Some Behind the Scenes Knowledge of Belgian Cyclocross
Thousands upon thousands of rabid cyclocross fans show up to the elite races each weekend in Belgium and its neighbor Holland. Thousands more people watch the races on live television, and read the analysis in the newspapers each Monday.
As you can imagine, many companies, brands and people have big interests and investment in cyclocross, because of its immense local (and growing international) popularity.
A few weeks ago, we had the chance to spend a weekend around the Zonhoven Superprestige race, meeting people and learning about different companies that support cyclocross in Belgium.
Here’s a quick glance at some homegrown organizations that keep those wheels pushing through the mud and sand.
Ridley is Belgium’s largest homegrown bicycle company. You can’t throw a friet in the country without hitting a Ridley bike. Jochim Aerts was building bikes while he was working for Bioracer in the mid- to late-1990s. He officially launched the Ridley brand in 1997, and the company has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. Today, many of the top road teams sit atop Ridley bikes, and at one time or another, just about every top Belgian bicycle racer in the past fifteen years has ridden a Ridley.
Since it’s a Belgian bicycle company, it’s very closely tied to the sport of cyclocross. Ridley says a staggering 25% of its sales are cyclocross rigs. Currently, two top teams (Telenet-Fidea and Sunweb-Napolean Games) are sponsored by Ridley, and an incalculable number of amateur racers are proud Ridley owners.
Ridley’s flagship cyclocross bike is the X-Night SL, and you can check out our gallery of Tom Meeusen’s (Telenet-Fidea) bike here.
Interesting fact: Aerts was so inspired by the action-packed films of Ridley Scott (and because ‘Ridley’ had a more international ring to it), he named the company after him. Scott, as a bike brand, was already taken.
Until very recently, Telenet was a mobile communications and internet company based in Flanders. While it’s still based in the Flanders, the company recently bought Vier, a local television broadcasting company, making Telenet a complete entertainment brand for the Flanders region of Belgium.
As any wise business would do, Telenet did some consumer research to figure out what its customers are interested in, in an effort to fine-tune its marketing. The results of this research told the company that Flemish people are big fans of cyclocross, road cycling, soccer and tennis – in that order. After analyzing the data, the company decided to invest heavily in promoting cyclocross.
Why not road cycling or the other sports?
Flanders is simply one region of a small country. Yet, cyclocross has an enormous market penetration in that region – and Telenet is based there. The company could dump lots of money into road cycling, but that sport’s reach is too broad, and it wouldn’t deliver a such good return on investment. Soccer and tennis are mighty popular, but more on a national level. While smaller in scale, investing in those sports would still dilute its return on investment.
So cyclocross it is.
To galvanize (and grow) its association with cyclocross, Telenet recently launched a new initiative called Play Sports. While it’s not limited to just bike racing, the endeavor delivers some very in-depth cycling coverage that fans can consume on television or mobile devices, allowing them to never be far from the action (think: in their homes and course-side). In addition to this deep coverage, Play Sports also delivers exclusive content such as behind-the-scenes stories and more.
Another, developing intent of Play Sports is to further engage an audience, and to help make cyclocross become more participatory. As such, Telenet is looking to get Play Sports to be more interactive. That’s why you’ll start seeing more on-bike cameras at the elite races and lots of fans lining up to take laps of the course the day before the races.
And, of course, Telenet is a title sponsor of the Telenet-Fidea team.
Golazo is Flanders-based sports organization founded by athletes that offers quite a broad spectrum of services and products. If you’ve ever done a cyclo-sportiv (the large amateur rides usually held the day before any of the Spring Classic races) in Belgium, you likely recognize the name and logo.
The company’s mission is quite simple and inspiring; “Golazo is our dream. A dream where everybody participates in sports and where sports are part of daily life. In a world where respect, friendship and teamwork rule and where our dream leads to new limits of human capabilities.”
To reach that mission and dream, Golazo extends its offerings to include event management/promotion, athlete representation, hospitality, fitness and more.
Golazo’s most visible, and probably largest, product is its event management and promotion. In addition to organizing tens of thousands of participants at events like the aforementioned cyclo-sportivs, the company also promotes many running races, tennis matches, triathlons and more in Europe. Additionally, larger events…such as the Zonhoven Superprestige, are part of its domain.
Recently, Golazo made some acquisitions and movement in other cycling events in Europe, and is looking to expand its global reach by growing some of these new and established events. One such event is the monumental (stress on ‘mental’) Le Tour de Mont Blanc – a one-day event that sees riders tackle 300 kilometers of riding with 8000 meters of climbing while traversing France, Italy and Switzerland. Exciting, huh? (Tentative plans call for some grit.cx staffers to tackle this absurdity.) Golazo is also involved with the newly-minted UCI Gran Fondo World Series. See WeAreCycling.com for more info on that.
In all, Golazo supports, organizes and/or manages over 200 events across Europe. That includes seventeen ‘cross races around Belgium, as well as large road races such as the Tour of Belgium, the Eneco Tour and more.
Based in Tessenderlo, Belgium, the stated goal of Bioracer is, “To make racers go faster.” I always knew Bioracer was a respected Belgian cycling clothing company, but it wasn’t until their presentation to us journalists in Hasselt did I learn the company’s business goes deeper than just clothing.
Bioracer, founded in 1986, its logo logo can be seen on bike kit everywhere from local cycling club jerseys (like mine, pictured), the pro peloton, to cyclocross races big and small. You also won’t see the Bioracer logo on many pro riders. While the company does have a significant custom sublimation business (for the likes of local teams and clubs), the company also makes special apparel for the best-of-the-best pro riders, but those riders and teams keep their own sponsor logos and names on the made-by-Bioracer clothing. As you may know, this is very common in cycling – everywhere from tyres to frames to shoes.
Though Bioracer started out as a bike-fitting business, and ventured into bicycle manufacturing for a bit, the company is currently Europe’s largest custom athletic clothing manufacturer. In fact, Bioracer touts the fact that its racers have amassed more than 500 Olympic and National medals.
Working towards its goals of making racers go faster, Bioracer understands the principle that the biggest factor in aerodynamic drag on a bicycle is not the machine itself, but rather the rider. Think about it…you can have the most narrow, wind-cutting bicycle out there, but the rider atop it might as well be a giant wall blocking moving air. As a result, Bioracer has developed a line of cycling clothing that greatly reduces aerodynamic drag on the body.
And to work even closer to that goal of helping riders go faster, Bioracer has recently introduced Bioracer Motion. Bike-fitting is important for several reasons, and Bioracer understands how important a proper fit for efficient (and comfortable) motion. But Bioracer Motion is much more than just bike fitting. In addition to actually fitting riders on bikes, this system includes real-time motion analysis, a smartphone app, computer software for doctors and therapists and more – all brought together to get proper position on a bike, diagnose (and prevent) repetitive-stress injuries and optimize the overall speed for athletes. The program is gaining in popularity, and you’ll be seeing some of the top Tour teams use it soon.
Fun fact about Bioracer: German electronic musical group Kraftwerk had its stage costumes made by Bioracer.