Tag Archives: Belgium

Talking cyclocross with Sporza’s Renaat Schotte

Renaat Schotte works for Sporza on Belgian TV and is often found reporting from the motorbike during one day classics and grand tours, or from the pits during ‘cross races. Fellow blogger Andrew Rafferty managed to catch up with him for a piece for the Dig In At The Dock race programme last January.

AR: I asked him why cyclocross is so popular in Belgium.
RS: ‘There has been a continual process of professionalising and modernising. More so than other countries who were also traditionally strong at cross, like Spain and Switzerland. And as popularity increased and crowds grew, the races got bigger and riders became more successful, which increased the popularity and so on. A virtuous cycle.’

Is it fair to say that it’s a not a Belgian thing, but a Flemish thing?
‘Yeah, it’s not an exaggeration to say that. The races held this year in Walloonia (the French speaking part of Belgium) are actually organized by Flemish! And all other races organized by Walloons in the past have been cancelled.

Cyclocross is part of Flemish life, like speed skating in Holland or Skijumping in Germany.’
Or bagpipe playing in Scotland?

‘Exactly, ha ha.
Look at how things have changed on the TV. In the early 90s you could watch maybe six races a year. Now its three or four times that, with bpost, superprestige, World Cup and National and World Championships. Plus numerous standalone races. It’s getting bigger.

BK Veldrijden 2013 Mol

We see the same thing here in Scotland, albeit on a smaller scale as the number of races, participants and spectators grow. And many people watch Sporza broadcasts online. Can you give your Scottish viewers some key words to listen out for?

Greppel (chreppel) means ditch and Beek (bake) means burn or stream. You should hear them in most races. Zandstrook (zandstroke) means sand section like at Koksijde.

(Or Irvine!) Continue reading

Memories of Belgium, summer 1960

A recent interview on Veloveritas with Craig Wallace highlighted how important the Belgian scene is for serious riders who may be looking for a career in bike racing and need to push themselves on. Although Jim Robinson, whose shares memories of the 1960 season below, wasn’t necessarily looking to go pro, there were plenty at that time who were.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

It was spring of 1960 and we were sitting in an early-morning commuter train heading from Ostend to Kortrijk. I sat listening to the chatter around us thinking how much it reminded me of the blue trains going into Queen St. Low-level every morning full of Glasgow office-workers. Flemish shares a lot of vocabulary with old Scots and as my ears got a little more attuned to the accent I almost felt at home. Also, I had spent my National Service with the RAF in Schleswig-Holstein, a part of Germany where Plattdeutsch was still commonly spoken. Plattdeutsch, Frisian and Flemish, all Low Germanic languages, are still spoken up and down the North Sea coast from Denmark to northern France.
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John Kennedy, Scottish racer in Belgium, 14th at Fleche Wallone

In previous articles I charted the story of a talented Scottish racer about whom not much is known. After winning in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, in around 1955 or ’56 John Kennedy went over to Kortrijk in Belguim aged 24 or 25 to further his racing career.

He may have turned pro in 1957 after succeeding as an amateur, and connoisseurs of the Belgian scene have noted that he rode for some decent teams in what was a tough arena. As Ed Hood noted on Veloveritas in 2007, he would have been competing for a pro contract with hundreds of keen young Belgians, all of whom were striving to avoid work in the fields, mines or steelworks. Back then as it is now, it was the toughest amateur racing in the world.

John Kennedy, Tour de France, 1960.

Back then, when you got paid to ride it was more of a profession. The idea of riders as ‘pedalling workers’ is a concept that runs through the early era of cycling. The phrase ‘convicts of the road’ was coined in 1924 by journalist Albert Londres who likened professional bike racing to forced labour.

The results I found for Kennedy weren’t stellar, but suffice to say he must have been a really good rider to achieve what he did in a hostile environment in late 50s, early 60s Belgium. Back then, contact back home was minimal to non-existent and you were virtually on your own.

