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by Liam O Comain

In this article I will present insights into the backgrounds of some of the great pigeons who have won the Barcelona International. Because of obstacles like the Pyrenees mountain range and the intense heat of the Spanish sun plus extraordinary mileage, this European International race is, in the opinion of many, the marathon of all marathons. Unfortunately, however much I would desire otherwise, I have to be selective and limit the article to 10 conquerers.

Andre Van Bruaene

Many fanciers in Europe carry the hope that they will win a National pigeon race and some that they will win an International. In fact, the stock purchased, the careful mating, the good management, the best of training and feeding are all geared to accomplish their dream of glory at National and International level.

Some make it and others fail despite a lifetime of trying. However, the architect of the strain being sketched won not only at National level but also at International level from various racepoints into Belgium, including being twice Barcelona international winner. His name? Andre Vanbruaene. 

Andre was born on April 4th 1910 and died on March 8th 1999. He was approximately 17 years old when he has his first pigeons and participated in the short, or speed, races. In due course, because of success at that distance, he was excluded from certain clubs which prompted him to try the distance. It wasn't long before he was winning from racepoints such as Pau, Angouleme and Libourne with his famous pigeon, Stier. One of his greatest achievements, however, was his win from San Sebastian in 1952 with the great Tarzan.

In fact, this bird flew from Spain to his home loft in one day winning the International classic, an astounding piece of pigeon racing ability. Of course, these were just a few amongst many wins by this master of the sport, for in 1966 he won the International Barcelona Classic with the aptly named Barcelona 1; then to prove that this accomplishment was not a fluke he won the Barcelona International in 1984 with Barcelona 2. Surely this would have been the creme de la creme for any loft? But it wasn't for Vanbruaene who scored at other nationals during his lifetime.

In addition he produced breeders like Electriek, who bred winners at Perpignan, St.Vincent and Pau (for an English loft in 1982) and was also in the bloodlines of Barcelona 2. It is recorded that he won 12 Belgium Nationals as well as other top National positions in his career. In addition, this master of the pigeon racing sport recorded four International wins which included the two from Barcelona plus Pau 1951 and San Sebastian 1953. Even in tough flights from Barcelona, Vanbruaene timed 8 out of 8 sent and on another occasion 10 out of 10 sent. Some flying!

Upon my introduction to the sport I was shown photographs of the birds of this great master of the sport. Still, today they give the impression that they were made of steel. In fact, if I look at my own stock I feel uplifted if one of them (especially the youngsters) reflects a steel- like appearance by sight or by handling. This behaviour, I believe, descends from my past encounter many years ago with images of the Vanbruaene winners. They placed a compelling factor in my concept of the phenotype of the ideal long distance pigeon. Alas, the few that I encountered amongst my own stock lacked that which is necessary in the mind, for although they looked like tanks, in due course they dropped like flies! They were missing that which I would call 'intelligence', which, along with the necessary physique, was part and parcel of all winners, although the mind aspect, as the history of the sport records, compensated for the at- times- inappropriate physical or phenotype reality.

Vanbruaene had a loft full of excellent breeders and as his record shows, fantastic racers. This was the fruit of his labours at Lauwe in Belgium- and I emphasize the term 'labours' for his making of his strain was a labour of love based upon good management, and nothing left to chance, the result being rewarded over a thousand times by the successes for himself and others.

It was a strain based upon the careful crossings of pigeons from the lofts of others and one in particular the west Flemish loft of Remi Molein of Ieper who had very good pigeons based upon the strains of Commine and Vandevelde and Andre had made a shrewd choice when he obtained the latter stock. This was not the only input into his foundation, however, for he also purchased stock from the Stichelbaut lofts of Daniel Labeeuw and Marcel Desmet, as well as stock from the lofts of two of Alois Stichelbaut's brothers, namely Remi and Emiel. Thus the historic Stichelbaut strain made a major contribution to the evolution of the Vanbrauenes.

In conclusion, the strain of the late Andre Vanbruaene occupies the same level of historical esteem as the Aardens, the Catrysses, the Stichelbauts, the Van Hees and, in the opinion of many, are number one in the annals of long- distance pigeon racing.

