If there’s one country that doesn’t need to worry about attracting a solid crowd of spectators during a busy weekend of national championship cyclocross racing in Europe, it would be Belgium. That hasn’t stopped the organizers of this weekend’s racing in Antwerpen from courting fans with a course that ranges out onto spectacular, and expensive, floating dock mid-race.
The unorthodox nautical feature follows an extended sand section. The course leads down onto the distinctive floating dock section extending out over top of the River Scheldt before returning riders to Antwerpen’s sandy shores.
Sand sections are more common in cyclocross races, especially in Europe. While they are occasionally shoreline sections next to water, that the race actually extends out onto the water.
— WielerFlitsBE (@WielerFlitsBE) January 10, 2020
The feature has led CX Hairs to dub 2020 Belgian nationals “Floaty Cross.” During the race, a VIP barge will be parked next to the floating course section. This ensurs that even if the dock isn’t decisive strategically, it will at least be a lively section of course.
Sanne Cant will aim for her 11th-straight Belgian tricolore in the elite women’s race.
Niels Albert gets first ride. Or first… float?
It was retired Belgian national Champion Niels Albert, though, who had the honour of being first to ride in famous pontoon over the River Scheldt. Albert is the fitting choice for first ride. He won the last Belgian national championships held in Antwerpen back in 2011.
“It looks spectacular, but there is nothing to it,” Albert told Sporza. He dded that he did not think it would be where the race was decided.
— Belgian Cycling (@BELCycling) January 10, 2020
You can preview more of the Belgian national cyclocross course with Niels Albert at Sporza.
Belgium organizers taking cues from Canadian races?
Ok, it’s not likely that the Belgian organizes are tuned into the regional cyclocross scene in on Vancouver Island. But Cross on the Rock did beat the Europeans to the idea of including a dock in a race by just shy of two years.
At PsychoCross in 2018, the course extended out into Lake Cowichan via a long dock section before returning to shore.
Since Cross on the Rock used an existing dock, its inclusion in the race came in far below the rumoured 100,000 Euro cost of the Antwerpen course’s floating VIP section.
You can watch video of the race before. Since the race happened to fall near Halloween, you get the bonus of seeing Cross on the Rocks dressed up in its Sunday finest to celebrate the holiday:
Courting controversy at CX Nationals?
It’s not the only time Belgian cyclocross organizers have stirred debate with questionable or gimmicky course design. In 2017, Oostende hosted Belgian national championships.
The Oostende course a included gigantic flyover into an extended beach section – long even by Belgian standards. The out-sized, novelty fly-over, with its steep 21-degree pitch, caused a public debate about the features safety.
Between team managers, the extended sections of forced running led to pre-race accusations of preferential treatment. It was said the course intentionally favoured fast runners, and disadvantaged slow runners who otherwise would have been favorites to win the national title. This led to a late change in the course, shortening the sand section. Wout van Aert, known at the time for his sand riding skills and running abilities during a cross race, won easily.