Presented by Stijn Knuts

In 1907, Cyriel van Hauwaert wins the prestigious Bordeaux-Paris bicycle race. The young Belgian rider’s French win and subsequent victories launch him into international stardom. Most importantly, his success gives a deciding boost to cycling’s popularity in Belgium, where the previously bourgeois sport became increasingly dominated by working class riders and spectators. Van Hauwaert’s career in the years before World War One and his continuing popularity afterwards offer a valuable perspective on cycling’s social and cultural impact on Belgium. While tracing Van Hauwaert’s competitive engagements throughout Europe and beyond shows how Belgian cycling was an integral part of a commercially driven, transnational sporting network, it is especially in analysing his role as a figurehead of national and regional identities that the sports-historical relevance of his case is revealed. While Van Hauwaert was continuously constructed as a source of Belgian nationalism by the bilingual country’s French- as well as Dutch-language sports press, this role as a source of national pride was tightly interwoven with his presentation as a ‘Flemish lion’ specifically in Dutch-language titles such as Sportvriend. As a strong and successful working class Fleming from its rural, Catholic heartland, Van Hauwaert was thus linked to the quest of the country’s ‘Flemish movement’ for Belgian Dutch speakers’ social and cultural emancipation as a distinct ‘nation’. In addition, both Belgian and Flemish presentations of him were reproduced and given added meaning in his hometown Moorslede and province of West-Flanders, where he was celebrated as a local hero.

Article © Stijn Knuts