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CX Weekend: Farewell to a Champion; Essen on Deck

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RIP Eric De Vlaeminck

Photo from the Patrick Verhoest Collection

Eric De Vlaeminck wins

Photo from the Patrick Verhoest Collection

Cycling lost one of its great stars today, Eric De Vlaeminck, brother of Roger (Mr. Paris-Roubaix) and as big a star in cyclocross as the sport has ever seen, up to and including Sven Nys. De Vlaeminck battled both Alzheimers and Parkinson's diseases later in life and passed away at age 70 today.

De Vlaeminck dominated cyclocross in the late 1960s and early 1970s, winning a now-unfathomable seven world championships and a total of 192 CX races at the elite level, all while maintaining a career on the road as well. Nys, who races 'Cross virtually full time, has passed De Vlaeminck with 287 career wins, but only two world championships. And Nys himself had much to say about De Vlaeminck -- who later became an influential CX coach -- today.

"I got to know Eric at the right time in my career. I was 15 or 16 years old and came from the BMX. Eric has taught me the pure cross technique and also taught me to be maniacally busy with my material."

"I owe him enormously grateful for it, because all the things I learned from him, I use still I combined my past from the BMX with everything I learned from him. Balance on the bike, tubes so limp put that You better ride through the sand, weight, bends, learn fall ... "

"It was a great time. A strong generation too, with guys like Berden, Wellens, Vanthourenhout ... We've all made each other stronger and Eric was the man that led in the right direction."

Eric De Vlaeminck 2007

Photo by Patrick Verhoest

De Vlaeminck lived a tough life, seeing his son Geert die of a heart attack during a race, the dimensions of sadness related to which are perhaps too numerous to count. Earlier this year Roger reported that Eric was not in good health.

Eric and Roger De Vlaeminck

Photo from the Patrick Verhoest Collection

In 1968 Eric (left) was CX senior world champion, while brother Roger (right) won the junior title. The Zolder World Cup event slated for December 26 is annually the GP Eric De Vlaeminck, and will take on special meaning this year, no doubt.

GP Essen

As for this weekend, it's off to the Antwerp area for the BPost Bank Rouwmoer Essen race. A couple years back it was an epic mud pit:

Which is a good thing, because otherwise it's not terribly exciting. There are some forested bits and a set of stairs on the course, but that's it for features. TGSGirl noted last year it could be called the GP Zdenek Stybar since he lives in town, but he never actually won it. Still, Stybs has made this his one CX appearance of the year, so there's that.

Wout Van Aert and Kevin Pauwels are the two most recent winners, and Sven holds the record with six wins, one more than Bart Wellens. One possible reason to watch? If it's not the hardest course, maybe that'll allow Mathieu van der Poel, the current world champion, to find his legs at last? N.b., the race is tomorrow, Saturday, not Sunday. Why is this? Blame Mother ...

Druivencross!

Yes, it's the Mother of All Crosses! Why am I using so many Exclamation Points! I don't know!!!

OK, Overijse may be the mother of races but it's no longer associated with a series. Doesn't matter; it's a very lovely course full of challenges, which is why it's so respected by fans if not series holders (or maybe the race doesn't feel like belonging to anyone, fair enough).

Want to check it out? There is only one edition to watch, the epic 2006 version featuring Superman Sven (but not in a good way), Karate Kid Bartje, and Last Man Standing Lars.

Roland Liboton, who holds the victories record with a stunning 16, says the course will be dry and fast Sunday, despite recent rain events. Here's some graphical stuff:

Druivencross

Druivencross Profile

Van der Poel and Pauwels will be among the attendees, but Nys and Van Aert won't be around. More of the top women are around, minus Sanne van Paassen. Should be fun regardless!