an abrupt end on a section of cobbles often used by Flemish race organisers.
Haaghoek is narrow and the riders enter it shoulder to shoulder. It goes straight down one side of a small valley and up the other. Then there’s a flatter section through the ploughed fields.
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Every Classics specialist knows Haaghoek well.
We often stop just beyond the dip, where Graham’s photos show a long line of riders travelling at high speed before they give it full gas up the other side.
But you have to be there to experience the shocking speed they go down Haaghoek. That, and the noise of the chains slapping the chainstays as the riders hurtle past. I would say they are doing upwards of 35mph at the bottom.
I’ve never seen a crash on that descent and I hope I never do, because there’s no such thing as a minor stack here. The cobbles are hard and unforgiving. There is nowhere to go.
We had stopped to take a photo of Viviani receiving a front wheel from the Sky Jag and were behind the race, filtering back through the team cars as the riders entered Haaghoek. Near the bottom everyone was slamming on the brakes.
As I slowed and very gingerly threaded the bike around the other motos I could see riders sitting on the grass verge, heads in hands, while others wandered about looking for their team mechanics. I looked at the stones — they were dry but had greasy mud in the gaps between them.
Graham jumped off and found Cancellara. He got back on his bike but did not look comfortable at all. Over the radio later, we heard he had abandoned.
A sad moment but the race goes on and it was a privilege to be able to record Geraint Thomas’s long-awaited big Classic win.
Luke Evans was photographer Graham Watson’s moto driver at Grand Prix E3 Harelbeke.