Despite becoming an increasingly global sport with major events happening throughout the rest of Europe and all over the world, Cyclo-cross has its roots firmly embedded in northern Belgium. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins went undercover for the day at round four of the cyclo-cross World Cup in Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen to find out what makes racing in this part of the world so special.
In most countries, cycle racing outdoors is a summer activity, in the winter there's either recovery from the last season and preparation for the next, or for those with energy to spare there's the track. In this part of the world though, there are some riders who do things the other way around, focusing the peak of their season on racing in the cold, wet weather of the dead of winter.
Cyclo-cross, or Veldrijden as they call it round here, races are generally run in a closed venue, so like criteriums and kermesses - and unlike normal road races - they can charge people to watch. This extra income means that - again like criteriums and kermesses - organisers can afford to pay the top riders appearance money. Top riders like Sven Nys and Bart Wellens, who really draw the crowds, can command as much as €5000 a race before they've even turned a pedal.
The venue of this particular race, Koksijde, sits right next to De Panne (as in the Three Days of) on the North Sea coast. It's just over the border from France and a short hop from southern England. This proximity, and the fact that it's held on the same weekend as the finale of the Gent Six-Days, means that many Brits come over to catch the two events. Consequently, this particular race has a slightly more international crowd than at some events.
What also sets this particular race apart from others is that this is the Vlaamse duinencross (Flemish Dune-Cross), so rather than the ankle-deep mud usually associated with this part of the world, most of the cours