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Cyclo-cross is probably the fastest growing cycling discipline worldwide but in Belgium it’s almost a religion. The sport has tens of thousands of fans who gather around the tracks with national flags. Many of them are dressed in funny costumes and root for their favourites dashing down the course. About 60 thousand spectators of all ages are due to show up this Sunday, November 20th, at the World Cup race in Koksijde in Belgium.

The event is renowned for its North Sea dunes, which dominate the 2890-meter long course at the military airbase. There’s no other World Cup race with so many sand sections that make the course very technical. If the weather happens to be as foul as last year, which is possible according to the latest forecast, mud sections will make the race extremely difficult. The first edition of the Flemish Dunes Cross took place here back in 1969.

Dutch cyclist Lucinda Brand lies on the ground after finishing the Women Elite European Cyclocross Championships at the second place, on October 30, 2016, in Pontchateau, France.
Dutch cyclist Lucinda Brand lies on the ground after finishing the Women Elite European Cyclocross Championships at the second place, on October 30, 2016, in Pontchateau, France.

This time, a great battle is expected between UCI World Champion and current World Cup leader – Wout Van Aert from Belgium and Dutch Champion Mathieu van der Poel who returned to racing at the beginning of the last month after knee surgery.

It’s not just a race, experts agree, but first and foremost it’s a real national festival with an incredible atmosphere. Trucks, stands and tents are selling Belgian waffles, fries, Frikandel sausages, and Belgium beer which is almost as worshipped as local cycle-X heroes. Actually, the two major dunes on the loop are named after Belgian competitors Paul Herygers and Niels Albert who won the World Championships here in the past.

A short look into the result tabs reveals there are 11 riders from Belgium among Top 20 in the actual UCI World Cup ranking. Roughly half of world cup races in recent years was held in Belgium. In this season alone, there are going to be two more cup races here and also many others nearby, such as this years’ Hoogerheide in Netherland, which can be reached by car from the border in about half an hour.

However, the UCI authorities try to export the series overseas as much as possible. The 2016 – 2017 season was kicked off at the end of September by the spectacular CrossVegas night race in Desert Breeze Park near the famous Strip in Las Vegas with more than 12 thousand spectators watching. Just three days later the best cyclo-cross riders in the world battled each other at the Jingle Cross Iowa City at the race which became the largest cyclo-cross festival ever held in North America. Cyclo-cross world cup returned back to Europe in October with the recent event in Valkenburg Provincie Limburg, Netherlands.

Belgian Toon Aerts pictured in action during the 53rd edition of the Jaarmarktcross in Niel, third stage of the Soudal Classics cyclocross competition, Friday 11 November 2016.
Belgian Toon Aerts pictured in action during the 53rd edition of the Jaarmarktcross in Niel, third stage of the Soudal Classics cyclocross competition, Friday 11 November 2016.

Besides Iowa City in the USA, the fifth round in Zeven (Germany) and the eighth round in Fiuggi-Roma (Italy) are part of the World Cup for the first time. In this moment, there are 6 more events coming this season. The World Cup race in Koksijde will be broadcasted by International Cycling Union YouTube Channel. You can check it out HERE.