When we’re young we all want to grow up and become something. My older brother Kevin, ‘Our Kev’ to anybody in the McNally inner circle, wanted to design aeroplanes for a living. Me, doing as any self-respecting younger sibling would, supported my smarter sibling by saying I wanted to fly the planes my brother designed.
Like most kid's dreams some come true, and some don’t. My brother studied hard went to university for several years and now works for Rolls-Royce designing their aeroplane engines. I just tell everyone he’s a rocket scientist, it gets more laughs and make me feel less intellectually inferior!
Anyway I’m the other side of the dream coming true coin, I will probably never fly ‘Our Kev's planes, but after my dreams of the jet set disappeared and trying football, tennis and rugby to name but a few, I stumbled across cycling.
My dad’s two best friends are Tommy & Graham. They both did road cycling and they sorted me out with an old Vitus bike and a bit of kit. They were both at some point in their lives in the Liverpool Century Road Club, and one night Graham took me down to the weekly club meeting which was at Tarbock Village hall back then and they put me on the original Zwift the "CompuTrainer". I was hooked.
From that point my dream changed. Every day after school I’d ride my bike, I’d think of pretty much nothing but my bike. As sad or silly as it sounds, it is true, and when you catch the cycling bug it can be quite addictive.
I discovered that most bike races were shown on Eurosport and I followed each and every one. The ones that caught my eye the most were the Spring Classics with their legendary ‘bergs’ and ‘cobble sectors’. They were 200-260kms of pure passion, pain and glory.
From about the age of 12 all I ever wanted to be was a bike rider. My dream had evolved. No more airplanes and flight plans, they had been replaced by bicycles and funny shoes.
Anyway fast forward a few years and a few ups and downs, two weeks ago I started my second Gent-Wevelgem. Anybody who knows the history of the event will know in the past it was a sprinters race, but these last few years its evolved into more of a pure classics style. This year these details faded in to the background, as it was an emotional day. In the race one year before I experienced one of my darkest days on the bike and probably in my whole life. We left the team bus in the morning with eight guys ready for the race and returned only as seven… My team mate Antoine Demoitié lost his life in that race after a crash involving a motorbike. Bike racing seems unimportant and somewhat futile when such tragedies occur, but a year on we had one goal and that was to honour him, his memory and his family.
My job in the pre-race meeting was to go for the early breakaway. The only thing we all really had to do that day was Ride for Antoine.
The race started and we were all focused on the job in hand. As we hit Km0 just outside Dienze the attacks started to come thick and fast. Sometimes it’s a struggle to stay near the front and keep an eye on whats going on but other days you can find a rhythm and follow the ebbs and flows of the peloton. This was one of those days.
I was hovering near the front following everything that I thought looked a bit dangerous, until a group of around eight guys slipped away and I was clear on the right side of the peloton. So I clicked it down a few gears, put my head down and jumped for freedom, not looking back till I’d reached the shelter of the wheels of the eight guys. I got there, caught my breath and did a quick shoulder check. The peloton was wide and flat fronted which is always a good sign because it means the speed is low.
We had to commit fully to riding through-and-off as hard as we could, as a few of the smaller teams like ours had missed the break and were trying as hard as they could to get across. After a while they gave up and our lead began to pull out, first 2 minutes, then 3, then 5. Then we got to a max of around 9 I think just before we got to the infamous Mooren, a dead-straight road for about 10km with not so much as a shrub for shelter. There our advantage began to tumble as the chaos of the crosswinds ensued in the peloton.
Once through the Mooren we headed for the berg zone around the Kemmel berg. First time over the Kemmel two lads escaped from the front of our group. They eluded our chase after we’d crested the climb as the race behind started to really heat-up. As we got to the gravel roads of Plugstreets (that’s a place not a street!) the front of what was left of the peloton caught us. I knew I’d start to pay for my earlier efforts and so I did my best to help my team mates as much as I could before the inevitable. The second and last time over the Kemmel my legs bucked and I lost contact with the front group and was greeted by the safety and shelter of the ‘groupetto’ shortly afterwards. I finished my first race over 250km and I like to think our whole team gave a fitting tribute to our fallen team mate and to his memory.
All Photos (c) Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert