By Hedwig Kröner and Brecht Decaluwé
Belgian Cyclo-cross organising company Promocycling has plans to launch a new race series in Belgium. This would be the fourth series taking place in that country after the World Cup, the Superprestige and the Gazet van Antwerpen Trofee, which is why the UCI is against the project.
"We want to bundle six to eight already existing races in Flanders, to make up one new highly qualitative circuit," initiator Luc Mattens told Sportwereld last week. Mattens, who organises the Flanders Indoor Cyclocross in Mechelen and the Scheldecross in Antwerp, reportedly already has two sponsors to back the series, which he wants entirely televised. But even before the presentation of the new project, scheduled to take place late March, the UCI has spoken out against it.
"They have to make something like this pass the UCI, and they certainly won't get our approval," said Peter Van Den Abeele, cyclo-cross coordinator at the UCI, who thinks that Northern Belgium has enough series to represent the popularity of the sport in that country. "If we let this happen, then cyclo-cross can close its books. And if they try to go through with this behind my back, then I'll throw their races off the calendar!"
In that context, Van Den Abeele's priority is the internationalisation of cyclo-cross, as opposed to building on its already enormous popularity in Belgium. "If they mean well, why don't they organise a circuit with foreign races! But no, they are just opportunists that want to make money out of the success of cyclo-cross [in Belgium]. They don't think about internationalisation."
The world's greatest cyclo-crosser, Sven Nys, is also against the project. "It's impossible to do a good job when betting on four horses," he commented. "Therefore, I have to choose and aim for two classifications only, which is why the World Cup isn't one of them. If I can earn a lot of money in Neerpelt, why should I travel abroad to a World Cup in the United States, where I have to win in order to make it worthwhile financially? Eventually it comes down to the money we get. The one who pays most gets us. As a result, the best riders will be competing in different race series; while people want to see us racing against each other. In the end the boomerang will come back into our faces as spectators will drop out."
World Cyclo-cross Champion Bart Wellens agreed, telling cyclo-cross.info: "We're already complaining that it's too busy. With a fourth competition we would need to make choices. Also, what are we up to if an indoor cross would be included, that should stay 'fun'".