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59th Omloop Het Volk - 1.1
Belgium, February 28, 2004
Omloop Het Volk cancelled
Het volk in Belgium will not have their race
By Jeff Jones in Gent
With snow continuing to fall in the hours before the scheduled start of the Omloop Het Volk, the traditional Belgian season opener, organisers have been forced to cancel this year's race. Too many sections of the parcours, particularly the stretches of pavé near the finish, were deemed too dangerous.
"The safety of the riders could not be guaranteed," organiser Wim Van Herreweghe told the press gathered inside Gent's Kuipke shortly before 11:00am on Saturday morning. "The snow and freezing cold made the parcours too dangerous."
Van Herreweghe explained that he and the rest of the organising team, along with the police, the UCI and the all-important salt teams, had been up since 6:00am this morning scouting the entire route. "All the points of the parcours were done," he said. "The UCI looked at the Kwaremont, the Paddestraat and around Zottegem. We had someone from Brakel, one in Geraardsbergen and two or three people in Lokeren, and all the cobbled sections were done. At that moment the complete parcours was clear and at 9 o'clock we said we could start, there was not that much snow falling then.
"We issued a communique saying that the first three hills would be taken out, and only the Nieuwe Kwaremont would be in in place of the Oude Kwaremont and the Trieu and maybe that was it. The Kanarieberg was OK to ride up, but the descent was too dangerous. We could still have a nice, flat parcours on the big roads without too many risks. After Geraardsbergen it was perfect and we thought everything was good, but in Lokeren the snow was deeper. We thought 'OK, we wouldn't get there until four hours after midday and the temperature was between 2 and 4 degrees.' We still had high hopes that it would melt.
"But at 10:00am, outside the permanence we had thick snow flakes falling in Gent and even thicker in Lokeren and the temperature was around 0 degrees. Together with the federal commandant of the police an the UCI we decided to cancel the race. It was a mutual decision."
The riders, none of whom had even left their team buses by that stage, were expecting the decision but were disappointed all the same. Het Volk is an important race, as not only does it open the season in Belgium, it also features many of the climbs used in the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Scott Sunderland (Alessio-Bianchi) told Cyclingnews that he was, "disappointed but actually relieved. The way it is with the cold and the ice it comes to a point where it ceases to be rideable. We're not skiers here, we're cyclists and it's too icy and too cold. What can you do? It's no-one's fault, it's not our fault, it's not the organisers, it's just the weather conditions."
Chocolade Jacques team director and two-time winner of Het Volk, Johan Capiot, was never of the opinion that the race would be on. "Nope," he told Cyclingnews. I was sure it would be directly cancelled. It's normal. It's the decision of the jury and that's life."
As for tomorrow, "It's the same. We will see what's coming. If it stays like this and it's snowing more then it's off for tomorrow. It will be cancelled I think. But there we have the possibility to ride a circuit. And maybe they'll make the circuit snow free and maybe we can race."
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne organiser Marc Vandevyvere said that "Sunday is another day. Furthermore we have two alternatives ready that we can follow if we can't follow the full parcours. In the most extreme circumstances, we can ride three laps of 50 kilometres around Kuurne."
Vandevyvere will wait for as long as possible before making a decision about whether to run K-B-K.
Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com