Photo Essay: Antwerp Port Epic

Only 43 riders crossed the finish line

2 months ago by Tom Soladay

Words and images by Ethan Glading

With 36 kilometers of dirt farm tracks and 29 kilometers of cobbles, all in the last 100 kilometers, the Antwerp Port Epic is a telegenic and photogenic race of a type that professional road racers rarely see. Since 2015, when dirt roads were introduced to the race (previously known as Schaal Sels), it has provided a transition to the cyclo-cross season and has typically been won by a cyclo-crosser. This year was no different.

The 2020 edition featured warm temperatures, clear skies, and lots, and lots of dust. Unlike the gray and damp images of the region’s spring classics, this race had more of a Strade Bianche feel to it, minus the rolling hills of Tuscany. And the hilltop medieval castle.

For the riders, it was a race of attrition. Once the pack got to the technical sections mechanicals and crashes began to winnow down the field dramatically. Due to dust being kicked up by riders and vehicles ahead, once a rider fell back it was extremely difficult to regain the front. An early breakaway initiated by Robin Carpenter was joined by some strong riders such as 2017 Tro Bro Leon winner Damien Gaudin. But the move was never given enough leash to have a chance of success. Carpenter would continue to ride aggressively and stay with the front group, eventually finishing the race in a strong 12th place. In the end, only 43 of the 217 starters would make it to the line.   

Robin Carpenter arrives in the team zone. The race strictly excluded fans from the team bus area in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions in place.
The squad masking-up under the Antwerp port house, or Havenhuis Antwerpen, before heading to the podium presentation. The modern building, designed to look like a ship’s hull, is built atop a pre-existing protected historical building. (An old fire station actually)
The team cars are reflected in the underside of the Antwerp Port House building
Geoff and Tim adjust and check tire pressures as the riders get ready. Tire pressure is critical at a race that goes over cobbles and gravel and this aspect of the preparation was similar to a cyclocross race.
The start and finish of the race took the riders through the industrial landscape of the port area. Here the team returns from the morning’s podium presentation.
Director Eric Wohlberg makes his final preparations before heading to the start.
The peloton winds its way through a long dirt sector flanked by pumpkins on one side and potatoes on the other.
Robin in the breakaway. Robin animated the race by initiating the first break of the day but the bunch never allowed the escapees to get much of a lead.
The peloton enters a tunnel of trees. A really dusty tunnel of trees.
A group of riders crosses a clearing between two wooded sections.
Pier-Andre riding comfortably in a small group early in the race.
Stephen Bassett doesn’t know it but he is about to ride past Flandrian legend Johan Museeuw who is roadside on bottle duty for a Dutch team.
The cars kicked up huge amounts of dust. Riders who found themselves in the caravan due to crashes or other reasons faced seriously difficult conditions returning to the peloton.
The results of Pier-Andre’s crash
Nick Zukowski exits a tunnel that provided a brief strip of asphalt relief between two long dirt sections.
After the brief respite of the tunnel, Colin is right back onto the dust.
Colin on the pave.
Soigneur Patrique and Robin after the finish. Teams were limited to one soigneur at the finish to keep the number of people down. The attrition of the race kept the number of riders down too.
Nick and Robin (12th), the team’s two finishers. Out of nearly 200 starters, only 43 riders crossed the line.
Nick coated in Flandrian countryside after the finish.