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Cyclocross

Iconic cyclocross venues: GP Zonhoven

Zonhoven is known for its precipitous sandy descents. Will Sven Nys be able to add a sixth win to his palmares on Sunday?

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the October issue of Velo magazine, which profiled five iconic European cyclocross venues.

Zonhoven, set on a wide-open sandy heath, is a 10-year-old revival of a race first run in the 1950s. Still, with its two daredevil plunges into a steep-walled, arena-like sand pit, the race has become an instant classic. “It’s like you are racing in a football stadium,” says Sven Nys, the record holder with five wins. “That race is a modern cyclocross like every cyclocross rider dreams of.”

Few races boast a feature as spectacular as the precipitous plunges that throw riders into Zonhoven’s vast sand pit. Crowded with fans, it becomes cyclocross’ gladiatorial arena. Crashes here are often spectacular, though, thanks to the soft sand, rarely catastrophic.

Though a mishap on one of the sandy descents can end hopes for a win, Zonhoven is usually won on the steep, sandy climbs near the end of each lap. A big effort here late in the race can easily put victory in reach.

Past winners:

2014: Kevin Pauwels
2013: Sven Nys
2012: Sven Nys
2011: Niels Albert
2010 (October): Zdenek Stybar
2010 (February: Sven Nys
2008: Niels Albert
2007: Bart Wellens
2006: Sven Nys
2005: Sven Nys