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Brabantse Pijl (Flèche Brabançonne in French), Wednesday’s mid-week semi-classic race, marks the transition between the cobbled classics and the more selective, hilly races in Dutch Limburg and the Belgian Ardennes. Here’s everything you need to know.
By John Wilcockson with images from David Stockman/Getty Images
(Flèche Brabançonne) • Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Men’s Start: Leuven. Finish: Overijse. Distance: 202 km.
Women’s Start: Lennik. Finish: Overijse. Distance: 127 km.
First held in 1961, the Brabantse Pijl (Flèche Brabançonne in French) traverses the Flemish- and French-speaking parts of the Brabant region in central Belgium. The race first started in Zaventem, near Brussels Airport, but moved to Leuven (Louvain in French) in 2008; while the finish was moved from Alsemberg to Overijse in 2010. This semi-classic was upgraded to the UCI ProSeries last year. It acts as a transitional race between the cobbled classics and the more selective, hilly races in Dutch Limburg and the Belgian Ardennes and has always favored riders who can both climb and sprint. Though the Brabantse Pijl has been won by such Belgian icons as Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens and Roger De Vlaeminck, the rider with most victories is a lesser-known Belgian, Edwig Van Hooydonck, who won the race four times between 1987 and 1995. Just as the race traditionally ended with multiple laps of a hilly circuit at Alsemberg, it now uses an even more demanding finishing circuit created by the organizer at Overijse. The women’s race was added in 2018.
From the start in Leuven, the course heads southwest to Waterloo before a turn to the north for two laps of a hilly 15-kilometer loop near Alsemberg. It then heads back on the same roads to Overijse for a circuit finish. There are almost four laps of the 22.6-kilometer loop that features the cobbled half-kilometer-long Moskesstraat, 11 kilometers from the finish line. All told, there are 27 climbs in the 202 kilometers, more than enough to separate the best climbers from the rest—especially as there’s also an uphill finish. The women ride a lap less of the finishing circuit than the men.
Belgians such as Tim Wellens are a constant threat on a course like this, while all-terrain sprinters Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli can’t be ruled out. But with past winners Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel unlikely to start this year, it may give an opening for new British phenom Tom Pidcock to grab a prestigious win. In the women’s race, perhaps Aussie Grace Brown can repeat her solo victory of last year.
RECENT PODIUMS (MEN’S)
2016 1. Petr Vakoc (Cz); 2. Enrico Gasparotto (I); 3. Tony Gallopin (F).
2017 1. Sonny Colbrelli (I); 2 Vakoc; 3. Tiesj Benoot (B).
2018 1. Tim Wellens (B); 2. Colbrelli; 3. Benoot.
2019 1. Mathieu van der Poel (Nl); 2. Julian Alaphilippe (F); 3. Wellens (B).
2020 1. Alaphilippe; 2. van der Poel; 3. Benoît Cosnefroy (F).
RECENT PODIUMS (WOMEN’S)
2018 1. Marta Bastianelli (I); 2. Leah Kirchmann (Can); 3. Marianne Vos (Nl).
2019 1. Sofie De Vuyst (B); 2, Marta Cavalli (I); 3. Coryn Rivera (USA).
2020 1. Grace Brown (Aus); 2. Liane Lippert (G); 3. Floortje Mackaij (Nl).