Back in 2015, in the lead-up to the 90th edition of Schaal Sels, race organisers knew they had to try something different. The Belgian one-day race had grown stale and was in desperate need of a modern facelift. So, in what can only be described as a masterstroke, they added more than 50km of gravel and cobblestone farm roads to the race, turning it into something of a hybrid between Paris-Roubaix, a cyclocross race, and the local road race it had originally been.
In the years that followed, the reinvented Schaal Sels attracted plenty of international attention. And then, in the lead-up to the 2018 event, organisers made another change: they split Schaal Sels in two.
As race organiser Ben Simons explained, the plan was to maintain the local character of the original event (held around the town of Merksem) while letting the race’s new identity flourish.
“Due to the increasing national and international media attention, it has been decided to make a division,” he said, “which means that further international growth and the local character in Merksem do not interfere with each other.”
The old, pre-2015 race, which began way back in 1921, would continue as 14 laps of a flat, 13km circuit around Merksem. Still called “Schaal Sels”, the 2018 edition was held on August 26 and was won by Timothy Dupont (Wante-Groupe Gobert) in a bunch sprint.
The new version of the race, with its off-road elements, would be hosted by the bigger nearby city of Antwerp and would be known as the “Antwerp Port Epic”. The first edition of that race was held this past weekend and it was every bit as tough and photogenic as the 2015 to 2017 editions of Schaal Sels were.
Starting among the shipping containers of the eponymous Antwerp Port, the 206km race featured 32km of cobbles plus 30km of gravel, grass and other off-road surfaces. Kristof Ramon was there to shoot all the action and, as ever, he did a spectacular job.