Brian Robinson was an English pioneer who Kennedy would go on to ride with in the GB Tour team, who “epitomised that spirit of ‘living the dream’. Equipped with a hard-as-nails mentality and a penchant for suffering, it was all he needed to negotiate his way through the shenanigans of the professional peloton.” – (Guy Andrews, Rapha website)

In the early 80s, Robert Millar complained of loneliness and isolation when he went to Paris to ride for the famous amateur club the ACBB (Athletic Club de Boulogne Billancourt). As a foreign rider in France he found his first accommodation in a gym, before being put in an apartment. “For the first two or three months I got very depressed” he told The Face magazine in 1985. “There were a lot who could not take it, living in a strange country, and just went home. Your life came down to the last ten or fifteen seconds of a race, when you either won or lost and either had something to live on or not.” (Richard Moore, In Search of Robert Millar)

Another Scottish rider, Norrie Drummond also went over to Belgium in 1957 and rode the amateur Gent-Wevelgem, while Brian Robinson and Kennedy rode the pro event. Drummond placed 19th in the amateur Kuurne-Brussels-Kurne that year- no mean feat in itself. In 1958 Norrie was called up to National Service and that put an end to his racing career – a theme that I have heard from many who raced in the 50s.

I haven’t found details of Kennedy’s pro team for ’57, but in ’58 and ’59 he rode for Bertin-d’Alessandro-The Dura and Bertin-The Dura-Milremo, presumably the same squad with different sponsors. Below the team lines up at the Tour du Nord in France in 1958.

John Kennedy, Bertin, Tour du Nord 58

John Kennedy, centre Bertin team, Tour du Nord 58

Results are hard to come by but he rode some big races at the end of 1958, finishing 101st in Paris-Tours in a field that contained Van Looy, Darrigade and Anquetil, and 8th in a Belgian race at Anzegem, with top 10s also recorded in 1959 at  Moorsele and Izenberge in Belgium.

A Belgian adventure was a draw for other young Scottish racers though, as in 1960, Jim Robinson (a V.C. Stella rider, pictured below, second from left, riding the Oats Amateur Circuit of Britain in 1955 for Scotland) went out with Rab Dewar of the Glasgow Wheelers, and Bobby Finnie and spent a season racing there while living in Kortrai near John Kennedy.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

Although Kennedy’s ’58 and ’59 results seem obscure, by 1960 he was riding for Wiels/Flandria, managed former world champion and Tour of Flanders winner Alberic ‘Briek’ Schotte.

John is third team member from the left in the photo below. Briek Schotte, centre.John Kennedy, Wiels Flandria team, (3rd rider from left), Belgium, C1960

‘Briek’ Schotte was a Flandrian hardman in the classic mould. William Fotheringham writes, in his Cyclopedia miscellany, that he “was brought out of his first communion in 1930 and as an amateur would get up at 3:30am to go to work to ensure that he could start training at 1pm.” He rode the Tour of Flanders 20 times and won it twice, also winning the world championships twice and numerous other titles. There is more information about Briek Schotte at the Flandria Cycles website.

By 1960 he was riding some of the big races, posting 35th in Gent-Wevelgem before one of his best results on the Continent, 14th in the Fleche-Wallone on 5th May. He was ranked one of the top riders on the Wiels-Flandria squad, which was 60-strong.

The route of Fleche Wallone has frequently been changed and that year it was run over 208km from Liege to Charleroi. There is a little footage of the race here: Flèche Wallonne : petit rappel historique | SONUMA.

The 1960 edition of the race was won by Pino Cerami in nearly 6 hours. Kennedy finished at 3:52 in a group of 7 going for 10th place, with this sprint won by Emile Daems. He was in very good company, with greats Rik Van Looy and Tom Simpson in the top 10, as well as being amongst five riders who would go on to be stage winners in the Tour that year, and he beat Gaston Nencini, who took the yellow jersey.

The winner, Pino Cerami had a dream season in 1960, having won Paris-Roubaix and going on to get on the podium at the World Championships behind Rik Van Looy of Belgium and Frenchman André Darrigade. In 2018, he remains the oldest winner of Fleche Wallone at 38 years old. The next oldest winners were Alejandro Valverde and Davide Rebellin at 37.

