Cycle racing in Belgium

Cycle racing in Belgium

Cycle racing is a popular sport in Belgium. It is governed by the Royal Belgian Cycling League since 1882[1], which became a founding member of the International Cycling Association in 1892 and later of the Union Cycliste Internationale in 1900.[2] Since 2002, the Royal Belgian Cycling League is composed of the Wielerbond Vlaanderen (WBV), which governs the cycle racing in Flanders and of the Fédération Cycliste Wallonie-Bruxelles (FCWB), which governs the cycle racing in Wallonia and Brussels. Belgium has been one of the major countries in different categories of cycle racing over the years, including road cycling and cyclo-cross. The best Belgian cyclist of all times, Eddy Merckx, nicknamed the Cannibal, has won all of the 3 grand tours (5 Tour de France and Giro d'Italia wins as well as 1 Vuelta a España win) and all of the 5 monuments of cycling. He also won the UCI Road World Championships 3 times and set the hour record, among other achievements.


Road bicycle racing


At the Olympic Games, Belgium has won 3 gold medals for road cycling, with 2 victories for the men's team time trial (at the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics) and one for André Noyelle for the individual race in 1952. The time trial team had previously won the silver medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics and the bronze at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Belgium has also collected the silver medal for the individual race competition in 1924 (Henri Hoevenaers) and in 1952 (Robert Grondelaers) and the bronze in 1948 (Lode Wouters), 1960 (Willy van den Berghen), 1964 (Walter Godefroot) and 2004 (Axel Merckx).

Belgian cyclists have had more UCI Road World Championship gold medals (25) at the men's road race than any other country. Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx have both won the title 3 times, and Georges Ronsse, Briek Schotte, Rik Van Looy and Freddy Maertens have all won twice. Women have won 6 gold medals at the women's road race event, with 4 for Yvonne Reynders. Other famous riders who won the title include Stan Ockers, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen.

The first season-long competition in road cycling, the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo was introduced in 1948, and first won by Belgian rider Briek Schotte. Later in 1955, Stan Ockers became the second Belgian to win the competition. From 1956 to 1958, Fred de Bruyne won the trophy 3 times, and so equalled the record of Ferdi Kübler. The next year, the challenge was replaced by the Super Prestige Pernod International. Starting in 1968, this competition was won by Belgians 10 times in a row, first by Herman Van Springel, then 7 consecutive times by Eddy Merckx and in 1976 and 1977 by Freddy Maertens. In 1989, the UCI Road World Cup started and was won twice by Johan Museeuw (1995 and 1996) and once by Andreï Tchmil (1999). Since the competition was replaced by the UCI ProTour in 2005 and then by the UCI World Tour in 2009, Tom Boonen has reached the highest ranking with a second place in 2005 and Philippe Gilbert has been ranked third in 2010.

Belgian cyclists have also performed very well in the 3 big tours. Ten cyclists have won the Tour de France, making of Belgium the second country with the most Tour de France wins (18) behind France. Besides Eddy Merckx (5 wins), Philippe Thys won the most prestigious tour 3 times (1913, 1914 and 1920) while Firmin Lambot (1919 and 1922) and Sylvère Maes (1936 and 1939) both won twice. The latest Belgian winner at the Tour de France however was Lucien Van Impe in 1976. Belgian cyclists have been more successful at winning the maillot vert for best sprinter, with 19 wins. Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens (3 wins) and Stan Ockers (2 wins) are the multiple winners in this classification. Tom Boonen won the shirt recently in 2007. The maillot à pois for best climber was won 6 times by Lucien Van Impe, the last time in 1983, equalling the record of Federico Bahamontes, and twice by Félicien Vervaecke and Eddy Merckx. In 2004 however, the record of 6 maillot à pois wins was beaten by Richard Virenque. At the Giro d'Italia, Belgium has had 7 wins, being the second country most successful country after Italy (66 wins). Michel Pollentier and Johan De Muynck (the latest Belgian to have won the Giro in 1978) are with Eddy Merckx (5 wins) the 3 Belgian winners of this tour. Other achievements in this tour include 6 maglia verde of best climber (including 2 for Lucien Van Impe) and 5 maglia ciclamino for best sprinter (3 for Roger De Vlaeminck and 2 for Eddy Merckx). Belgium also has had 7 wins at the Vuelta a España, with 2 wins by Gustaaf Deloor, the first winner of this tour in 1935 and 1936. The latest Belgian winner was Freddy Maertens in 1977. In the other classificiations, Belgian cyclists have won 13 times the points classification, including Greg Van Avermaet in 2008 but never the mountains classification.

