Omloop "Het Volk"
|Omloop "Het Volk"|
|Other names||"Het Volk" (NL)|
|First Winner||Jean Bogaerts ()|
|Most Recent||2005 (Nick Nuyens )|
|Most Wins||Ernest Sterckx (), |
Joseph Bruyere () and
Peter Van Petegem (): 3 times
Omloop “Het Volk” (often just called Het Volk) is a European semi classic single day cycle race held in the Belgian province of East Flanders. The race is the opening event on the Belgian cycling calendar and is usually held on the last Saturday in February or the first in March. The race is characterised by cold weather and short cobbled climbs and comes as a complete contrast to the early season training camps of the Italian Riviera or the south of France.
The race was first held in 1945, and is organised by the newspaper Het Volk in response to rival daily Het Nieuwsblad’s running of the more famous 'Monument' Classic Ronde van Vlaanderen. Indeed Omloop “Het Volk” uses many of the same climbs used in the Ronde and is seen as important preparation for the bigger event. In the early days the race was often known as Ghent-Ghent as some newspapers did not want to give their rival any publicity.
Het Volk and the weather
Because of its early season spot in the calendar Omloop Het Volk is often subject to inclement and cold weather. In spite of this, it has had very few cancellations due to snow. The race organisers are reliant on the weather forecasts in the days leading up to the race and will make some adjustments to the course if some of the cobbled climbs are deemed unsafe for the riders. Heavy snow fell the night before the 1955, 1974 and 1988 editions of the race but it was still possible to run the event. The 1971 race was postponed due to heavy snowfalls but was eventually run three weeks later on Thursday 26 March when the organisers of the GP Pino Cerami agreed to move their race to another date. Ironically there was a thaw on the Saturday afternoon of the original date and it was possible to run the following days Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which is always scheduled on the Sunday (the day after Omloop Het Volk). The 1986 edition was the victim of heavy snow and was cancelled with the race organisers deciding not to run the race at a later date because of the expense. It was a similar story in 2004 with race organiser Wim Van Herreweghe saying: "The safety of the riders could not be guaranteed, the snow and freezing cold made the route too dangerous." The 1960 race was also cancelled but this was due to a disagreement between the race organisers and cycling’s ruling body the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The UCI had given preferential treatment to other Belgian Spring classics regarding race dates and riders (Article 108bis), the Het Volk organisers decided not to run their race as a protest.
The cold conditions that the race is usually run under have always favoured the Flemish cyclist and it was 15 years before a non-Belgian won the race, that was Ireland’s Seamus Elliot in 1959. The legendary Italian Fausto Coppi was first over the line in 1948 after dominating the race, however he was disqualified after accepting a wheel change from the Belgian Walschott who was not a member of his team (the rules only allowed assistance from team-mates).
The record for the number of wins in the race stands at three jointly held by Joseph Bruyere (1974, 1975 and 1980), Ernest Sterckx (1952, 1953 and 1956) and Peter Van Petegem (1997, 1998 and 2002). Bruyere also hold the record for the fastest average speed (43.35 km/h) for his 1975 victory.
A whole host of famous names have won the race twice including Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Johan Museeuw. Dutchman Jan Raas took a deserved victory in 1981 after finishing 2nd in 1977, 3rd in 1978, 2nd in 1979 and 4th in 1980. In the 58 editions of the race since its inception there have only been two winners from outside northern Europe: the Italian classic specialists Franco Ballerini and Michele Bartoli.
Het Volk formerly started and finished in Ghent but since 1996 the conclusion of the race has been at Lokeren, 20km to the north east. The starting line is outside S.M.A.K, Ghent's Museum of Contemporary Art, the race then heads south towards the “monts”, the short, sharp climbs that feature in many of the Flemish classics. The Oude Kwaremont is encountered after around 50 km but this 2 km cobbled climb is too far from the finish to be significant. The riders then encounter the savage Muur van Geraardsbergen after 85 km and this can break the race up. The Kleiberg, Eikenberg, Leberg, Berendries and Molenberg are all climbed in quick succession, the Molenberg is the final climb around 60 km from the finish and this short climb which averages almost 10% in gradient can be the launching point for a winning break. The final 60 km have no climbs but are characterised by numerous flat cobbled sections like the infamous Paddestraat at Zottegem, which can be just as decisive as the “monts” as the route twist and turns towards the finish on the Bergendriesstraat in Lokeren.
The book "European Cycling - The 20 Greatest Races" by Noel Henderson (1989) ISBN 0-941950-20-4 (now out of print) was a source for some of this article.
 Official Site in Dutch.