The full result is still available, while I have copied the top 20 below.

  • 1. Pino CERAMI (Bel) en 5h41’35”
  • 2. Pierre Beuffeuil (Fra) à 27″
  • 3. Constant Goossens (Bel)
  • 4. Robert Cazala (Fra) 5. Jean Forestier (Fra)
  • 6. Alfons Hermans (Bel) à 35″
  • 7. Tom Simpson (Gbr) à 2’21”
  • 8. Rik Van Looy (Bel) à 2’53”
  • 9. René Vanderveken (Bel) à 3’12”
  • 10. Emile Daems (Bel) à 3’52”
  • 11. Francesco Miele (Ita)
  • 12. Germain Derijcke (Bel)
  • 13. Louis Proost (Bel)
  • 14. John Kennedy (Gbr)
  • 15. Eddy Pauwels (Bel)
  • 16. Daniel Denys (Bel)
  • 17. Elio Pizzoglio (Ita) à 4’07”
  • 18. Tino Sabbadini (Fra) à 5’43”
  • 19. Joseph Schils (Bel)
  • 20. Gastone Nencini (Ita)

The form that Kennedy was in is evident in this result, and it was to lead to a last-minute call-up to the Great Britain team for the Tour de France, in support of Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson.  To be continued…

John Kennedy second from right

Four of the Wiels-Flandria team 1960

Thanks to the following for assistance in this piece: John Gallacher, Stephen Flockhart, Jim Robinson, Jim Hay, Gino Goddard, Norrie Drummond and Ray Green.


Michael Nicolson – Belgium

Lifted from the Braveheart forum comes this race report from Michael Nicolson who rides for the Flanders team. Many of my blog readers will have seen this but I thought it was so good I wanted to push it out a bit more widely. Michael’s honesty and touches of humour make this a brilliant write-up, and gives you a sense of the rough and tumble and furious pace of racing in Belgium.

Getting out to Belgium is a way to progress a career in bike racing if you don’t get picked up by the National talent team. There are several races a week. Scottish riders have done this since the 50s and it’s still one of the best ways to test yourself at the highest amateur/semi-pro level available.

Michael at Gifford 2012
image © Ian Henderson

I managed to get 4th the other day in Stekene.
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Jack Barret: early season and Belgium

A junior clubmate of mine is heading out to Belgium in a week to do a Junior Stage race near Liege, followed by the Junior Isle of Man Tour. Both races incorporate prologue TTs and he was looking to borrow time trial kit – a helmet and some wheels. I took the opportunity to find out some more information from him about the trip, so I can share it in a blog post. TT helmets are easy to come by but the wheels could be a big ask, anyway you never know.

Borrow some Zipp 808s? Probably a big ask!

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Legends of Cycling podcasts

Narrated by Graham Jones, former elite road racer and currently race director of the Tour of Britiain, Legends of Cycling is more of a mini radio documentary series than a podcast.

[edit 29/01/2012: it wasn’t the Graham Jones I was thinking of… please check comments to see who the real author and presenter of these podcasts was… apologies!]

The shows start at the very beginning of cycling, with episode 1 spanning the period of tremendous innovation in the 1800s and episode 2 covering the role the bicycle played a major role in breaking down late Victorian barriers of gender, class and race. While interesting, I liken these shows to the early chapters of a biography that you skip over to get to the good bit. I listened to them once though, and they are short enough (less than 10 minutes) to be an interesting “bite size listen”.

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Pic of the day: tan lines

Summer is here and if we are lucky, July and August give the Scottish cyclist a rare chance to build their tan lines for a few days. In fact, this summer has been unusually fine, so Scots may be beginning to build up a nicely defined line between their default pasty-white complexion from the light beige skin tones achieved during summer.

