March 16, 2016 by Irish Peloton
The history of this race actually dates back to the Paris-Nice of 1938. Paris-Nice was only in its sixth year of existence and although it was still organised by Albert Lejeune and his pair of newspapers in Paris and Nice, it was struggling to attract a large amount of competitiors. Stage racing in France was still very much the exception, with the Tour de France itself the only other race of its kind in the country. The big bucks were to be made in the velodromes, a fact not lost on most riders.
Consequently, the 1938 Paris-Nice had just 70 starters, of whom just 26 would finish. The most remarkable thing about this particular edition of the race was the nationality of the rider who ended it in ninth place overall. Joseph Magnani was the first American rider to ever finish in the top 10 of Paris-Nice, and he would be the last for several decades. But the race overall was won by a Belgian from the town of Nokere called Jules Lowie.
Lowie was no slouch, he had finished fifth and seventh at the Tour de France and proved his quality by winning this edition of Paris-Nice albeit against a relatively small peloton.
Just over a year after Lowie’s biggest ever victory, war descended on Europe and bicycle racing was, for the most part, put on hold.
In 1943, Paris-Roubaix returned to the roads of northern France and Jules Lowie would have been the winner had it not been for an inopportune flat tyre. He was first into the Roubaix velodrome with Marcel Kint hot on his wheel. As Lowie was lapping up the cheers of the fans around the track, the joyous noises were figuratively drowned out by the dreaded hiss of escaping air and Kint zoomed past for the victory.
By April 1944, the war was beginning its end and the East Flanders region was two weeks away from liberation. Also by this stage, a Jules Lowie fan club had been created in the town of Nokere to celebrate the career of the Belgian and to support him in his future endeavours.
This support manifested itself in the creation of a new race, the Grand Prix Jules Lowie which would be raced around Lowie’s home town. The main focus of the race was to be the hill called the Nokereberg which has actually been included on the route of the Tour of Flanders in recent years.
The fan club were ambitious in their organising efforts, going so far as inviting the former world road race champion and Paris-Roubaix winner Marcel Kint. Kint responded, asking how much appearance money they would be willing to pay him. ‘None’ he was told, but due to the relative lack of races in Belgium at that time, Kint agreed to turn up anyway.
The organisers were blessed that Kint agreed, as they used this as a reason why other big names should enter their race. They were blessed further when Kint ended up winning the first ever edition, thus cementing a prestige immediately. The prestige grew even further the following year when former Tour of Flanders winner Briek Schotte crossed the line first.
In 1946, Jules Lowie finished fifth at his own race, the closest he would ever come to winning it before his retirement from racing later that year. Lowie went on to become the mechanic for the Belgian national cycling team for ten years. He died in 1960 aged just 46.
Shortly afterward, his race was rebranded as what we know it as today, the Nokere Koerse.
Leave a Reply