Wim Van Leeuwen

The Van Leeuwen strain is the product of one of the top European pigeoners from a place called Hedel in Holland. From about eight years of age Wim Van Leeuwen was involved with the sport and by the time he was 45 years, in about 1985, he had won three Dutch Nationals and two Barcelona Internationals (hens). But more was to follow for in 1988 the loft won the Barcelona International outright. Proving that he was one of the all time greats at the distance, indeed marathon flying, for the race was 750 miles. The outright winner like the twice hen winner is now the property of Louella Pigeon Stud in England. It is now known as De Smaragd 2 (Emerald 2) and is a blue cheq pied cock which in its moment of glory beat 21,453 other pigeons including the best in Europe. The hen category winner was known as De 25 but has been renamed Smaragd 1.

In his earlier years in the sport (1948-75) Van Leeuwen raced the sprints and was successful but eventually knew that he had to tackle the marathons. This required new ' horses for courses' and like many Europeans he opted for the bloodlines of the Jan Aarden phenomenon which saw him purchasing pigeons from Hein Oostenrijk who won the National from Barcelona in 1978. Other purchases included stock from the Kuyper Bros' and the Dolle and the 515 lines of Marijn Van Geel.This was the base and in due course in the hands of a master via the methods of line breeding and inbreeding a new strain was born. A strain which contrary to the practice of the majority of his fellow Dutch fanciers was raced naturally. Success followed success and by 1979 Van Leeuwen had won national positions from St.Vincent and Dax. The situation was similar in 1980 and by 1982 the loft had finished in 3rd position in the National Marathon Championship.

One of his best racers was called De 16 and at the time of its successes Van Leeuwen considered this black cheq cock as his best racer. An opinion which perhaps remains true today. In his career this favourite won 11 National Prizes from Dax, St.Vincent and Bergerac. On each occasion De 16 was competing against 10,000 of a convoy at distances all over 600 miles. A pigeon bred and nurtured for the marathons via a system in which young birds were not raced but well trained up to 190/200 miles. As racers especially beyond a not too difficult yearling stage the candidates were given about three races from 160 to 260 miles. The marathon nominees were then selected for their national races. Again we encounter a fancier who goes slowly with the young and carefully prepares for when his pigeons have the potential to face the distance and score as well.

Because of the sale of the Smaragd champions to and their association with the Louella Stud there is a tendency to overlook this strain as a whole and its creator. Therefore I hope that this brief and however sketchy insight will make it better known. It is definitely one of the best families of the late 20th and early 21st centuries!

The Schaschkow Brothers

Our subject is one of the most consistent of distance families of racing pigeons for decades in Europe and indeed the lofts in 2005 won the Barcelona International. In fact this brothers partnership known as the Schaschkow's (from France) have long since made the marathon of all marathons their number one objective or goal in the sport.

The brothers are Cyrille and Raymond and their record at the distance within recent years is outstanding with the following highlights: 2004 1st & 2nd International Hens Yearlings Marseille; 2004 4th National Barcelona, and 28th International; 2003: 1st National Barcelona, and 8th International. Winning the 'Barcelona De Cuyper Fondsport Prize (France)' 2003: 7th International Marseille Hens. 2002: 1st National Perpignan. 2002: 12th International Dax Hens. 1999: 1st International Marseille Hens. 1999: 15th Barcelona '2000 Pigeon Championship'. 1995: 16th International Perpignan Hens. 1995: 17th International Marseille. 1994: 1st National Marseille and 5th International. 1992: 5th International Marseille Hens.

As stated the Barcelona National and International races are what they have set their sights on and their whole year is geared for this cause. Here they commit their hens to the marathon and only upon eggs. Only the best are prepared for the Spanish race point and this is via daily tosses of approximately 90km from Straatsburg. Their winner of the tough 2005 International flying against 25,835 other birds is referred to as 'Diva Barcelona' and is an outstanding representative of a distance pigeon. Prior to her success in the International at 4 years of age this medium sized blue cheq hen in 2002 recorded a prize from Marseille, followed by scoring 292nd in the 2003 Barcelona International race. In the 2004 season the 'Diva Barcelona' flew well from Dax and was 216th International Hens from Pau.

