Waregem 1957: the second Worlds in Flanders

Friday 10 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: Waregem 1957.

Seven years after Moorslede, Flanders was given the opportunity to host the UCI Road World Championships again. This time around, Waregem was the epicentre of the festivities. Just like seven years earlier, a Belgian was able to win the rainbow jersey again, and before a home crowd at that. A remarkable feat given that the competition within the Belgian team was fierce and even greater than the competition with the other countries.

(c) Presse Sports
(c) Presse Sports

Rik Van Steenbergen and Rik Van Looy were the two figureheads of the Belgian team but they were anything but friends. Rik Van Steenbergen had already taken home the championship title twice, including the previous year, in 1956, on the streets of Copenhagen. That year, the 33-year-old rider could feel the young Rik Van Looy breathing down his neck. He had namely finished second, after Van Steenbergen, the previous year. Perhaps the roles would be reversed in Waregem.

The previous evening, the two riders had agreed that they would not ride behind each other. They were not interested in a scenario whereby they would both lose out on the title by competing against each other. So when Van Looy broke clear from the pack, Van Steenbergen stuck to his word. He tried to counter, but when he noticed that the French rider Louison Bobet was right behind him, he held back.

Van Looy and Marcel Janssens, who had powered on, seemed well on their way to the championship title. But Janssens, who sympathised with Van Steenbergen, did not join Van Looy on his break, much to the latter’s frustration. At the rear, Van Steenbergen was able to convince Fred De Bruyne to chase the two leaders. Because Van Looy was not able to make a clean break, the group with Van Steenbergen was able to catch up with him and Janssens. And that is how it came to a sprint, in which Van Steenbergen was the fastest rider. Van Looy placed fourth.

The finish line of this World Championship was situated in the new sports stadium that had been built in Waregem. Afterwards it was renamed the “Rainbow Stadium”. Football club Zulte Waregem still uses it to this day.