Local Info: Heusden-Zolder & Cyclocross World Championships
While much of Belgian cycling culture is based in the Gent-Kortrijk corridor, Limburg Province, on the east side of the country, has carved out its own place in Flemish cycling culture. Recent years have seen the addition of major Cyclocross races such as Zonhoven, Hasslet, and, since 2009, the Zolder World Cup.
Zolder Circuit is a car racing circuit, until 1985 home of the Formula 1 Belgian Gran Prix, but it also has deep roots in bicycle racing, going all the way back to the 1970 World Championships when Eric De Vlaeminck won the 2nd of his six consecutive rainbow stripe jerseys. It also hosted both the 1969 and the 2002 World Road Championships, the latter when Mario Cipollini took his famous win. And this year, 2015, it hosted the BMX World Championships on its shiny new BMX circuit.
The last time ‘Cross World’s came here was in 2002, when Mario Declerq beat local Limburger Tom Vanoppen in a sprint. Fellow Limburg local Ben Berden was 4th that day after suffering two flats. Ben describes this course as “very hard”: “it has climbing, high speed sections, and difficult technical descents with ruts. Any kind of rider can have good or bad luck.” Coming in 3rd on that day was a young Sven Nys – this season’s edition marks his final World Championship race before retiring from racing. For many, seeing Sven’s last chance at the rainbow jersey is reason enough to come to the event.
If you’re making the trip out to Zolder, here are a few tips and suggestions for your visit. Zolder is part of the municipality of Heusden-Zolder, joined in 1977. In reality, it’s a scattering of small towns, and the circuit itself is in the village of Bolderberg, located next to the Albert Canal. Bolderberg is the nearest center of any kind and has multiple frites shops and restaurants.
Bolderberg is also known in the region for its nature walks and hiking. Right in the center of the village is the Domein Bovy, a protected wetlands and hiking area, complete with restaurant, bar, and Belgian ‘pannekoek’ (pancake, a Belgian snacking alternative to waffles) café. And since this is Belgium, there’s heaps of bicycle parking and even an e-bike charging station.
Lying on the circuit itself, above the course and opposite the service pits, is Hotel De Pits, undoubtedly full for the race, but with a restaurant and even spa if you get burned out from all the cheering and beering.
For those looking for something additional to do in the region, or a place to stay, you’ll most likely find it in the city of Hasselt, the capital of Limburg. This city of 420,000 has everything you’ll need in regards to hotels, restaurants, and shopping. Hasselt is a short 15km away from Zolder.
If you fancy a bike ride while in the area, Limburg dubs itself “bicycle paradise”, and the network of cycling routes is very impressive. From the Zolder Circuit you can head out and ride for hours on marked routes without getting lost. Go here – http://fietsnet.be/ – to plan your journey; the routes are marked with small blue signs and a map is at each junction, making it almost impossible to get lost.
And for beer lovers, one of the six Trappist beers of Belgium comes from Limburg – Achel. The shop at the monastery is open five days per week so you can pick up a case of Trappist beer before stuffing your face full of frites and watching the world’s best ‘cross racers battle it out.
This is Belgian cyclocross at its best.