Cyclocross is enjoying massive popularity in emerging cycling countries, but in Belgium, where cycling is almost a religion, it’s a part of everyday life. We recently took a four-day trip to partake in some Masters racing, watch a few pro events and generally soak up the atmosphere.
Our three-race adventure began in the small, unassuming town of Ardooie with a Masters race in the morning, before watching the best in the business race over the same course in the afternoon. The 1km main street was closed for the start and finish, and access was limited to paying spectators, of which there were at least 5,000 – on a Thursday! But with numerous tents, vans and bars selling beer, coffee, frites and burgers, plus world class racing, everyone was happy.
Sven nys ploughing a lonely furrow across the fields back towards town: sven nys ploughing a lonely furrow across the fields back towards townRobin Wilmott/Future Publishing
Sven Nys plows through the mud as paying locals look on
Oh, and did we mention there was mud? Lots of liquefied, sticky, deep mud.
At the weekend there were two more West Flanders league races, each attracting an incredible number of camper vans, converted vans and all kinds of amateur team vehicles. These filled the neighbouring streets and disgorged their contents across front gardens and driveways, which was all accepted as perfectly normal by the locals.
More moustaches than the average bike race…: more moustaches than the average bike race…Robin Wilmott/Future Publishing
The Masters fields weren’t huge but they were quite fast
A typical Masters race with around 40 riders could contain two former world champions, and the main event a pair of current Belgian champions. The field sizes may not always be large, but the standard is very high.
Click through the photo gallery at above right for a visual trip inside Belgian cyclocross.
The knowledgable, be-wellied and well-lubricated crowd make their way back to town via more food vans: the knowledgable, be-wellied and well-lubricated crowd make their way back to town via more food vansRobin Wilmott/Future Publishing
Paying crowds come out in droves — and in rubber boots — to watch cyclocross