The race was set up as a tribute to Jacques-Charles Sels, a well-known cycling journalist who spoke six languages and once wrote for seventeen daily newspapers. On May 7th, 1920, however, fate struck. During the exploration for the Milan-Antwerp cycling race, prior to the Olympic Summer Games in Antwerp, the rear axle of his car broke down. The 58-year old Antwerper tried to jump out of his car, but he got crushed by his car. The accident took place in the French town of Mison and ultimately costed the lifes of Sels and Jacques Broeckx from Brussels. In memory of the successful journalist, the Paris newspaper Le Journal organized a bicycle race in 1921, and so Schaal Sels was born.
On Monday May 23th, 1921 at 12 o'clock the start of the very first Schaal Sels, then an interclub race, was given under a blazing sun. After a sprint with fourteen, René Vermandel was the first to reach the finish line. According to the rules, the winning club had to organize the next edition, but they were not able to do this. As a result, there was no Schaal Sels in 1922.
On Monday July 30rd, 1923 the second edition started in Kapellen with a year's delay, with Vermandel again as the winner. A year later, the game was finally moved to Merksem, where the victory went to Jules Matton. Since 1924 Schaal Sels has been on the calendar every year, until the Second World War threw a spanner in the works in 1939 and 1940. Between 1941 and 1943 the race did take place again, but in 1944 and 1945 the war again took the upper hand.
Change of state, media and arrival zone
Between 1946 and 2013, no volume was skipped, but changes were regularly made. For example, in 1996 it was an interclub race for the last time and the course was awarded a 1.5 state in 1997, so points could be earned for the world ranking. That did not bother the organization because with Johan Museeuw the World Champion came to the start and with Tom Steels a big name could be added to the honors list. A year later, in 1998, Schaal Sels got a 1.4 state so that only professionals still had the right to start. In 2002 it became a 1.3 competition, in 2005 finally 1.1.
Not only the state changed, but also the media attention. Sporza, for example, broadcasted the contest in 2004, while a year later it was shown on VT4. This was the first time that the station broadcasted a cycling race live. In 2007 it was the Antwerp channel ATV that acquired broadcasting rights.
The starting and arrival place was also regularly relocated. During the first edition, the peloton left the Velodrome Garden City in Wilrijk to finish there after 173 kilometers. In 1924 the caravan moved permanently to the Bredabaan in Merksem. However, the Champs-Elysées of Schaal Sels threw a spanner in 2014: road works ensured that the race, which has now become a classic, had to be canceled for the sixth time in history.
New concept for 90th edition and split
The 90th edition, which was ridden on Sunday, August 30th, 2015, marked a new milestone in the history of the cycling race. Not only because it was an anniversary edition and the Bredabaan was completely renewed, but also because the organization opted for a completely new concept. In addition to the kilometers of cobblestones that were traditionally included in the course, the riders were also subjected to unpaved strips. A combination of Paris-Roubaix and Strade Bianche, which meant a first for Belgian cycling.
This growing international media attention has led to Schaal Sels being split up in 2018 into Schaal Sels Merksem and Antwerp Port Epic. Scale Sels Merksem goes back to its roots, with local rounds in and around Merksem. The winner will be the first to cross the arrival mark at the Bredabaan, where the Stroboerenmarkt will traditionally be held. It thus remains a popular festival of, for and by the inhabitants of Merksem.