The 2005 winner must have flown gallantly through the rain on the first day of the race from Barcelona for Cyrille found her on the loft at 4.40am. Being clocked at approximately 5.03am on the 2nd morning implies that she was not far from home on the night of the race or interestingly as it has been suggested the 'Diva Barcelona' flew through the night to make it home so early in the morning. Whatever the answer she has made her mark upon pigeon racing history and the Schaschkows have joined the unique and elite band of International Barcelona winners.

The base of the Schaschkows include some of the best strain names in Europe including the  legendary Aarden strain especially the Van Der Wegen strand of the latter pigeon dynasty coupled with the bloodlines of the Vanhees, the Kipps, the de Weerds, the Vanbruaenes, etc,. Obviously aware that to conquer the distance the best bloodlines available were required to fulfil their ambitions. Thus coupled with an extreme motivation Cyrille and Raymond Schaschkow have written a chapter of modern pigeon racing history and they have done so relatively young. We shall hear more of them as we traverse the new millennium!

The Kipp Strain

Our latest subject is the Kipp strain of Germany.Their racing results in the land of their birth and internationally are phenomenal: (A) 1st Nat. Marathon Champion - 1985 - 1986 - 1996 - 1997 - 1998 - 1999- 2000; (B) 1st Int. Perpignan hens 1988; 1st Int. Barcelona 1998 with Barcelona King; 1st Int. Marseille hens 1999; 1st Int.Barcelona hens 1993; (C) 1st Nat. Barcelona hens 1995; 1st. Nat. Barcelona hens 1997; 1st Nat. Barcelona 1998; 1st Nat.Marseille 1999; (D) 1st Nat. Ace pigeon long distance 1999.

At all levels they have succeeded for what's shown here is but the tip of the ice- berg. Yes this father and son partnership of Althornbach, Germany, have over the years moulded a strain of outstanding long distance racing pigeons whose base contain the blood lines of Ko Nipius/Jan Aarden, Cattrysse, Stichelbaut, and Piet de Weerd amongst others. 

Inspite of this the English speaking world knows little or nothing about them. Although I must admit that the language barrier contributes towards this reality and the demeanour of the partnership. In fact the pigeon sport scribes should and must for the good of the sport get beyond the cultural barriers or an aspect such as language and bring the great international lofts and strains of all nations into the flow of knowledge and interest. It will be for the benefit of the sport over all for there are strains out there other than those of Holland and Belgium. And as implied the Kipp strain is too good to be unknown for results alone confirm that it is one of the top modern strains in Europe today.

This status did not derive out of the blue so to speak but amounts to years of commitment by fanciers of astute ability at the managerial activity of the sport of long distance pigeon racing. One of their outstanding birds is the so called 'Night Flyer', a mealy cock which arrived at 2.28am from Perpignan to take 4th national and 5th international in 1985. Yes one of the phenomenal few who keeps ongoing to reach their homes in the middle of the night. Perhaps what we are witnessing in recent decades with the night flyers is the first signs of an evolutionary mutation in the sport of pigeon racing. Resulting from the intensified breeding and racing of master pigeon fanciers of the likes of the Kipp's.

Some will say I'm crazy but then the moon landings first appeared in the old 'Dan Dare' comics of my childhood and they are now a fact. Through the growing awareness of strains such as the Kipps’ representatives of the latter will cross national boundaries and through breeding with the help of pigeon genetics strains will emerge that will continue to make us marvel at the flying feats of the thoroughbreds of the sky. 

Jean-Luc Van Roy

There are many who believe that the great strain maker Jef Van Wanroy won the Barcelona International but the truth is that it never happened. Of course pigeons who have won that marathon of marathons have and do carry the blood of that great strain of our thoroughbreds. Now our subject in this article did win the Barcelona International and because of his name many have mixed it up with that of Jef Van Wanroy and one can see how that could be possible. But now that we know the facts let us proceed.

