Belgium’s contribution to sporting history has been pretty limited so far. Freddy Merckx is one of the best cyclists in history, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters briefly topped tennis while the Belgian football team have yet to deliver on their potential. There is one arena where Belgium remains a superpower, punching well above their weight – Motocross.
It seems slightly incongruous for the sleepy, polite people of Belgium to be raging petrolheads, but the country is the most successful in the sport per capita and will forever be linked with the sports history.
In the Beginning
The Belgians have been there since the beginning and it was just outside Brussels that the first motocross was held in 1934. The Zoete Waters – Oud-Heverlee race was the first to be described as Motocross and signalled the start of Belgium’s infatuation with the sport.
The Belgians invented the starting gate that is still largely used today around the world and a Belgian, by the name of Victor Leloup, won the inaugural World Championship and European Champions, with Belgium dominating the early years of international competition.
To this day Belgium remains the most successful nation at the world championships with the most winners in each class (500cc, 250cc and 125cc), 15 world champions, 56 world titles and 133 medals in total.
Other than a period in the sixties in which Swedes were the dominant European riders, Belgium has largely remained top of the European Motocross tree. The reason for this is a chicken and egg situation fuelled by the sheer amount of facilities and the incredible mainstream popularity of the sport. During the seventies, where at least one Belgian rider featured on each World Championship podium for a decade save for one occasion, Belgium boasted 60 MX tracks for training and competition, more than any other country in Europe at the time and unheard of for a country of 11 million people.
In the years that have followed the 1970s the Belgian government began to tighten restrictions on the permits required for Motocross tracks which lead to many facilities closing. By 2000 just six permanent tracks remained, a crisis that prompted government action to reverse the decline. Despite opposition from environmentalists, the sports ministry was compelled to take action and there was increased investment by the government in several new tracks around the country.
Belgium’s Motocross fraternity still wants more to be done and have mounted several large protests in recent years, including one in 2009 when over 2000 riders held a huge demonstration in the country’s capital, Brussels. Despite these ups and downs Belgium has consistently produced incredible world champions..
Stefan Everts is the undisputed king of a long lineage of Belgian motocross champions. Growing up with four time MX world champion, Harry Everts, as a dad would put undue pressure on some children, instead young Stefan was inspired and surpassed his father’s success, claiming a record 10 World Championships between 1991 and 2006. Combined with his 101 Grand Prix wins, Everts is the greatest European rider in history.
Possessing smooth style, effortless control and a unquenchable thirst to win. Though he focused more on the European scene than American Supercross whenever he faced US riders he generally came out on top. His consistency was incredible and in his final title winning season in 2006 he won 14 of the 15 races.
Since retiring he’s gone on to work as race director of the KTM factory team as well as helping to run the Everts MX Camp established by his father, thus ensuring the continuing development of future Belgian Motocross champions.
Motocross de Nations
Belgium has frequently hosted one of the biggest events in the Motocross calendar, the Motocross des Nations, where teams of riders from around the world attempt to bring glory to their nations. Despite its paltry size, Belgium is the third most successful country and often the only team that has been able to break America’s recent dominance.
The Belgian team of Ken De Dycker, Jeremy Van Horebeek and Clement Desalle were victorious in the 2013 Motocross des Nations, bringing to an end the nine year gap since Stefen Everts led Belgium to their last victory in 2004. The trio were greeted with a hero’s welcome upon their return to Teutschenthal in Germany.