The early 2000s were great years in cyclocross, because at any given race, there were a more than a half dozen racers who could ride away to glory.
Belgium had two generations of racers battling for supremacy, with World Champs and rivals Erwin Vervecken and Mario de Clercq, and a new crop of stars that included Sven Nys, Bart Wellens and Tom Vannoppen.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands featured Richard Groenendaal, Gerben de Knegt and Wim de Vos, while Italy’s Daniele Pontoni could never be counted out.
It was an exciting time, not only for the great racing, but due to plenty of inter-Belgian-team politics. Trade team alliances came into play during World Championships, and Belgian “teammates” chased down each other for a chance at the rainbow jersey.
The 2002 and 2003 UCI Cyclocross World Championships were both dominated by the Belgians, with podium sweeps, but the 2002 event in particular featured plenty of attacks, tactics and some whisper campaigns.
The Belgian documentary show called “De Flandriens van het veld,” in a format that feels a bit like CBS’ 60 Minutes or ESPN’s Outside the Lines but without the focus on doping, revisited the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 cyclocross seasons in 2012. Cycling reporter Michel Wuyts assembled the cyclocross stars to recall the tumultuous seasons and era of Belgian-dominated World Championships.
The years were filled with plenty of controversies—not off-camber wheel spinning ones—but infighting between Belgians.
The documentary’s website describes some of the cyclocross scars that never healed (translated):
“Erwin Vervecken felt cheated after the World Championships in Poprad. He called Mario De Clercq, who was World Champion, a bastard, and now explains why. After the World Championships in St. Michielsgestel, Belgians Sven Nys was called a traitor…an accusation which still lies in his stomach today. What happened then exactly?”
Belgian strategy and teamwork has certainly become more cohesive and cooperative since this era. In 2009 the team worked together to ensure Lars Boom would not repeat as champion, while on the women’s side this year in Bieles, Ellen van Loy revealed the Belgian team had a plan, and she followed her pre-race instructions to a T.
Even if you don’t speak Dutch, it’s a fun watch to see highlights of the racing during an age of aluminum Empella and Colnago bikes, inline brake levers and Boston Cross hats.
Go back 15 years and relive the two seasons in the video below.