Luc Van Roy was, as the saying goes, born into the sport for his uncle Leon Van Roy was a fancier of some repute. Luc was in short trousers when he first took part in club races. Like many others however he left the fancy when he was a young man. Also, his place of domicile has changed over the years although the area of his greatest triumph was Ronse in Belgium. The new start was in 1983 when he housed some late breds and this was his nth time of restarting. During this period Luc had listened to and absorbed the wisdom of such fanciers as Dejaegher of Melden, Pauwels of Herne, Cobut of Anderlues, plus Joseph De Ridder of St.Ulricks Kapelle. In addition he needed the right stock and he purchased from Beyer, Van der Eynde, and Van der Wegen. However his core foundation was his pigeon named Cahors which was successful from Cahors and elsewhere and who was descended from his Hoves, a bird which once belonged to a small local fancier.

Van Roy believed that management wise a fancier has to build oneself into ones stock and become part of it. That the sport was one that required as much of ones time as possible. That what was put in would produce a twice fold return or more. Emphasizing that the fancier must love each of his pigeons and get to know them individually. As for the Barcelona International winner this was a black Van der Wegen cock named Playboy International who was a son of Parel and grandson of Barcelona.Two of the legends of the Van der Wegens. In 1991 he arrived earlier than expected beating 27,166 other pigeons at approximately 6.40am on the second day having been released into a light northerly wind. 

Luc Van Roy succeeded in the sport on innumerable occasions and has taken his rightful place amongst the elite of Barcelona International winners and who would not desire that? As for Playboy, briefly after his great act of marathon flying he was sold to a foreign buyer at a price that Van Roy admitted he could not refuse.

Roger Florezoone

Roger Florizoone of Nieuwpoort, Belgium, was one of the greatest exponents of the art and science of long distance and marathon pigeon racing in our modern era. In fact so successful was he, especially from Barcelona, that the fancy dubbed him 'Mr.Barcelona'. Alas our subject passed away on December the 4th in 2004 and the gems of his pigeons were sold at public auction in May 2005, with each bird averaging 2,350 Euros each.

Florizoones base came from quite a few sources but always of the best quality for he had no time for quantity. Amongst them we note a few such as Georges Bolle, Robert Venus, Vanhee and Paul Bostijn, etc,. The stock was carefully crossed and prudently tested. Simplicity was his trade mark and his charges rewarded his excellent management.

Perhaps his greatest thrill was his winning of the Barcelona National and International in 1976 with his good blue bar- Freddy. This was an outstanding specimen of our thoroughbreds for he had a previous success at the Spanish race when he was 5th International. Freddy carried the bloodlines of the great Benoni and the equally great Motta of Bostijn and Vanhee respectively. He also harboured Super Crack Grusson and Huijsentruyt genes as well.

Other successes included winning the National from Barcelona in 1999 as well as twice being winner of the West Europe Super Marathon in 1997 and 1999. The loft won the Golden Wing Award in 1984 from Barcelona and also was awarded 1st National Long Distance Champion title of Belgium (KBDB) as well as the Primus 1994 Five Year Ranking Barcelona. In addition Florizoone won the 2nd National Marathon title in 1995 plus the Super Prestige Championship in the same year. These are but an example of the successes of this grand master of the sport but they suffice to confirm the many accolades bestowed upon the late Roger Florizoone.

The Schloemer Strain

The surname of Schloemer is a name not known perhaps to the world's racing pigeon community as well as Thone or Muller yet it is one of the modern long distance families which canbe defined as a strain. For years the Schloemer's, Josef and Rolf, has won at the distance in all types of elemental conditions and long since have reached the elite status of European pigeons for conquering the long distances. Perhaps the crown and glory of their successes so far is their winning of the Barcelona International at a distance of 1130 kilometres from 18,076 of a convoy in 1986. In fact from amongst the thousands of pigeon fanciers in their native Germany they have won the national from Barcelona on two occasions.

The strain has the old Huyskens- van Reil at its foundations and as a family it has not been in existence for very long. Initially the father Josef Schlomer raced with a small number of pigeons. Success was not lacking however nor was it to be hindered for the stud won the 1994 national long distance championship of Germany in which the Schloemer birds ran away with twenty eight of thirty possible prizes.

One of their undoubted champions is the hen called 'Emirates' which was the best long distance bird ( hen) in Germany in 1994. Prior to this in 1988 a half sister of this great hen won three international prizes within a few weeks from Pau, Dax and Perpignan. There is also another inmate of their lofts who has won three international prizes that is the famous 08421/96/166. Also the partnership has scored in the top 50 results from Pau, Barcelona, and Bordeaux in 1988.

