During the winter, and especially around the festive period, I have found it is nigh on impossible to have a conversation with someone about “my cycling”. I’m flattered by everybody’s interest and enthusiasm (even if it is just politeness), but also embarrassed by the lack of coherency when I feebly try to explain what it is I actually do, and how near or far to “being a pro” I am.
Despite having more or less the same conversation with various friends, family and new aqcuaintences on a daily basis, my articulacy is often left waning, so I’ve tried to make things a little clearer in this flow diagram.
SO…starting from the bottom, as I did in 2010 with ‘Flanders Racing UK’, are the many club teams that prop up the entire culture of the sport in the country. From fair weather tourists to ex-pros, this is where the vast majority of cyclists in Belgium – competitive or otherwise – would place themselves. Anyone registered to a club, and in possession of a 5 Euro racing license, can turn up (as they do in their hundreds) and enter on the line for Kermesse, the first level of mainstream racing. Just like the members of the clubs, these are the races that the culture of cycling stems from.
The next level of racing (if Kermesses weren’t hard enough already), is an Interclub. The field is usually made up of the more competitive club teams, BVB and TopComp teams. Held most weekends, they essentially bigger, better, faster, harder Kermesses.
Next we have the Beker van Belgie, or the Cup of Belgium, which technically is a series of 7 races in a league format, held throughout the year, but as with most things on this diagram it’s more of a guage of what level of team and/or racing those riders are at. Here’s where I spent 2011, at ‘Royal Antwerp Bicycle Club’, doing Kermesses, Interclubs, the BVB and 1 Topcomp race as a wildcard. As you can see from the yellow dots, the variety of races available to a BVB rider are quite plentiful. Here’s where it starts getting a little complicated for us English riders though, as foreigners are niether allowed to ride Pro Kermesses (because that’s the NGB rule), or gain points in BVB races (which can subsequently lead to unselections).
Last year, in 2012, I was riding for Viasport-Publie LED. This was a relatively uncommon situation where despite being niether an official BVB or TopComp team, we had a calendar which was somewhere in between the two. Without automatic qualification for certain races, the management relied on wildcard entries. The pros of such a situation are that with the right contacts, reputation and wallet size, a pretty substantial program of races can be obtained. The cons are that you can just as easily not gain entry to races, for exactly the same reasons. Despite coming out of last year with a good season under my belt, it’s not a situation I’d like to be in again due to the sheer unpredictability of it.
Moving on to 2013, and to the Top Competition, then. Half made up by the top amateur teams, the other half by the UCI Continental teams that are registered in Belgium. This year I’ll be riding for Terra Footwear – Bicycle Line, along with a few other Anglophones from New Zealand, Ireland, and also some fellow Englishmen benefitting from http://www.daveraynerfund.com/. As you can see from the purple dots on the diagram, our calendar will be based around the 9 TopComp races (UCI 1.2s), with the rest of the program being made up of wildcard entries to BVB races, Interclubs, as well as Kermesses. To add more complications; despite being English, the fact I will be riding for a TopComp team means I’ll be able to ride Pro Kermesses – something that from the presence of red and blue dots on the diagram you can deduce is something I’m looking forward to! We also have a fair amount of stage racing in France throughout the year, but I’ve left the French system off the chart for now – for the sanity of both writer and reader. While on the subject of complications though, again in regards to foreigners – anyone who isn’t Belgian, but rides on a Continental team or higher, is unable to ride Kermesses. This is why I’ve left the green dot out of any box below Pro Kermesses, despite it being perfectly normal to turn up at a regular Kermesse and be lining up with An-Post, Colba, and the like. They will just be the Belgian riders…and the blokes handing up bottles will just be the foreign ones.
Above the TopComp is what I would define as officially “Professional”. Teams in this bracket are legislated to pay a minimum wage of xxxxx Euros to each rider, and as far as I’m concerned if you’re getting a salary to ride your bike, then you are most definitely a pro. Unless of course you have a personal sponsor that is in fact paying your wage to the team in order for you to ride for them, then the grey area starts to re-emerge. But again, I won’t go there.
As you can imagine, any pro team will ride a full pro calendar, but as with the amateur ranks the quality of riders, infrastructure, money, history, and public perceptions will all contribute to what races teams like Topsport, Accent Jobs and Crelan will ride. As the ones on this chart are registed in Belgium, they will almost definitely gain entry to UCI World Tour races that are held here such as the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, or Gent Wevelgem for example. They might not be so confident in gaining entry to races of the same level in say Italy, or Spain however.
The pinnacle of world cycling is, as the name suggests, The World Tour, of which Belgium contributes 2 teams in Lotto-Belisol and Omega Pharma – Quick Step. International teams, made up of the best riders, riding the best races, with all the glitz and glamour of professional sport. This is where everyone back down in the club teams either aspires or has aspired to be, it’s where every chancer in between hopes to one day get to, and it’s where the cherry is put on top of a layer cake of complexities that make up cycle sport….and this is just Belgium.
Epilogue: I hope this makes sense.