|Belgium is one of the few countries where cycling is the number one sport (although it does have to share the spot with football) and I am very proud to call this my home country. In the course of the years, many great cyclists came from Belgium, the first one that springs to mind of course is Eddy Merckx, but there are many others like Roger de Vlaeminck and Rick van Looy to name just two.
In May this year, we will lose one great rider, Andrei Tchmill and maybe(!) another one, Johan Museeuw, at the end of the year. But let’s not dwell too much over this as I bet there will be lots of younger riders who will do their best to follow the footsteps of those great riders we have had so far.
For example Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Ranked fourth in the UCI-ranking for juniors and winner of the golden medal TT in the last world championships, he is definitely to keep on eye on in a few years. Or the 21-year old Tom Boonen. In the opening weekend in Belgium for the cycling season, Tom managed to ride in the spotlight in both races, Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. He is now part of the US Postal team and feels very much at ease as I noticed in an interview after Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, where he finished 7th at only 8 seconds from winner Jan Kirsipuu.
But let’s not forget the riders that are ranked highest in the UCI-ranking for pros. Nico Mattan (Cofidis) is ranked highest for the moment, 15th, while for the next Belgium rider in the ranking we already have to go to place 36 for Serge Baguet (Lotto). Serge especially made it into the spotlights after winning a stage in the Tour de France last year.
One we should definitely keep an eye on next year is Rik Verbrugghem (Lotto). Although he is only the fourth ranked Belgian rider according to UCI-points, he is the one with the most remarkable results last year. First he wins the Fleche Wallone in a very convincing way, after which he wins the Critériun International and goes on to win the prologue of the Giro d’Italia. He stayed in pink for several days and enjoyed those very much, even though they were full of crashes. He also managed to win the first stage win for Lotto in the Tour de France in a very long time.
Peter Van Petegem, one of the new members of the Lotto-Adecco team, managed to win the first race of the Belgian cycling season: Omloop Het Volk. Peter will definitely be the man to watch during the classics. He is only ranked 50th according to the UCI, but a lot of this has to do with the fact that he was a member of the Mercury-Viatel team that got dismantled halfway through the year, as there was no more money. Let’s hope he has better luck this year with Lotto.
Another special case in Belgian cycling is Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre-Daikin). He’s the kind of rider that can’t stay in the back for very long if he feels good. Some people adore his way of racing even if that doesn’t give him a lot of victories. He just needs to show and pull at the front if he has the legs. Nobody will forget how he did so much work together with George Hincapie of US Postal at Paris-Roubaix and eventually had to fold for the overpowering Domo-Farm Frites team.
So far, the riders I have talked about were mainly Lotto-Adecco since this is the best placed Belgian team. But there is also another division 1 team - Domo-Farm Frites. One of the top Belgian riders at Domo is of course Axel Merckx. Yes indeed “son of,” but he has proved himself enough to call him Axel instead. In 2000, he won a mountain stage in the Giro d’Italia and although he was a little bit disappointing in amounts of victories last year, he has ridden some nice races and worked very hard for his team during the Tour de France.
Johan Museeuw is the other top Belgian rider at Domo. A class of his own you could say. He has made a terrific come back twice already after two incredible accidents, no one can stop that guy. Last year he could have won Paris-Roubaix if he hadn’t punctured so many times on crucial moments. Some magazines even call him Mister Paris-Roubaix because he has had so many chances of winning this beautiful cobbled race. Museeuw will be in my spotlight for the Tour of Flanders, 14th April, and Paris-Roubaix, 21st April.
There are so many good Belgian riders, I thought this would be a rather short list, but there are still so many names I haven’t mentioned here so far, like Stive Vermaut who made a terrific performance during the Tour de France 2001, or Leif Hoste and Dave Bruylandts and many others.
Let’s hope we all get to see those riders in their own moment of glory and let’s hope they win lots of races.
I also hope that you will all enjoy the new – and improved – Daily Peloton. I will be responsible for maintaining the Belgian section of this site, which I think will only exist later on as the official kick-off still needs to come, but for now, I will do my best to keep you updated with the Belgian news.
Before I leave you to explore the rest of the site, I would like to ask to anyone with cycling interests living in Belgium (Dutch or French-speaking is good enough) if they are interested in writing for the Daily Peloton. You don’t need to have a writing talent, just the love for the sport. If you are interested, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I check my mail quite often so you can expect an answer soon after. It would be really great to share our advantage with all other curious fans.
See you on the Daily Peloton!
a.k.a. Official Angel of the Daily Peloton