Of course the outstanding star is the International Barcelona winner called 'Lady Barcelona '. For aside from this success she is the source which has achieved the following fantastic breeding results in fact I doubt if any other national or international winner has been as successful as this beautiful bird . Amongst its grandchildren are: 1st national Bordeaux 1998; 1st international Pau in 1996; 1st national Pau 1996; 1st ace pigeon Germany 1994; 1st ace hen Germany 1990; 1st national Barcelona 1992; 1st prize Tours with a yearling at 588 miles with 10,068 birds competing; and 2nd prize Tours with 33,000 birds competing. Yes the latter were predominantly grand children of one of the best winners of the marathon Barcelona International.

As stated the Huyskens-van Riel was at the base of their family but there also were representatives of the Delbar strain and the Janssen brothers. It was the Delbar especially of the 'Stallion' line which projected the Schlomer's unto the European stage of long distance pigeon racers. One will also find representatives of the Van der Wegen and Brakhuis in the strain's pedigrees and apparently the Janssen lines were brought in for the latter Aarden based families because of the necessary requirement of speed.

An innovative import in 1997 were representatives of the New Zealand master Roy McFadyen of
Christchurch. And like earlier crossings the latter were carefully integrated into the Schloemer's. The partnership take most joy from the reality of welcoming one of their arrivals after a flight covering hundreds of miles across the tough terrain of Europe reflecting the God given gift and miracle of pigeon orientation. A miracle and a gift to a non human being which I personally hope science will never unravel. In the meantime this European strain will continue to lead the way amongst others in conquering the distances.

Fauche Bros

The name of Fauche came to our notice after the Belgian Brothers of that name won the International race from Barcelona in 2003. However, as distance flyers their achievements were well known to those who follow the sport in Europe. The partnership lives at Waret l'Eveque near to Liege and Jean-Louis and Jean- Claude entered the sport in 1984.Apparently they had a good entrance for it was not long before success accompanied them.Their success from Barcelona in 2003 tends to hide the fact that their other accomplishments included 1st semi-National Jarnac (3,442 pigeons), 1st International Bordeaux (4,373 pigeons), 1st International Marseille (1,416 pigeons) and 1st International Pau (7,760 pigeons).A case of the rose masking the opening buds of their sporting success.

At the base of their family is the blood- lines of Deroo (Halle-Booienhoven) and a son of a Bourges winner owned and raced by Mario Kepski. Other bloodlines were to follow from Francois Collard (Marbaix), Roger Lesire (Chatelet) and Gisselbrecht (Knesselare).

They, like many Belgians, use widowerhood and are very adept at the system.They also have some nest hens and the Barcelona winner came from them. The winner (1024337-99) was a black cheq hen, being basketed with a five day old squeaker prior to the momentous event.She being a daughter of the 39 who was the 2nd Olympiad pigeon Belgium Long distance Bazel '97. The latter bred from Rode Lesire X Blue Hen Collard. Whereas the mother of the black hen was 677/97, down from 557/95 (son of Laureaat Barcelona the International Winner from Barcelona in 1995 from X Het 80).

By their deeds you shall know them and that is true in relation to the Fauche Brothers of Belgium for they are amongst the elite of the distance flyers in Europe. Such international achievement which they have recorded must be based upon minds with a streak or more of husbandry gold.Thus I have no doubt that there are more in the pipeline to come.

Jan Theelen 

Jan Theelen is one of the European masters at the art and craft of long distance and marathon pigeon racing in fact he is known world wide for his breeding and racing capabilities.Some have compared him with Europes best including the great Jan Aarden.

Jan Theelen comes from Buggenum and has formed a strain of world class racing pigeons comparable with the originals from Jan Aarden and Jef van Wanroy. Through astute inbreeding and crossing Theelen bred pigeons who are now for decades worthy participants in the International pigeon scene.Champions such as: the legendary Linkse; Donkere Hermans; Goede
Rode 834; Trutje; the Kuijper Bros. 52; the Gouden Kuijperke 494; the Famous 08; the Liesbeth;
the Famous 10; the Vale Marathon; the RodeDiamantje; the Rode Lady Barcelona; to name but a few.

