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Hop off the tram next to where the shiny brightly coloured logo splattered buses are parked up. Fans milling about as mechanics fettle. Expensive carbon fibre and fancy paint jobs reflect in windscreens. Accreditation badges hang round necks, television cameras sit on shoulders, microphones clutched in hands. Lotte Kopecky chats to a television crew before taping notes to her stem. She won Flanders last weekend and a favourite for today. Point at fancy bits of kit and bump into a friend from home. Coffee on the terrace of a PMU bar in the middle of things. Flags draped over barriers and fans’ shoulders. One by one the teams are rolled out to be presented to the growing crowds. French riders get the biggest cheers. Spin to the start line, a count down… a lap of town… wait… The line of photographers opposite stop chatting, cameras raised, a wave of applause breaks on the adjacent street, a squeal of brakes, the clunk of gears… blurs of colour… wait… A second lap and they are gone. People drift away. Barriers slung onto trucks as we wander back to the tram after a quick beer in the PMU. “Home” in time for television coverage to start as they hit the first secteur. Bottles of Leffe retrieved from the fridge. Settle in for the rest of the afternoon.

We skip around the closed road signs. We can hear our destination before we see it. Belgian flags and satellites dishes adorn a field of campervans. Dump the bikes. Crowds and noise and the smell of chips and locals in homemade costumes of fluttering colours and television crews film drag queens in gold trimmed fuschia and sunshine glitters on scantily clad space age disco samba dancers and a couple of nonplussed goats are paraded past. Sensory overload carnival time. Watch the big screen, count the kilometres down. Helicopter shot of where we’re standing and then the cooling tower we passed two days ago. They are getting near, television shots of the other end of this road. Lean over the barrier and stare up the road, anticipation condenses into excitement. Hands bash barriers, voices raised. The leaders appear to gracefully float onto the cobbles, the chasing motorbikes and cars rumble and rattle. Red smoke drifts. The sound of rotors spinning just above the trees. Glance at the big screen then back up the road, the rest are coming… flashes of colour, riders then cars, everything slows suddenly, heads turn to screen, a collective gasp, a big crash. A mechanic grabs a bike from a roof and starts running. Riders playing catch up chase the race past the queued cars. Then it’s over.

…but it’s not. Swap euros for tokens to swap for beer. Still ninety kilometres to watch on the big screen.

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