#TeamHUP squad enjoy their Cyclocross, but you could say they’ve not exactly been inspired by quite a lot of the courses they’ve raced this year. No surprise really, when we send them out in the depths of Winter to pedal around in a circle, no features to negotiate, barely any climbing to speak of. UK CX courses seem to be getting more and more conservative, safe and frankly boring for the kids. Not all of course, but more than there should be...

So we decided (at the last minute) to take a trip to Belgium, the home of Cyclocross to see at first hand how they did it at this age, as they do seem to make a habit of producing some quite rapid ‘Cross riders. We also had a couple of Team Darenth’s crack squad with us for the ride, giggles and lots of fun. What could go wrong?

You can find regional Belgium CX races (Veldridjen) on the Cycling Vlaanderen website (search on their relevant age category). Planning ahead is a little tricky, as the events tend to be added to the Calendar only shortly before they run - so ideally plan 12 months ahead if you can, using this years event information to make your decisions.

We were lucky to find an event at Veurne (West Vlaanderen), very close to the French border so only approx 50 minutes drive from Calais and close to the famous Koksijde World Cup course. We made contact with the organisers (they didn’t speak much English, but where there's a will and Google Translate - you can get by just fine).

The event was based in the grounds of the towns leisure centre and by the looks of the set up, you would think it was a round of the adults National Championships! Barriers everywhere, tarmac start/finish straight, beer/champagne tent (yes, really - Cycling Mum’s have never had it so good!) BBQ tent, jet wash/bike cleaning area (free) and PA system for the commentator. All for the kids - no adult race the following day, just for the kids.

Once we arrived for signing-on at 10am, we quickly got the boys ready and out on the course to recce the features - many of which were new to them, this is Belgium after all! It was an absolute cracker, approx 1.5km lap and a technical course - bridge, hurdles (with a slightly longer ‘b-line’ alternative), plenty of steep ramps, bomb-holes, a mud section (flooded with a bowser to ensure mud) closely followed by a sand pit - to ensure it was tough! The tarmac start/finish straight was reminiscent of any UCI World Cup race.

This was going to be fun! They staggered the availability of certain features for the U8/U9/U10 course - but they all still used the bridge/mud/sandpit and the steep ramps - so the little ones definitely didn’t feel left out by any stretch. Age group categories are run in single year groups, making the competition slightly closer, with separate podiums for Girls and Boys. We certainly noticed a much higher uptake amongst the girls, than we often see in the UK. And they were quick too! Fantastic.

The younger (Miniemen, up to 2008) category races ran one after the other starting at 11am, with a short break at lunch before the older categories started at 1.30pm with the Aspiranten (U15’s) then the Nieuwelingen categories. Race durations were listed at: 8yr old: 10´,  9 yr old: 12´, 10 yr old: 15´, 11 yr old: 17’, 12 yr old: 20´, 13 yr old: 22´, 14 yr old: 25´ & Nieuwelingen at 30’.

The younger U8/U9/U10 races were guided round the course first for a sighting lap. Our gang was well looked after, as the organisers knew there was a bit of English translation required for them during the startline briefing and sighting lap. Not a lot needed though, cycling is a universal language all on its own. The Aspiranten categories didn’t get a sighting lap due to their experience, but did have plenty of time to practice the course. They were also gridded by current championship positions, so expect to start at the back as a visitor.

Needless to say, they all loved their races! A long lap, lots of technical features and a real challenge. Barnaby and Noah managed to podium in their races, against some rapid opposition. Little Barnaby’s interview for Belgian TV was mega! Watching 10 year olds bunny-hop hurdles at speed, with ease was quite something. They obviously learn their skills for a reason in Belgium, because they get tested in a race situation. Not merely as a means of keeping the interest level up during coaching!

By the end of the day, they all agreed this was the best Cyclocross ever. They received a really warm welcome from the organisers and other parents and riders - the English visitors were the novelty feature of this particular race. Prizes were handed out to the top 3 at the end of each section of races with podium flowers and medals, plus some cool HUP kit bags on this occasion ;-) The event had a great ‘carnival’ feel to it, with local councillors in attendance and pretty big crowds of spectators, more than you would see in the UK.

Big thank you to organisers Pedro, Nele and Pascal for all their help and for putting on such an impressive event.

To compete in Belgium, you do need prior authorisation from British Cycling (very simple quick phone call and its done) alongside a Belgium Calender Card. These need to be applied for in advance from the Belgium Cycling Federation and can take top to 3 weeks. This posed a problem with our short-notice, so a few more calls to Belgium and the authorisation was granted and passed onto the event organisers in time, just! The Calendar Card is like a log book for young riders, as the governing body sets limits to the number of races they can enter within a given time period - so riders are not racing too often.

UPDATE: from 2019, foreign riders no longer need to apply for a Belgian Calender Card, but will pay €15 per race entry, with €5 refunded after the race.

Worth knowing: there is a 32mm max depth limit for wheels and straight handlebars are banned, drop handlebars only.

Oh, and did we mention…this particular event was all FREE. Yep, we have a long way to go in the UK yet…

Link to the Cycling Vlaanderen event calendar…CLICK HERE and Barnaby on Belgian TV HERE!

Just 5km down the road is the Koksijde World Cup Cyclocross course too - so when in Rome...

 #HUPcc #Cyclocross #CyclingVlaanderen #Veldrijden #Veurne Koksidje