Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: It’s like ‘first day of school’ as fans return to classics

Belgian classics without the fans just aren’t the same.

For the first time since Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2020, spectators were allowed to return to the iconic Kuipke Velodrome in central Ghent for one of the best pre-race team presentations of the year.

About 4,000 people – with their COVID-19 vaccination cards in hand – rushed to the small track to welcome the men’s peloton before the start of the race.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, organized by Flanders Classics, was one of the last races to take place under “normal” conditions two years ago. Race operations have yet to quite return to normal, with access to team buses completely restricted, but the buzz around the start felt like a big step back to normalcy.

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“It’s like the first day of school for all of us. Not just for me, but for the whole organization, for the press and the fans,” said Tomas Van Den Spiegel, CEO of Flanders Classics. BikeNews. “Even though we cannot accommodate fans among the riders yet, I saw at ‘t Kuipke that there were several thousand people. It’s really exciting and that’s why you do it.

“The last two years have been very tough for us logistically but also emotionally because you want to deliver emotions to people. We couldn’t do it the same way as before, so that’s the feeling today. The sun is out and everyone is happy, so that helps.

About 4,000 people crammed into the Kuipke velodrome in Ghent (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Although it may not have been the same outpouring of excitement we saw at the road world championships in Flanders late last year, the atmosphere at ‘t Kuipke still felt like a concert with fans enthusiastically welcoming each team on stage.

“It took me a little while to realize it was the velodrome because it was so crowded, but I think it just shows the unique racing atmosphere in Belgium,” said Magus Sheffield, making his racing debut. before leaving. “There is nothing like it in the United States. I think it’s really about soaking up all the memories so I can remember them 20 years from now.

Oliver Naesen is riding his eighth Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and experienced last year’s behind closed doors edition. Although business has not yet returned to business as usual, he is happy to see fans getting a taste of the racing up close.

“It’s good, it’s good that almost everyone is back. Normally the buses are crowded, but this is a good start,” Naesen said.

The relaxation of COVID-19 rules as the latest omicron wave of the virus subsided in recent weeks has allowed organizers to open their doors, literally and metaphorically. The enthusiastic fans and lively roadside are a stark difference from the past two years when you could almost hear a pin drop at the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The riders brought a rock star into the velodrome
The riders brought a rock star into the velodrome (Photo: David Stockman/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

While the past two years have shown us that anything can change at any time, Van Den Spiegel hopes the opening of racing to fans will continue in the heart of the spring classics.

“We now have a legal framework in Belgium that allows us to have fans inside, with some requirements. We are very happy to be able to accommodate 4,000 fans inside ‘t Kuipke,” van den said. Spiegel: “I’ve been with the organization since 2018, so half of my time has been spent on crisis management during COVID-19. It was tough for us and it felt like crisis management. It’s always like that, but at the same time you get a lot of satisfaction.

“It’s all right for us, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and we won’t take anything for granted.”

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