Many Belgian cyclists have won one of the 5 monument cycle races. At the Tour of Flanders, Belgium counts 67 wins in 95 editions with 3 wins for Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman and Johan Museeuw. Roger De Vlaeminck holds the record of wins at Paris–Roubaix (4), and Belgium is the most successful country in this race with 54 wins in 109 editions. Liège–Bastogne–Liège was won 59 times on 97 by Belgian cyclists. Eddy Merckx holds the record of the most individual wins (5). At the Giro di Lombardia, Belgium counts 12 titles in 104 editions, with only Italy performing better. Milan – San Remo was won 7 times by Eddy Merckx, who holds the record of the most wins, and Belgium has won 20 times on 102, being the second most successful country after Italy in this race. In opposition to the big tours, which were not won anymore by Belgians since 1978, cyclists from Belgium are still being successful in the monument races. At Paris–Roubaix, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen have won 3 times each since 1996, and Peter Van Petegem and Johan Van Summeren have also won the race once each. At the Tour of Flanders, Belgium has 11 wins since 1993, with 3 by Johan Museeuw, 2 by Peter Van Petegem, Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder and 1 by Andreï Tchmil and Nick Nuyens. In the other 3 monuments, Belgians has been less successful recently, with Andreï Tchmil being the only Belgian winner of Milan – San Remo in 1999 since Fons De Wolf in 1981. Philippe Gilbert has been the only winner of the Giro di Lombardia since Fons De Wolf in 1980, with wins in 2009 and 2010 and only 4 Belgians have won Liège–Bastogne–Liège since Joseph Bruyère in 1978: Eric Van Lancker in 1990, Dirk De Wolf in 1992, Frank Vandenbroucke in 1999 and Philippe Gilbert in 2011.

Famous races

Among the best-known road races in Belgium, 2 out of the 5 monuments of cycling are the Tour of Flanders and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Other classic one day races in Belgium are La Flèche Wallonne and Gent–Wevelgem both part of the UCI World Tour, as well as Paris–Brussels, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, Grand Prix de Wallonie, Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke. The best-known stage-races in Belgium are the Tour of Benelux, created in 2005 and the Tour of Belgium.

Professional teams

Belgium has currently two professional cycling teams performing in the UCI ProTour: Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto.

Other categories

In mountain bike, Filip Meirhaeghe has won the 2002 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and the 2003 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships and was silver-medalist at the 2000 Summer Olympics. In mountain bike trials, Kenny Belaey has won the 26-inch wheel trial World Cup in 2002, 2005 and 2006. In cyclo-cross, Belgian competitors have gained 25 gold medals at the UCI Cyclo-cross Men World Championships since 1950 and 54 medals overall, making it the best country in cyclo-cross, ahead of France with 10 gold medals out of 34 medals. Eric De Vlaeminck has the most world title in cyclo-cross with 7 World Cup wins between 1966 and 1973. Other multiple Belgian world champions are Roland Liboton (4 titles), Mario De Clercq and Erwin Vervecken (3) and Bart Wellens (2). In track cycling, Matthew Gilmore and Etienne De Wilde won the gold medal of Men's Madison event at the 1998 UCI Track Cycling World Championships and the silver medal of Men's Madison at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Roger Ilegems won the gold medal of the Men's point race at the 1984 Summer Olympics while Patrick Sercu holded several world records and won the gold medal of the Men's 1 km time trial at the 1964 Summer Olympics.


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