Thoroughbreds who have been successful for their creator but also for many other greats of the
pigeon scene such as Hagens Bros., Herman Brinkman, Lalieu van Doorn, Brouwers-Kodama, Ludo
Verstraete, Kuijpers Bros., vd Eijnde Bernhards, Martin Hensen, Cees v.d. Poel, and so on. The
Theelen strain is considered by the above flyers to be of a rare quality. So much so that Jan Theelen won the International Barcelona race in 1993 with the great Rikky, against the greatest convoy ever- over 33,000 birds.

The Gyselbrecht Strain 

This family of distance and marathon racing pigeons have been around for some time for the  father of the Gyselbrecht's, Remi, has been associated with the sport since 1954. His astuteness as a fancier was recognized by the fact that he received the award in 1977 of National Long Distance Champion Of All Belgium. Along with Remi the senior members of the partnership until recently were Carlo and Andre, his two sons. Children of the latter eventually joined including Nikolaas.

At any rate there is no doubt that what we are witnessing is a definite strain of distance pigeons that have arrived and are in the process of development. Internationally the lofts have been outstanding since 1986 from the marathon of all marathons i.e. Barcelona. With 'Sproete Barcelona' registering 86th from 18,079 birds in that year. In 1987 'Prins Barcelona' was 31st with a field of 21,545 birds to be followed in 1991 with 'Blauwe Barcelona' scoring 7th International in a field of 27,167 birds.Then 1994 witnessed 'King' registering 92nd International against 26.806 entrants. With these results any loft would be on top of the world but more glory was on the way when in 1995 the outstanding 'Laureaat Barcelona' won 1st International from the Spanish race point beating 20,924 other pigeons from the cream of Europe's lofts. And since then 'Turbo' was 96th International, to be followed in 1996 with 104th International by 'Zwarten Barcelona'. No one bird loft this, for in 1997 the family registered 22nd, 76th, and 171st International against 24,908 birds. Of course the latter birds also scored at national level with the lofts taking 2nd National as late as 1999 and scoring consistently since. Perhaps the concept of being consistent is the hallmark of this great strain. The lofts have also scored from other race points into Belgium. 

The strains origins lies in the best of bloodlines with one of its seeds being the ‘Oude Barcelona’, who, in 1978, was 57th International Barcelona with 11,131 pigeons contesting. His son, ‘Jonge Barcelona' scored in 1981 - 90th International Barcelona with 13,202 pigeons competing. In 1986, (see above) a son of ‘Jonge Barcelona’ called ‘Sproete Barcelona’ won 86th International against 18,079 pigeons. To firm the base during the 1980s new blood was brought in from Cobut; from Vandermeren; from Denys and some from the legendary Barcelona specialist Andre  Vanbruaene. The family believe however that the best acquisitions during this period came from Andre Vanbruaene. To remain at the top and to have the pigeons for the 600 miles plus endurance tests in all weathers the Gyselbrecht's knew that they must continue to bring in new blood.

Thus in 1993/94 they decided to bring in representatives of one of the greatest strains of the last and the present century namely the Van der Wegen’s. Resulting with 3 of the first four birds in the 1997 Barcelona race being 50% Van der Wegen; including “Ronaldo”, who scored 22nd International against 24,908 pigeons. In 1999 (see above), 'Sampras' (7/8’s Van der Wegen) won 2nd National against 13,966 pigeons.

In conclusion, this is one of the best strains for the new millennium as well as being one of the best in pigeon racing history. The Gyselbrecht family from Remi the patriarch down to the latest member are in no doubt masters of the art of long and marathon distance pigeon racing. The sport is in their blood and that is the fairest tribute that I can offer. Finally by the end of 2003 the brothers Gyselbrecht separated and started racing on their own after all the breeders and racers were divided. There then began a new partnership as Dr. Carlo Gyselbrecht and his sons Nikolaas and Thomas joined with the well-known pigeon sport journalist Martin Degrave to become Degrave- Gyselbrecht. I look forward to the exploits of the new partnership with perhaps another 1st International from Barcelona for they have the goods to do it.


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