The National Bank of Belgium has unveiled (14th August) new collector coins which are in observance of the centenary anniversary of the birth of one of the country’s most well-known cyclists who achieved world-class standing in the Tour de France. Briek Schotte, who is affectionately remembered as the “Last of the Flandrians” (from West-Flanders) to have achieved such international recognition for his efforts in professional cycling.
The Royal Dutch Mint produces the coins under licensing of the Royal Belgian Mint and on behalf of the National Bank of Belgium. The design is the work of well-known artist Luc Luycx, who includes a head and shoulders portrait of Briek Schotte facing left. He is looking out to another image of himself on a bicycle as if in competition. The text Briek SCHOTTE is placed along the upper edge on the left side with the commemorative numbers 19 and 20 placed one above each other with a larger 19 shown to the right, demonstrating the centenary years.
The reverse side, also designed by Luc Luycx, includes an EU map partially encircled with the words BELGIE BELGIQUE BELGIEN, representing the three official languages of Belgium. The denomination of 10 EURO and the year of issue, 2019, are placed to the right of the map.
|18.7 g||33 mm||Proof||
Available from the 7th September, the Proof quality silver coins are individually encapsulated and presented in a custom-branded Royal Belgian Mint case and are accompanied by a serially numbered certificate of authenticity. For additional information about this coin and other coins issued by the National Bank of Belgium, please visit the website of the Royal Mint of Belgium.
An Athlete of Outstanding Achievement: Briek Schotte (1919-2004)
Alberic Schotte was born 10 months after the end of the Great War in the town of Kanegem on the 7th September 1919. He was one of four sons and six children in the family, and as with many families, after the fighting stopped, life proved a challenge for the Schotte family and for the whole of Belgium. With so many of the biggest and bloodiest battles in West Flanders early on in the war, the people were consumed with rebuilding, while also working to feed themselves in whatever way possible.
The Schotte family managed to live off the wages from his father’s casual labour, and their future looked a bit brighter when the family inherited a small farm in nearby Desselgem. Young Alberic was just four years old at this time, and although they were not well-off, they were now in a better situation than most, but living off the proceeds of the farm meant even the children were expected to do their share of the work.
Young Alberic worked in the fields of his family’s farm after school and on weekends, but it was one event which changed the course of his life forever. Schotte found himself standing on part of the route of the Tour of Flanders, as the impressionable 10-year-old went to watch the race go by, he saw the well-known cycler Frans Bonduel on his way to winning in 1930. Alberic later recalled that he was so excited he couldn’t sleep that night. The drama and speed of the riders, as well as the noise and shouts of the crowd, the coloured bikes, and the jerseys, made quite an impact on him. By morning, he was confident that his future was mapped out, he was going to be a professional bike racer.
He was determined to save money to buy his first bicycle, which, he did after four long years. His new purchase, a second-hand racing bike, a Groene Leeuw, which was Flemish for “Green Lion” (a well-known brand from years ago), had become his pride and joy. The next hurdle would be turning 15 in order to race in competition. One hurdle he did not count on was his father’s opposition to such a pursuit. Believing, as many Belgians did at the time, that professional cyclers were unsavoury, he attempted to throw his son’s bicycle in the rubbish pile. Undaunted by his father’s opposition, who cited the instability of a cycling career, the possibility of crashes resulting in permanent physical disabilities, and the little amount of money involved, Alberic rode his first race two days after his 15th birthday.
Marked out only by beer barrels, the race was held in the centre of the town of Desselgem and included seven riders with Schotte dressed in a white shirt and white flannel shorts. As a nervous competitor, he hit one of the barrels and crashed, but he got up and managed to finish in fifth place — winning the princely sum of 15 Belgian francs — not an inconsiderable sum in 1934. He gave the money to his mother, still helping out to support the family. It was on this day that his dream came true and a pledge made to himself was fulfilled, his chosen career as a professional cycler had begun, and there was no looking back.
It was during his early years as a competitor that his stamina as a young man would be noticed and would earn him the nickname “Iron Briek” (Ijzeren Briek). However, his participation in Flemish cycling resulted in his exceptional records and his very long career. His impressive results would begin in 1935 when Schotte won a total of six races, and seven in 1936. However, at the age of 17, he was needed to work full-time on his family farm. In order to train, he would get up at 3:30 in the morning before work, racing on repaired and re-repaired tires patched up by himself to save money, as he always gave his prize money to his mother. Tires could only be repaired so many times, and early morning training and long hours in the fields would take its toll. Despite winning his club championships in Deinze in 1938, Schotte became exhausted by working racing and training. Sponsorship is what was needed in order to enable Alberic to concentrate solely on his training, but a miracle was needed. Hearing about the plight this young athlete was facing, influential merchants in the town of Desselgem, famous for producing quality linen, took up a collection which totalled 1,000 francs and gave it to Alberic’s father, who could now hire a farmhand full-time and thus free up all his son’s time to train.
This move proved to be instrumental in Schotte’s career. He would later recall, “They all saved my career,” and Schotte would make sure he repaid his supporters by taking his first big win as a professional cyclist right in front of them. At the end of 1939, Schotte earned a place in the French professional team. However, another world war was just on the horizon. By 1940, much of Europe was again in the midst of deadly battle, and once again, the most fierce fighting was on Belgian soil. The championships of Flanders dated back to 1908, and the occupying forces were keen for life to go on as close to normal as possible, and after the invasion, it still wasn’t possible for the race to be held in its traditional town of Koolskamp for 1939 or 1940. Enthusiasts from Desselgem agreed to hold and promote the race in their town with their local hero “Briek Schotte,” rewarding his hometown with a home win by beating the man who had inspired him in 1930, Frans Bonduel. Schotte secured another win in 1942 in the Tour of Flanders, though it wasn’t truly an international race that year. Cycling would not return to an international format again until 1947 when the first post-war Tour de France was held. Schotte won the famous 21st stage when the lead changed hands on the final day, and it would be the Frenchman, Jean Robic who would win the first post-war Tour.
Schotte would, however, become world champion in 1948 and 1950, having won the last stage of the 1947 Tour de France and finishing second in the epic 1948 Tour. He would twice win the Tour of Flanders (1942, 1948), the Paris Tours (1946, 1947), and the Paris–Brussels tours (1946, 1952). He also won the inaugural Challenge Desgrange-Colombo in 1948. The Tour of Flanders got back to full international status that same year, and it was this event where more than 100,000 spectators crowded around the course where Schotte’s technique could be observed in its finest form. The people cheered when he was spotted, similarly to that heard in a football stadium when goals were scored, which provided Schotte with more encouragement and determination.
Appropriately, on his 40th birthday, Schotte retired from professional racing in 1959. For a considerable time, Briek Schotte was the man generations of Flemish riders were compared to and looked upon for inspiration and determination. He served as the Flandrian team coach for 30 years. As a manager, he accomplished coaching his riders to 11 podium places and five victories in his favourite race — an incredible combined record. As a strange twist of fate would have, Schotte died on the day of the 2004 Tour of Flanders. Even the commentators on the day could not help but mention the symbolism by announcing his death and adding, “God must have been one of Briek’s greatest fans.” As a tribute to their local hero, a monument of Briek Schotte stands very near the Central Square in the town of Kanegem. The statue depicts Briek on his bicycle at the height of his career and continues to serve as a source of inspiration to young would-be athletes and the town alike.