Diegem Superprestige cancelled after new COVID-19 spectator ban sparks chaos in Belgian cyclo-cross

Belgian Wout Van Aert and Dutch Mathieu Van Der Poel pictured in action during the men elite race of the World Cup cyclocross in Dendermonde third stage out of five of the UCI World Cup competition in Dendermonde Sunday 27 December 2020 BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN Photo by DAVID STOCKMANBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: David Stockman/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

A decision by the Belgian government to ban spectators from sporting events has caused chaos amongst cyclo-cross organisers, with the Superprestige races in Diegem on December 29 cancelled and other races at risk. 

The World Cup race in Dendermonde on December 26 will go ahead despite the loss of revenue from spectators, with the ‘big-three’ of cyclo-cross Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock due to clash for the very first time this year. The Heusden-Zolder on December 27 is also set to go ahead and host the second clash of the big three.  The Belgian national championships in Middelkerke on January 8 and 9 appear to have been saved after protests and action from the Belgian cycling federation. However other races later in January have still to be confirmed. 

The World Championships are scheduled to be held in Fayetteville in the USA at the end of January but the UCI has yet to make a final decision if they will go ahead.   

The new Belgian COVID-19 regulations, concerns about the omicron variant and the loss of spectator revenues will force other cyclo-cross races to decide if they can be held safely and if they are financially viable. Race organisers have warned that riders face cuts to their start fees and are making other cost cutting measures to help races survive. They are also demanding financial support from the Belgian government. 

Decisions on if races can be held depend on Belgian COVID-19 regulations but also the local mayors of the host towns. The Diegem races pass through the centre of the village and near two cafes, making it impossible to close the course to the public.    

The Dendermonde course is more isolated. The Boxing Day race schedule will remain unchanged and the World Cup prize money will be awarded, with the 5000 advance ticket sales refunded. 

"I didn't want to just throw in the towel," organizer Jurgen Mettepenningen told the Flemish media.  

"Of course, financially this is a heavy blow. In the end I managed to keep the World Cup cross race alive thanks in part to the extra support from Flanders Classics and the UCI. The city of Dendermonde also contributed."  

Some organisers are blaming the bad behavour of soccer fans in stadiums for the Belgian government’s decision and questioning why other activties are still allowed despite rising COVID-19 case numbers.    

"We have to race without an audience, while Christmas markets may be organized in Bruges and other cities, Francis Bosschaerts, the chairman of the Deigem organising committee told Sporza.  

"In Bruges, tens of thousands of people are walking together but organizing a cross race with the public is not allowed. That is difficult to understand."

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