What is a Kermesse?
A kermesse (also sometimes written as kermese or kermis) is your standard race for a cyclist in Belgium. In Belgium racing is pretty much summed up into two categories, Elites with contract (professional) and Elites without contract (amateur). There are also masters (30+) races available to racers, but not nearly as many as the Elite Z/C (zonder contract or without contract) races. You also have open “Gentlemen” races (1.18) which are shorter at 80km’s, but are sometimes just as hard as an amateur race. The same goes for the masters races. You can find a full listing of the different categories and who races what on the Racing Categories page of our guide.
In general a kermesse will be between 100km’s and 120km’s (62 miles to 75 miles) and usually 8 to 20 laps. There can be as little as 30 riders, but typical races will attract around 100 riders, while some races will see upwards of 200+ racers during the start of the season.
How to Find Kermesse Races
If you would like to find a listing of bicycle races in Belgium the website of the Wielerbond Vlaanderen is your point of reference for Flanders, and the FCWB website for Wallonia.
For the Wielerbond Vlaanderen (Flanders region races) see our Finding Races in Belgium page and follow the instructions on the page.
How to sign up for Kermesse Races
Be sure to have a map printed out of the location of the race. DO NOT THINK IT WILL BE IN THE TOWN CENTER. Often they can be on the outskirts of fairly large towns. You don’t want to be spending your time searching for the race when you should be relaxing before the race.
If worse comes to worse you can try to look on the back of the advertisement boards as you come into a town that will say “Stratenplan op anderen kant” and will have a city map to help guide you.
The name of the sign up place is the “Inschrijving” which is usually a small, smoky bar or the building attached to a soccer/football field. Sometimes the place you sign up at and the place you pick up your money and return your number can be different, so just be aware. Once inside present your UCI International Racing License (with photo) and your letter of authorization to ride abroad to the officials. YOU WILL NEED THIS LETTER. If you forget it at home they WILL NOT LET YOU RACE. Also be aware that if you race for a UCI Trade Team you can no do a standard 1.12A or 1.12B kermesse race!
After you hand your license over, you sign next to your assigned number, pay for the race and then receive your number. That is it. Simple, fast and easy.
BE SURE TO BRING YOUR OWN SAFETY PINS! THE RACE ORGANIZERS NEVER HAVE ANY.
You will also need to be sure to RETURN YOUR NUMBER after the race. Numbers here are usually Vinyl and reused for years. If you forget to return your number you will be fined and possibly barred from racing until that fine is paid. If you pay just 3 euro for the race and the number is paper, you don’t need to return it.
License Requirements for Racing
Racing in Belgium requires a UCI International Racing license as a foreign rider. If your countries international UCI racing licenses are expensive, due to insurance reasons, you can try speaking to a Belgian team about getting a Belgian license (which are approx. €150.00). Also with a Belgian license you will be able to do Pro Kermesses races with the professional racers, but these races are quite fast and usually 180km’s. Be aware that the Belgian Federation is becoming stricter with foreign riders in regards to licensing, so you may run into problems (ie. You will need to be registered with the local municipality as a temporary resident in order to be issued a Belgian License).
You will also be required to bring a “Foreign Permission Letter” from your federation. This is a letter of good standing that says you are free to race in Belgium (and separate letters for other countries you might race in … France, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg would be the mostly likely). Be sure to bring this letter with you to every race!
A note for Juniors: On your first race you will be required to buy a Calendar Card. This keeps track of the number of races you do while in Belgium. The Belgian Federation restricts the amount of races that you are allowed to do in a week to just 3 races (and 50 races in a year in one discipline (road, track, cross) and 60 in total. You are also not allowed to race the day before a stage race and in the 4 days following. There is also a restriction to the number of stage races you can do in a year. The week starts on Monday and ends on Sunday.
For 15-16 year old there is a maximum of 2 races per week, and restrictions on the total number of races a year. Age 15 to 16 should come to Belgium as part of a supervised group or team and restrict the length of their trip to less than a month at one time. Experience in Belgium is invaluable, but it’s best to get those first experiences racing here in small doses.
I don’t suggest riders younger than 14 come to Belgium to race, but instead focus on developing in your country. Belgium will always be here and is not a magic formula that WILL make you faster. Belgium is instead a place that can accelerate the progression of a dedicated rider because of the amount of experience you can gain here.
Interclubs are the highest level of amateur racing in Belgium and often sanctioned as ranked UCI races. These races will still include Division 3 or Continental Teams as they are considered amateur in Belgium (unless a racer is paid a certain wage, which he is then considered a pro (Elite Met Contract) and cannot ride these races). Anywhere from 155 to 190km’s these are usually long road races with fields of up to 200 racers. The speeds will be quite fast to start, but usually settle down once a breakaway is established. Winning an Interclub, or consistent top placings in these races is a good way to ensure you a place in a pro team for the following year.
Tactics for Racing a Kermesse
It is really hard to say exactly how to approach a kermesse or kermis as they can sometimes be very different, but in general they follow a typical pattern that can be used to increase your chance of making the front group and winning the race.
For the most part in the kermesse races you will have a VERY fast start, with the first half hour being the hardest part of the race. So be sure to be ready from the gun, properly warmed up and with your mind in race mode, ready to suffer. There is usually no easing into the races in Belgium.
I’ve found that people are usually fresh enough in the first 30 minutes that a breakaway doesn’t have a chance, but come the 45 to 60 minute mark when riders start to get tired is when a breakaway will establish. This is about half the time the winning break. The rest of the field will chase in vain with all the horsepower up the road.
Now if the riders up the road aren’t working well together, or a few of the big names missed out on the break, it will usually come back after an hour. It’s at this point that you need to be VERY attentive as a breakaway will usually go right after they are caught (if your group worked at it’s limits to bridge the gap) or a little bit after, maybe 10 to 30 minutes if the group is a bit fresher. This second break will almost always, 90%, stay away and be the winning break.
There are times when the race does come down to a field sprint for the win, but it’s usually a greatly reduced field or a “large” breakaway of riders.
Almost all races take around 2.5 to 3 hours; your energy drink and food for the race should reflect this length of time.
As a side note, placing well in a kermesse with good riders can be just as helpful in getting a contract as an Interclub. Many of the racers in the kermesses are either past professionals or full time amateur racers who are good enough to be a pro, but prefer to race the amateur level. Some of them were winning races even before I first came to Europe in 2002, and are still racing and winning today. I finished an Interclub, of 175km, before I finished a kermis to give you an idea of how demanding they can be … go figure.
It should also be said that ALL races in Flanders are subject to POSSIBLE dope testing, including amateur races. So it is important to stay until the end of the race to check if the doping bus shows up (or any other doping agency). There will be an official list posted on the doping bus and the start/finish with the listed riders. Be sure to show up with your passport and racing license. You are also allowed to have a team director accompany you along with a translator if necessary.
For a list of prohibited substances see: