Ronse 1963: 3rd World Championships in Flanders

Wednesday 15 September 2021

The outcome of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships road races will be decided in Flanders at the end of September during a jubilee edition. The 100th anniversary of the battle for the rainbow jersey is the seventh World Championship to be organised on Flemish soil. The previous six World Championships in Flanders have gone down in the annals of cycling history. Today: Ronse 1963.

By the time the UCI Road World Championships came to Belgium for the third time around, Rik Van Looy had already been crowned world champion twice. In 1960 and 1961, he was the fastest in a larger group. After his missed opportunity in 1957, Van Looy hoped to take the World Championship title in front of a home crowd. His opportunity came when the 1963 World Championships were organised in Ronse.

Van Looy had learned the hard way in 1957, when he made an agreement with Van Steenbergen and how the latter had interpreted this agreement to not ride behind each other. The previous evening, Van Looy therefore made an agreement with all the other Belgians to help him to his victory. In exchange, he had promised them a large sum of money. But one of them would betray him the next day, by sprinting past him in the last metres to the finish line.

© Presse Sports
© Presse Sports

Which also explains why the 1963 World Championships are still known as “The Betrayal of Ronse”. All the signs were that the race would culminate in a sprint. Tom Simpson was the first to break clear early on in the race. Gilbert Desmet, Van Looy’s lead-out rider, followed in his wake, with Van Looy close behind, resolutely taking the lead of the breakaway group. But Desmet was a team member of Benoni Beheyt. Their team leader had hatched a plan to crown Beheyt world champion, rather than Van Looy.

Because Van Looy led out the sprint too early in the race, Van Looy had no choice but to follow suit. As a result, the two-time world champion wrecked himself with the effort. Suddenly, however, Benoni Beheyt popped up, seemingly out of nowhere. Van Looy tried to prevent him from cycling past by zigzagging, but to no avail. Benoni Beheyt beat his team’s main man and was crowned world champion for the first time.

Afterwards Van Looy and Beheyt had a bitter quarrel, because Van Looy felt that Beheyt had stolen his third World Championship title from him, and before a home crowd at that. The next year, Van Looy’s team made a concerted effort to ensure that Beheyt would not win a single race.

First women’s World Championships on Flemish soil

As the women’s World Championships were only organised for the first time in 1958, fans would have to wait until 1963 before a female world champion was crowned on Flemish soil. The sixth women’s World Championship was held in Ronse, just like the men’s. Nobody was able to break clear on the 66-km long circuit. As a result, sixteen riders sprinted against each other for the World Championship title. Yvonne Reynders was the favourite for the title and was able to take it home. She proved the faster rider in the sprint, beating her compatriot Rosa Sels and the Soviet-Russian Aino Puronen.

© Presse Sports
© Presse Sports