Who: Danny De Bie
What: 1989 Cyclocross World Championships
Where: Pontchâteau, France
Belgium’s Danny De Bie bunny hops a wooden barrier just ahead of Dutch legend Adri van der Poel during the 1989 UCI world cyclocross championships in Pontchâteau, France. The bunny hop proved to be De Bie’s secret weapon on the fast and bumpy course, and the maneuver sprung him to victory at the race’s midpoint.
De Bie came into the race as a second-tier favorite behind reigning champion Pascal Richard of Switzerland and van der Poel, who was in the early stages of what would become a storied career.
Nobody predicted a De Bie victory on that cold day in February, however the course’s design and the early dynamics of the race advanced him to the front. An early crash took Richard out of the front. Then, the course design played into De Bie’s bike handling. Organizers placed 18-inch wooden barriers just after a sharp left-hand turn, which came at the bottom of a grinding hill. Another set of barriers was set up at the top of the hill as one final fitness test for the riders.
De Bie was an early specialist in bunny hopping, and according to American Don Myrah, he was the only rider to successfully bunny hop the barriers during the previous week’s World Cup in Switzerland. At that race, the maneuver wasn’t as crucial, but at Pontchâteau, it was a game changer.
On each lap, riders slowed for the turn, dismounted for the first set of barriers, and then carried their bikes up the hill to the second set of barriers. De Bie, meanwhile, hopped the first barriers and rode up the hill, only to hop over the second barriers again. Time and again he executed the maneuver, and each time it yielded a gap to van der Poel and the other riders behind. Finally, at the race’s midpoint, van der Poel was simply too tired to close the gap, and De Bie powered away. His final margin of victory was 24 seconds.
Decades later, Adri van der Poel’s son, Mathieu, would channel De Bie’s spirit during his own world championship victories. Mathieu van der Poel is perhaps the most successful bunny hopper of the current generation.