Kermesse Racing in Belgium

Post date: Mar 13, 2016 10:34:19 PM

(By Shay O'Toole - Sun. 13th MArch 2016)

Last week club Chairman, Joe Duffy and PRO, Shay O’Toole took advantage of some very reasonably priced flights and made the short hop across to Belgium to meet up with fellow Wheeler Damien Shaw. The aim of this “fact-finding” trip was see a Pro Kermesse in the small Belgian village of Wanzele.

In cycling parlance a Kermesse is a race staged on a short circuit, usually 8-12km in length, and varying in distance from 90 to 150km. These events are very traditional in Belguim, especially in the Flemish region. Damien’s An Post Chainreaction Seán Kelly team were entered so it was a good opportunity to see him in action as he settles into his new career.

On arrival to Brussels the headed for the town of Buggenhout to meet up with Damien in the house where the An Post team are based. After a short drive to see the local scenery it was unanimously decided that it was time to refuel for the racing the following day. The Belgian cuisine didn’t disappoint and it was great to catch up and chat about how the first few races went for the Mullingar man who is revelling in his new environment.

The following day Joe and Shay set out for the town of Wanzele where the Kermesse was due to be held. This particular race was to consist of 16 laps of a mostly flat 10km circuit. With a start time of 13.30pm there was great activity in this tiny village as all the teams were beginning to arrive. Races like this are very popular in Belgium so it was no surprise to see 150 riders take to the start line. These consisted of professional cyclists from many of the big Continental and Pro-Continental teams from Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Great Britian. Shaw’s An Post team had seven riders entered and as the race got underway it was very clear from the speed that the riders wouldn’t be feeling the freezing temperatures for very long.

The first half of the race saw several riders make attempts to break clear but for the most part these were unsuccessful. Three riders broke away after five laps but again after 55kms had been raced the race was together. After 75kms six riders had made the break and got a gap of 30 seconds but with the bunch travelling at an average speed of 45kmph the escapees were soon reeled in.

However, after 107kms the decisive break of seven riders got away and created a gap of over one minute. An Post Chain Reaction riders led by Damien Shaw at the front started the chase and they succeeded in getting the gap down to 32 seconds with two laps of the 10km course to go and less than 20 seconds at the start of the final lap. Sadly after all the hard work the leaders got to the line with just a 50 meter gap over the chasing bunch. Shaw’s teammate Nicolas Vereecken finished in a great 9th place with the former Lakeside Wheeler and the rest of his team all within the main bunch across the line.

This event was an amazing spectacle with the race passing through the village on average every 13mins. The atmosphere was electric and unlike any race on the Irish scene it was especially unusual to see the “on-course” bookies taking bets on the outcome. Damien Shaw yet again showed his sheer class and displayed a level of race craft belying his relative inexperience at this level as he maneuvered his way cleverly within the bunch for most of the race. Then, as the race seemed to be well and truly turning in favour of the seven-man breakaway the reigning National Champion went to the front of the chasing pack and pulled solo for 30kms reducing the eventual gap to mere seconds. Another brilliant display from a rider who is very quickly finding his feet in the unforgiving world of pro cycling.

Damien Shaw leads the chasing pack in Belgium with his An Post team in tow