Antwerp will host the inaugural Belgacom Belgian Grand Prix mountain bike race this weekend, May 8-9. It will serve as the first round of the six-round national series, with some top international-level racers attending between European rounds of the World Cup in Houffalize and Offenburg.
The race is being run a venue that is new to mountain biking, and it was designed with input from retired pro racer Filip Meirhaeghe.
"In consultation with the leaders of the city, we took a site, unknown to many people of Antwerp, and transformed it into a place for mountain biking," said organizer Luc Mattens. "The green surroundings and the embankment of the Schelde up to the Noordkasteel lent themselves perfectly to it."
"When I first came, there was nothing but bushes," said Filip Meirhaeghe, who was asked for his expertise during the project. "I mapped out a route through the jungle-like vegetation. With spade and shovel, I helped indicate the first singletrack, which was then cut into wider paths. It is a great technical trail now. "
At the beginning of this week, the Belgian Cycling Association was reporting that it had received over 400 entries.
"Jimmy Tielens and Nicolas Vermeulen, the most famous Belgians, will race against the best Dutchmen Gerden de Knegt and Thijs Al. The big attraction will be Canadian Geoff Kabush, ranked number nine in the world."
Mattens is ambitious for the future of the race. He is aiming for UCI category 1 status in the future and the opportunity to host a World Cup round in the future. Mattens was pleased that his race earned UCI category 2 status in its first running, something unusual for mountain bike races.
The overall series standings will be calculated from the best five of six race results.
Children, masters and fun riders will race on Saturday. On Sunday, novice and young girls open the competition followed by elite, junior and under 23 men, women and juniors.