The world over, there are local communities with weird traditions – and sometimes, happily, those eccentricities overlap with cycling.
Take, for example, a tiny pocket of Belgium – specifically the West Flandrian town of Sint-Eloois-Winkel (population 3,800) – where they have raced horses and buggies down the main street almost every year since 1857. Over the years, roads have evolved and so have attitudes to animal rights, and the Winkel Koerse race has adapted to survive; it’s now the only such race left in Belgium. Every October, they bring in mountains of sand, dump them on the street, flatten them out, aim for a festival atmosphere – and as part of the festivities, they get a prominent pro (or ex-pro) cyclist to race against a horse.
Past participants in the horse vs. cyclist race include Nico Mattan and Robbie McEwen, along with some lesser-known local luminaries. The 2022 edition – pictured above – was won by Yves Lampaert, although really, it could be argued that the whole town are the real winners. And the losers? Probably everyone’s livers. And this year, Johan Museeuw.
The Lion of Flanders, as Museeuw is affectionately known, had a long and prosperous racing career winning a World Road Championship and three editions apiece of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, before retiring in 2004. In the time since he’s remained an active presence in the sport, showing up at races and running bicycle tours alongside pros both real and fake. At 57 years old, he’s also stayed pretty fit. But he’s presumably never raced a horse before, leading to this, his downfall.
According to reporting buried amongst exceptionally regional stories on VRT News, Museeuw lost by a few millimetres in a photo finish. “It was really stepping out of my comfort zone. I gave it my all,” he said afterward. “My heart rate was much higher than everything. The intention is to return next year, perhaps to enjoy the side events.”
What side events are those? We’re talking some real small-town fun. The program for this year’s festivities kicked off at 2:20 PM on Tuesday, and ran for a full six hours. There were simply so many heats of horses and buggies vs. other horses and buggies. There were big clippy-cloppy Clydesdales clomping down the street in the farm horse category. There was something called “style riding.”
At 4:50 PM, things really kicked up a gear:
Museeuw was up at 5:50, nobly but futilely giving it a red-hot crack, before the curtain was brought down in the ‘Party Village’ by musical acts including ‘Charming Singer Jens’ and Flemish singer/reality TV star (and Het Nieuwsblad favourite) Sam Gooris.
At time of writing, pictures from the 2023 Winkel Koerse hadn’t been uploaded to the race’s website, but having looked through previous editions, I can say with certainty that at some point between Jens and Sam, everybody got absolutely shit-faced.
And if all that – the charming singers, the former cycling pros trying and failing to outsprint horses down a sandy street, the looming threat of a good-time spew – isn’t enough to make you ponder a move to small-town Belgium, I don’t know what more you could possibly need.
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