Cycling in Flanders is something special. Not only because this is the seventh time in this Belgian region World championships be carried out. But also because cycling is deeply anchored in life here. “Cycling has the status of a religion in Flanders,” says Jamie Anderson. The native Australian is an avowed »believer«, he even benefits from the worship of the bike because he runs a cycling hotel in Flanders. In an advertising brochure for the local tourism association on the occasion of the World Cup, which began on Saturday, he caught the eye with the saying: “When you are out on your bike in Flanders, even the police will smile at you.”
The special relationship between Flanders and cycling can also be seen in the fact that the ascription of being a “Flame” was once an honorific: for the lap hunters of the six-day races who withstood every privation. Later it was considered the toughest classic hunters. Since 2003 there has even been the official “Flame of the Year” award. In 2008 the “Flemish of the Year” was added. The award is published by the daily newspaper “Het Nieuwsblad”, which is influential in cycling. Guys like Tom Boonen, but also foreigners like the Slovak Peter Sagan, the Briton Chris Froome and the French Julian Alaphilippe are now Flemings of honor. In the women’s category, only Belgians have so far won the title, most recently Lotte Kopecky, multiple national champion on the road, former world railroad champion and also captain of the current World Cup selection.
»In Belgium you literally breathe cycling. That’s why it’s great for me to be able to represent my country in a race at home, the course of which suits me very well, “said the 25-year-old in advance. But she also confessed that she had a lot of respect for the pressure of expectations of her compatriots. “The pressure comes from people who are good to me. But that’s not always helpful. I’m trying to ignore that and just get the best out of my abilities, ”she said.
German women can go into competitions much more freely. You have to face the current weaker phase of the male professionals for the Association of German Cyclists (BDR) probably get the chestnuts out of the fire. But what is the BDR compared to Flanders, where each of the approximately 6.6 million inhabitants feels like a cycling expert himself and believes he is in possession of the magic formula of being able to get the world championship rainbow jerseys en masse.
After their sensational gold medal in the Olympic team pursuit race, Lisa Klein, Mieke Kröger and Lisa Brennauer travel to Flanders with great self-confidence. Brennauer was able to confirm her good late form with third place in the European Championship time trial. “The bronze medal is of course motivating,” she said now. “But the competition at the World Cup is even stronger,” she dampened expectations before her first race on Monday. Together with Klein and Kröger, she also forms the jet engine in the mixed relay on Wednesday. Three women and three men each drive down a course together as a team, adding the two times then results in the overall winner. At the European Championships, however, the trio of women competed in a different line-up – only Kröger from the Olympic gold four was there. Nevertheless, it was the fastest in the entire Frauenfeld and thus helped the German team to win the silver medal.
Even in street races, women can calculate more than men. There, the troop around captain Nils Politt belongs at best to the extended circle of favorites. In the time trial, which will open the championships this Sunday, Tony Martin got himself back in shape. “Since I left the Tour early, I’ve been on the time trial bike an average of four times a week,” said the former world champion, emphasizing his efforts. Given the grandiose late form of European champion Stefan Küng from Switzerland, the solid performance of defending champion Filippo Ganna (Italy) and the increased time trial strength of Belgian Wout van Aert, a medal seems illusory even for a highly motivated old biker like Martin.
The German women are better positioned in the time trial with the Olympic champions Brennauer and Klein. The road race on the following weekend is also Brennauer, emphasized national coach André Korff. At the Tour of Flanders, whose profile is very similar to the World Cup course, the Allgäu came second this year behind the eternal dominator Annemiek van Vleuten. The 38-year-old Dutch woman is one of the big favorites this week, but also has to watch out for younger opponents like local hero Kopecky or the strong Danish Emma Norsgaard.
Norsgaard is even mentioned most often as the favorite by her direct competitors. The 22-year-old is a late starter. It wasn’t until 2018 that she started cycling in earnest. This year, however, she made her way into the world’s elite. The fact that her brother Mathias, who is two years her senior, also earns his living as a professional cyclist speaks for good genes. Norsgaard is also in a relationship with Mikkel Bjerg, a great Danish tour talent. For her, the mixed relay with life partner Mikkel Bjerg and brother Mathias becomes half a family business.
Norsgaard was also noticed in the run-up to the World Cup with some thoughtful remarks. She talked about the mental strain that a long season brings with it. And she regretted that the world association did not have any U23 races for women in its program, neither in the world championships nor as a racing category in the season. “The step from the juniors to the elite is therefore unnecessarily tough. It would be good if, like the men, there would be an U23 category that makes this transition easier, ”she told the industry service“ Cyclingnews ”. The Dane explicitly referred to her brother and her fiancé, who were able to go through exactly this gradual development.
The world championships with men and women races in one place at the same time again draw attention to the continuing gender differences in cycling. It would also be a topic for the World Federation Congress, which will be held during the World Cup.