Corey Coogan-Cisek blog - Kerstperiode both stage racing and social events for cyclocross

Corey Coogan-Cisek is racing her 15th cyclocross season as an elite rider. A native of Minnesota, she spends a sixth winter based in Europe. In her blog at Cyclingnews, she shares the discoveries she has made, in words and photos, of being a Belgium-based North American cyclocrosser.

Kerstperiode is a big party for the fans and an exercise in fatigue-resistance for the riders. 

Belgians do holidays in a way we cannot fathom in North America. The country is nearly shut down, as the average Belgian is on holiday from before Christmas through the first of the year. Kerstperiode for cyclocross is an excuse to make the best of the dour weather and party. 

For athletes, mechanics and staff, it is the "stage racing of cyclocross." It has all the physical demands of a stage race, plus horrible weather and massive wear and tear on bikes and clothing. I recall Kerstperiodes of past in a haze of fatigue, mud, and broken bike parts. Pro tip: good luck sourcing broken bike parts in a closed-down country. Bring spares!

In some ways, Kerstperiode has been on hiatus for two years. Per COVID pandemic, 2021 Kerstperiode was extremely limited. Diegem and Loenhout races were cancelled and all remaining races occurred without fans. Last year was nearly as blighted. Diegem was cancelled, Loenhout took place without fans, and GP Sven Nys had fans limited to designated course-side zones. It’s been a long time since we had a true Kerstperiode!

The following is your “viewer’s guide” to the biggest races of Kerstperiode from a rider perspective. I hope you sit back, relax, and enjoy your holiday with cyclocross on television or in person. From the rider side of things, we will race, (try to) recover, and race again in an endless cycle. Come January, we will emerge (mud-covered) and try to catch some holiday celebrations ourselves. 


Gavere is new to the World Cup circuit and new to Kerstperiode. Historically, it’s been held in mid-to-late fall, although it made a brief foray into February last year. The course is on a military base and is known for its greasy mud and climbing. 

Look for a start/finish area that seems it was last paved circa 1980. The surface is more potholes and cracks than road. It takes guts to sprint down it.

World Cup Gavere - Monday, December 26

Elite Women - 1:40 p.m. local time

Elite Men - 3:10 p.m. local time


In Belgium, we consider Zolder "a fast course", so it is fitting it is on and around a Formula 1 racetrack. The ground at Zolder remains rather firm even under massive amounts of rain. Because of the sandy soil, it never gets muddy. Even if it's sheeting down rain, expect riders to be on a “mid tire” (think Grifo) per all the racetrack pavement and ample sand traction. Given the speed, it's usually group racing. 

Zolder has fans aplenty and is a cacophony of noise. However, parking is such that riders can access the course with minimal “fan interference.” That’s a little thing unless you are rushing from warm-up to the start line in a frenzy!

Superprestige Heusden-Zolder - Tuesday, December  27

Elite Women - 1:40 p.m. local time

Elite Men - 3:10 p.m. local time


Diegem is an evening race in a small city just outside Brussels near the airport. As an evening race, the fans are many, many hours drunk before the race even starts. The course is one of two moods: wet and slow (the lower half) or fast and non-technical (the upper half). 

There's a fairly significant elevation change from the bottom half to the top, even though you would not know it from the pace of the leaders! The top also hosts the disco tent. Those in the tent have long since forgotten that there is a race occuring outside. 

Fun fact: several years ago at Diegem, there was a security threat against North Americans. They parked us all in a far corner with a plethora of police. Disconcerting? Maybe.

Superprestige Diegem - Wednesday, December 28

Elite Women - 7 p.m. local time

Elite Men - 8:45 p.m. local time


Diegem was a party, but Loenhout is for day drinking! They start well before noon there. If you go out for pre-ride and don't come back, it's likely you were swallowed by the crowds. Riders are parked on tiny neighborhood streets and the path to the start is a maze of drunken fans. 

The course is traditional Belgian veldrijden (cyclocross, but literally translated as ‘field riding’). It has ditches, hummocks, various types of wheel-sucking mud, and beer cups. Though we've had some cold, dry, firm races of late, Loenhout’s true persona is "tractor-pull mud" surrounded by a party.

Exact Cross Loenhout - Friday, December 30

Elite Women - 1:45 p.m. local time

Elite Men - 3:00 p.m. local time


Though officially called GP Sven Nys, the Belgians call the race "Baal" for Nys’ hometown, where the race takes place. The venue is also home to the Sven Nys Cycling Center, and the addition of a permanent course meant installation of wood fencing surrounding the course. It’s a bit odd (disconcerting) to slip-slide between hard fencing! 

As the first day of the new year, it's also “new contract day.” It can be a bit of a fashion show to see riders on new teams and thus in new kits. However, the first-of-the-year team transitions are less common with many multi-year contracts. Fun fact: the fans all expect new rider cards as of the first.

X2O Trofee Baal (GP Sven Nys) - Sunday, January 1

Junior Women - 9:50 a.m. local time

Junior Men - 11:00 a.m. (not part of series)

U23 Men - 12:15 p.m. local time

Elite Women - 1:45 p.m. local time

Elite Men - 3:00 p.m. local time

Don’t miss a second of our coverage of all the action from this season of Cyclocross with a full subscription to Cyclingnews. Join now.

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Cyclo-cross specialist Corey Coogan-Cisek is in her sixth season of racing full time in Belgium and will be blogging about her experiences as an American immersed in the heart of the 'cross scene. A former cross-country ski racer who competed in the trials for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Coogan-Cisek first raced mountain bikes before falling for 'cross and, each winter, leaves the comfort of home in Minnesota for Belgium where she competes in the World Cup and Superprestige series.