Pic: Finlay Young‘s photos on Facebook.
Models: Dougie Young and Michael Nicholson- racing in Belgium for the summer

Interview: Jack Barrett

It’s happening embarrasingly frequently at the moment, but I was inspired by a post on Veloresults again- an interview with Glasgow Wheelers rider Dougie Young, who is going to Belgium for 9 weeks this summer. A rider I know a little more closely, Jack Barrett is also racing abroad this summer so I thought he deserved a bit of exposure too.

How old are you now- have you left school?
I’m 17. I’ve just decided to stay on for 6th year. It’ll give me a bit more stability, and also I will be quite flexible with my time so will be able to train.

You’ve improved a lot this year- how did you manage it with school?
In the winter when it was dark, I was getting up early to spin on the turbo in the morning- which meant I was falling asleep a bit in class in the afternoon! Other than that it was just long winter runs, training with the fast guys in Stirling Bike Club, and then chaingangs and lots of racing.

Jack Barrett, 18th- Super6 Sam Robinson

So what are your plans for the summer?
I’m away too do a French Stage race a week on Friday (the Tour Valomrey) – I got selected to go as part of a Scottish junior team. It’s a four-day stage race in the Rhone-Alpes. It’s very hilly, each stage is 100k and there are some 1st category and hors category climbs in it.

Which other riders are on the team?
Matt Hamilton, Grant Ferguson, James Smith and Taylor Johnson. It’s an U18 team and selection was pretty close, so I’m really pleased to be going.

Were there any results in particular that qualified you for the team?
No- it was a bit of everything really. I enjoy getting in breaks and taking part in the race, even if the final result doesn’t always come off. Scottish Cycling look at your motivation and teamwork as well as your actual results. Your mental approach is important too.

Chasing breaks for Stirling BC contender Rob Wilkins, Dundee Stage Race

What’s your best result so far though?
Probably last weekend at the Arthur Campbell, where I got top 10. It was on the Anderside course that is used for the national championship.

Back to the French race: what are your expectations and goals? It sounds really tough!
First of all, just to finish really, but I’d like to take part in the race, work well with the team and help Grant, who come from a mountain biking background and is a strong climber. He rides for Dooleys and was 12th in the Davie Bell the other week.

The Tour Valromey in the Rhone-Alpes: proper mountainous country

Stage 2 profile: 100km and two big climbs

Then you’re going to Belgium?
I’m getting dropped off in Belgium after the Tour Valromey and staying in a youth hostel there from July 15th till about the 31st, not far from where Dougie and Finlay are staying.

After that some of us are going to try and join a Scottish track training camp in Alkmaar. We’re hoping to get a ride if we ask nicely! I don’t know too much about it but I expect guys like Evan Oliphant and James McCallum will be there trying to hone their track form for the Commonwealth Games.

Have you done much track then?
Not a huge amount but I’d like to get into it. I’m doing the track championships later in the year down in Wales- the pursuit and the scratch race or the points race. After that I’ve got the Tour of Wales- it’s really busy but I’m excited about it.

Jack racing in a team of Scottish Juniors in Tour of the Isle of Man

I was going to ask you about cyclocross but it sounds like you’ll need a rest in the winter!
Yes, I’ll probably have quite a quiet winter, take a wee while off and maybe do some cyclocross later on.

Plans for next year?
Just more of the same, and move up a level!

Young Scots in Belgium

A few young Scottish riders are heading out to Belgium to test themselves in the Kermesses and other local races out there.

Dougie Young and Finlay Young are the first two out there: Dougie is a former clubmate who scorched me and many others in last year’s hill climb (bottom image), while I have had the honour of being soundly beaten by Finlay (and most of the rest of the field, if I admit) in a cat.3/4 race early in the year.

You can read more about Dougie and Finlay on veloresults, while the trip in general is covered by a thread on the Braveheart forums, which will have reports of the races they do.

As Callum Gough said, they will hone their legs and Belgian neck: “the ability to stretch your neck out at 45 degrees to see up ahead whilst riding in the gutter, keeping your bike straight, and holding a wheel at 50k per hour one cm from the wheel in front and ignoring the 5 foot dyke to your right.”