Woensdrecht: a community with a cycling heart

Jan 23, 2020, 15:01 PM

Hoogerheide, in the Netherlands, is the venue of this weekend’s final round of the 2019-2020 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup.


The small village is situated in the centre of the Woensdrecht municipality, a region that has a strong cyclo-cross tradition and encourages cycling in all forms among its population. We take a look at the cycling activities in Woensdrecht, which can be found in the province of North Brabant, close to the border with Belgium.


First of all, it is of note that the municipality has a history of cycling champions that come from, or have roots in, the area: Jan Janssen, Henny Kuiper, Harm Ottenbros, René Pijnen, Gerard Koel, Adrie van der Poel, Mathieu and David van der Poel and Thalita de Jong.


Awarded the UCI Bike City label in 2017, the municipality continues to demonstrate a commitment to cycling.


On 26 January, Hoogerheide will welcome the 2019-2020 UCI Telenet Cyclo-cross World Cup and at the same time host a ‘Calfven weekend cycling festival’ dedicated to cycling for youth and disabled people.


Ahead of the competition, Steven Adriaansen, Mayor of Woensdrecht said: “I am proud that Hoogerheide is again hosting the Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup. For the past 20 years, Hoogerheide has hosted 15 finals of the UCI World Cup and twice for the UCI World Championships (2009 and 2014). In our municipality of Woensdrecht we have all the infrastructure and knowledge for organising this kind of sporting event.”


The region hosted its first cyclo-cross race in the Huijbergen area of Woensdrecht in the 1960s, and since then has gone on to host major competitions including the European Championships twice, and the Dutch national championships five times, cementing a reputation as a strong host of the discipline.


Cyclists well catered for

As a Dutch city, the provision of cycling infrastructure is already high, with cycling in urban areas prioritised in planning and road design. The Municipality is committed to improving the quality of infrastructure and the installation of new lighting. With rivers, deltas, woodland and hills, the surrounding countryside is ideal for a number of cycling disciplines, offering diverse and scenic terrain. There are a number of attractive mountain biking routes developed around the nearby Brabantse Wal, the highest hill in North Brabant. Cycle routes on and off road lead out from Woensdrecht into the green spaces of the Grenspark Zoom Kalmthoutse Heide, the Brabantse Wal, West-Brabant and Flanders, Belgium.


Such routes are designed around themes, presenting riders with a well-signed network, that provides access to cycle facilities such as bike storage, maintenance facilities, cafés, hotels and different attractions. In 2020 a new cycling route marking 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands will be opened, commemorating the history of World War II.


Each year around 20 non-competitive mountain bike tours are organised by clubs and associations, drawing in off-road enthusiasts from both the Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium.


Embracing two wheels

As of April 2017, a bicycle plan has been in place in the city. Proud of having a ‘big cycling heart in the right place’, the plan brings together local public and private players to promote cycling in all forms, working to enhance the provision and options on offer. Reinforcing the passion for cycling, Hans de Waal, Alderman of Woensdrecht says: “Woensdrecht is a true cycling municipality. You are more than welcome to visit us as a recreational cyclist or as a spectator to enjoy one of the many cycling events we host.”


Out of a €41 million annual budget, the Municipality spends €965,000 on cycling infrastructure and €100,000 on cycling events. The established cycling clubs and bicycle-friendly businesses are well known throughout the wider region; contributing towards advancing cycling as a mobility solution and sport.


Investment in new routes is an ongoing priority, with recent years seeing connections made with off-road routes in Belgium and neighbouring Dutch municipality, Bergen op Zoom. In autumn 2018, improvements were made to a cycle route that leads into Belgium.


Focusing on inclusivity and children

A unique feature about Woensdrecht is the existence of a cycling college in the city, the only such school in the Netherlands. Students undertake their pre-vocational secondary education while also taking part in training programmes: this programme is available for the disciplines of cyclo-cross, mountain, road and BMX. Meanwhile, the college also plays an integral role in the local community, offering daily after-school childcare such as mountain and road bike clinics.


In addition, a junior cycling competition is held each year in Hoogerheide, and a junior cycling weekend in the nearby town of Ossendrecht.


Meanwhile, the Decathlon Dikke Banden Race child cycle training project encourages local school children to be active on their bike for sport and recreation.


There is also an acknowledgement of the inclusive potential of cycling, with a Quality Cycling project in place to promote physical activity among the elderly, disabled and low-income communities. This programme provides advice, stimulation, and appropriate cycling training plans, focusing on bringing together participants to improve their health and encourage socialising.


Regular events and races for riders with disabilities are also organised: for example, on 12 June, a ‘unique sports event’ will be held for people with a physical or mental disability, with the participation of the Province of Noord-Brabant and the Grand Prix Adrie van der Poel Hoogerheide organising committee.