You’ve Never Seen Cyclocross Like This: Who’s Behind These Awesome Drone Images?


You don’t need public approval to know the future of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in the Cyclocross World Cup.

For the first time in a World Cup, the drone flying with the drivers at the front is making a mess. In the forest, through low branches, through sharp bends.

It looks spooky at first glance, a black drone chasing after drivers. But the pictures are sensational.

Who is behind the drone? Get to know two young Flemish. The pilot is Jan Crommelinck from Oosterzele, a town near Ghent. Tim Verbruggen is his “watchdog”; he decides when it is safe to take off.

“I was 25 when I had a heart attack, doing BMX and motocross and studying at the sports academy,” Crommelinck says. “My world has been turned upside down. What will happen now?”

“At that time I was already flying model airplanes and one day I connected my cell phone to take pictures. Two months later I filmed the Motocross Grand Prix des Nations with my remote. I started with cyclocross during Corona times. It was very easy without an audience.”

During the World Cup, they have their own tent in the middle of the forest, away from the crowds. A small pier was set up in front of the tent, where Crommelinck stood with his virtual reality glasses to control the drone he had built.

Wingman Verbruggen maintains contact with the controls to avoid being distracted by Pilot Crommelinck. Verbruggen signals when director Pim Marks says “drone”. “One word: live. Then I fly through the forest with the drivers. I have to concentrate fully because safety is everything. Nothing can go wrong there.”

For this safety reason, it also took a long time for the international cycling association UCI to approve the use of drones.

“You’ve also wanted to fly higher a few times over the past few days. They asked for three meters. This is not possible as the camera sits directly on the drone. So you’re missing drivers.”

“The higher, the safer. How?!” Crommelinck points helplessly at bare branches. “In this case, higher is definitely not safer.”

In fact, there were also some low-hanging branches that could pose a danger on the first day. A mission for Jacques van der Poel and his son Jens, who immediately got to work with a long wood saw.

formula 1

Crommelinck can be safely counted among the best drone pilots in Europe. He works hard for Red Bull and Ferrari. Its next mission is to present the red team’s newest Formula 1 car in Italy. Then the drone flies again at over 100 kilometers per hour.

30 kilometers per hour is not exceeded in Hoogerheide, which is challenging enough among the trees. “The hardest jobs are when you have to fly through people in one go. You never know if someone will make an unexpected move.”

“It’s not dangerous if it falls from the sky. A blow is equivalent to a light push. But such a scenario is my nightmare. Safety is everything to me.”

Drivers will drive faster as a result

So what do drivers actually think about it? “They’re not surprised anymore because we’ve done a few cyclocross races in Belgium before,” said Crommelinck. “I also worked with Wout van Aert for Red Bull.”

“After a cyclocross race in Ruddervoorde, I asked Toon Aerts (now banned for using a banned substance, ed.) if he was bothered by the buzz. “On the contrary,” he said, “it made me want to go faster.”

Two Belgians patiently talk about their passion as the self-made drone lies on a special mat to be charged. This should be done after each flight because the drone’s battery only lasts for four minutes.

“So it’s as light as possible, about a pound and a half. When I founded my company Aeroplay Films in 2011, you couldn’t buy drones, could you? I also built one myself. Today I also built this drone myself, most drones work with GPS systems but this is purely manual. A GPS might interfere, so I want to keep everything in my own hands. It is also much more maneuverable.”

master’s hand

This is where the master manifests himself. Because any sudden movement with the remote control will cause a shocking image. “We usually have someone with us to fix the images. But this is not possible in live broadcast. It should be right the first time.”

Shortly after, two Belgian planes are doing their job with great concentration. The black, four-engine drone glides about three meters behind Van der Poel and Van Aert on each lap.

When the two matadors left the jungle for the last time, drone camera operation turned out to be a high-level sport.

Wingman Verbruggen carefully places the drone on its black mat. The pilot disembarks from the Crommelinck pier and takes off the VR glasses. Then comes a warm hug.

The job is done.

Source: NOS