The 2003 Barcelona International Race
By: John Vance

Every year, tens of thousands of racing pigeon enthusiast around the world, anxiously anticipate the release of the Barcelona International race. This year, the race was released at 9:00 AM, on July 4th, and 20,209 racing pigeons filled the skies to start their journey home.

The race was smaller this year than in past years because of the avian influenza quarantine still in place for half of the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Last year, there were 26,928 birds participating in the race. The largest release was in 1993, when 33,154 birds participated.

This year, the quarantine threatened to derail all pigeon flying in Europe, but a great deal of lobbying by the powers to be in the sport and good scientific evidence from the USA, persuaded France to allow pigeon transports into the country. Nonetheless, because of these health concerns the flyers of Belgium and the non-quarantined areas of the Netherlands and Germany were not able to train their birds into France until about a month before the race.

It was quite an accomplishment for all the flyers that did participate to get their birds conditioned in little over a month, for this 580 – 780 mile race. If you are at all familiar with European geography, you are aware that Belgium and to some extent the Netherlands have no way of effectively training their distance birds for this race if they cannot train into France.

Moving on, the French border was opened, the birds were trained and conditioned and on the Sunday before the Friday release, the event called the Barcelona International Race started the well tuned process of gathering all the birds from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and Luxemburg.

Sunday and Monday are basketing day all across Europe. On Monday, in the afternoon, the Dutch and German birds arrive at the train depot in Belgium where they are transferred to specially ventilated boxcars. In all, there are 18 of these boxcars that will make the trip to Barcelona, Spain.

By Tuesday morning, 9:00 AM, the boxcars full of racing pigeons will be on their way. But there is much work still to be done. Every bird in every crate is removed and its band recorded in the official registry. At the same time, a control number is wing stamped on the last flights and the control number is recorded in the registry next to the band number. There are 11 teams of 5 members each to perform this important task.

Twenty chaperones will accompany the birds to Barcelona. It is their responsibility to feed, water, and protect the birds during their journey. This is a very festive time and an honor to participate as a chaperone. One Chaperone has made this journey for thirty years!

When the train finally reaches the French – Spanish border, all the birds must be transferred to boxcars on another train as the Spanish and French rail sizes are not compatible. From the Spanish border, it is a short journey to the release point.

So now, the birds are in Barcelona and the day of the race has finally arrived. It is the tradition of the Barcelona race that it be a second day event. Over the years, this has proved to be the only fair way to allow all participants in all nations an equal opportunity. It is the structure of the race (second day arrival) that has allowed it to grow to such a large size and become the pinnacle international racing event of the year.

Recent race winners have sold for between $100,000 and $150,000 with a world record amount of $230,000 paid for one of the winners from the late 1980’s. If you compare these amounts to the amounts paid for National Ace Pigeons, you will realize that the Barcelona winner is highly preferred over these other birds. This is testament to the value that the European and worldwide fanciers place on true long distance champions. They may sell the sprint and middle distance champions, but it is the long distance champions that are most desired by the Europeans as breeding stock.

At 9:00 AM on July 4, the birds are released, and as planned, there will be no day birds. The first bird clocked on Saturday morning is at the loft of Rutz & Sohne S.G.M. in Germany. This bird arrives at 6:25 in the morning flying a distance of 593 miles and having a velocity of 1137.83 ypm, however the German bird must be satisfied with 2nd place International, for the winning bird is clocked at 6:57 at the loft of Freres Fauche in Belgium, flying a distance of 652 miles and having a velocity of 1208.42 ypm.

German birds also take the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th positions. The semi-national winner of the Netherlands (half of the country was still under quarantine) is Chris Van der Velden, flying 729 miles and placing 5th International. The French national winner is Cyrille Schaschkow, flying 587 miles and placing 8th International.

Do you see how fair and exciting this race has become? The national winners of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France all clock in the first eight positions, with 20,209 birds competing. These first eight birds represent a front of about 90 miles east to west and 150 miles south to north.

This great race would never have grown to the size and prestige it currently holds if the short enders or the long enders or the east siders or the west siders, had acted purely in their self-interest and protected their advantage. By releasing the race at a time of day that prevents day-birds and allows all birds to clock on the second day, a great and highly respected international event has been created.

I think that local organizations in the USA could learn a lesson for the good of the sport and start initiating second day races as a way of evening out the results when many diverse clubs across a wide or deep front compete. All to often in the USA, local clubs try to preserve their advantage to the detriment of the overall health of the competition in their area.

The Barcelona International race, year after year, proves that second day distance races are as fair if not fairer than one-day distance races. When you hear in your concourse meetings someone say; “if the bird can’t home on the day it is no good” or “second day racing ruins the birds”, just smile and know that you are listening to a person who is disproved every year by the most prestigious and respected race in our sport. Little minds make for little competition.

Now, about the winning bird!

The 2003 Barcelona International Winner is a hen. That’s right, a hen! And, she was flying to 10-day-old youngsters. This is classic natural flying. I am sure there are many widowhood flyers in Europe, chuckling because a hen beat them.

The winning hen is a granddaughter of the 1995 Barcelona International winner. The 1995 winner is a great great-grandson of the sire to the 1984 Barcelona winner, and that sire was a grandson of the 1966 Barcelona winner. In all, seven Barcelona International winners have all been bred down from the same original family of birds. This is an outstanding accomplishment.

The Fauche brothers purchased the father of their international winner at auction in 1995 from Gyselbrecht Lofts. The Gyselbrecht family was gifted an egg that became the sire of their 1995 International Barcelona winner. The egg came out of the loft of Andre Vanbruaene, who had won the 1984 and 1966 International Barcelona races. The 1964, 1983 and 1985 winners were all 50% to 100% Vanbruaene bloodlines. What a phenomenal testament to a master breeder, seven international Barcelona winners traced to his bloodlines since 1964. Fantastic!!!

I think that Fauche did well to acquire breeding stock from the Gyselbrechts. Since 1986, there has been no other loft in all of Europe that can claim a better race record from Barcelona then the Gyselbrecht lofts. Also, no other loft has bred more breeders of top Barcelona birds then the Gyselbrechts. It is amazing the number European lofts scoring top national and international prizes with the Gyselbrecht birds. In 2000, Fauche scored 17th International with a brother of the 2003 winner. That goes to show the strength of the bloodline.

Let us not forget that it takes two to tango. For every great ‘breeding cock’ there must be a great ‘breeding hen’. Unfortunately, at the time of this article, I have no information on the mother of the 2003 International winner. Perhaps I can post that information in a later article.

Well, there you have it, another fantastic Barcelona International race, another win for the hens, a continuing testament to the master breeder Andre Vanbruaene (Mr. Barcelona) who passed away in 1999, a feather in the cap of the Gyselbrecht family who have proven to be the successors of the Vanbruaene Barcelona legacy, and finally our congratulations are extended to the Fauche household – the 2003 International Barcelona Winners!!!!