WK wielrennen 1988 - (c) KOERS Museum van de Wielersport (Roeselare).

World Championships Cycling in Ronse, (1963/1988): two tales of drama

Ronse oozes cycling history. The pearl of the Flemish Ardennes has twice hosted the UCI Road World Championships. And that resulted in two extraordinary tales: ‘the fall of Claudy’ (1988) and ‘The betrayal of Ronse’ (1963).

Ronse is a town of modest size, but with an enormous reputation. The city is located in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes, a Valhalla of the cycling world. Ronse is traditionally part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen course and has twice hosted the UCI Road World Championships. Both in 1963 and 1988, the rainbow jersey was awarded there. One time a Belgian won, one time a Belgian hit the ground in the dying seconds of the race. Both events resulted in exceptional tales.

It remains a sad, yet iconic image. With a grimace on his face and the handlebars of his broken bike in his fist, Claude Criquielion stumbles to the finish line of the 1988 World Championships by foot. The Belgian dreamt of the rainbow jersey, but it would remain a fantasy. A few moments earlier, however, his chances looked great. Claudy sprinted for victory against Canadian Steve Bauer and Italian Maurizio Fondriest.

WK wielrennen 1988 - (c) KOERS Museum van de Wielersport (Roeselare).

Our countryman tried to pass Bauer by his right side, in the direction of the crowd barriers. It was there that lady luck left Criquielion. The Belgian and the Canadian got tangled up. Claudy fell, Bauer managed to remain upright, but Fondriest was the first to cross the finish line. The Italian got to take the rainbow jersey home, but the image of the grieving Criquielion is what the world will remember from that day.

And that was already the second time that the world championships in Ronse resulted in an odd tale. 25 years before this debacle, there was also a great deal of drama in the Flemish Ardennes. Back in 1963, the great Rik Van Looy was already a two-time world champion. In Ronse, he wanted to add a third world title to his tally. And he would be supported by the Belgian team: he was appointed the undisputed leader. Or so it seemed...

On the 278-kilometre-long sloping route, the peloton circled through the Flemish Ardennes: via the tricky Kruisberg they headed for the 3-kilometre-long climb Les Quatres Vents, the highest point on this route. Despite a challenging course, the race was heading for a bunch sprint, which would end in chaos. When push came to shove, not all Belgian riders seemed keen on sacrificing their own chances. The 23 year old Benoni Beheyt ignored team agreements, sprinted along Rik Van Looy and managed to beat his so-called front-man with a couple of inches. At that instant, the term ‘the Betrayal of Ronse’ was born.

Collectie KOERS. Museum van de Wielersport (Roeselare)

The two world championships hosted in Ronse ended up in history. If you’d like to relive those times, you can indulge in a reconstruction of the Ronse courses. Download the gpx-file here. But maybe you can try to do it with a little less drama? Thanks in advance.

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