A show-stopping mythic, the 600m long cobbled Koppenberg is one of the only climbs on earth where you’ll see pros dismounting and pushing their bikes, cloppity cleats and all. The combination of terror-inducing gradients up to 22% and the roughest, bounciest cobbles of the entire route have led to many calling the Koppenberg unraceable – and it has been banished from the route several times before. What’s more, whilst wonderful to watch, the climb is too far from the finish to have much strategic importance as most of the dropped riders regain contact on the flat section afterwards. The Koppenberg’s most infamous moment came in the 1987 edition of De Ronde: the last survivor of the day’s breakaway Jesper Skibby was hit halfway up the climb by the Race Director’s car, which then mangled his bike (and almost his leg) trying to get past and away from the fast-arriving peloton. A volley of abuse, stones and mud from fans awaited the car as it arrived at the finish line.
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Monumental Bergs: Tour of Flanders
While Milan-Sanremo is all about the finishes, the Tour of Flanders is all about the bergs. We take a look back at the race-defining final five climbs of 2015's edition.02 April 2015
In this year’s (2015) edition, the riders will have to climb a total of 19 hills during the 264km route and while none rise higher than a couple of hundred metres, these hellingen are steep and mostly cobbled, making them extremely tricky lung-busters. Crowded with passionate Belgians and often the scene of brilliantly daring exploits from the riders, the Flanders bergs provide some of the greatest spectacle in professional cycling. We take a look at the race-defining final five climbs of this weekend’s race.
Koppenberg – 45km to go
Taaienberg – 37km to go
The cyclists will actually have climbed the unremarkable Steenbeekdries 2km before reaching the Taaienberg, which is 800m long and with an average gradient of 7%, topping out at 18%. If an elite selection hasn’t been made by now, it will do on the ‘Boonenberg’, so-called because it is where Tornado Tom traditionally likes to test his legs – and his rivals. We won’t get to see the Belgian in Flanders this year, after he dislocated his shoulder in March at Paris-Nice, something that Lars Boom will no doubt be happy about. In 2012 during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Boom made the foolish mistake of trying to pass pacesetter Boonen on the inside as the riders hit the climb. The Belgian held his ground and Boom crashed into a heap in the gutter. Boonen, meanwhile, rode to the top without so much as a glance behind.
Kruisberg – 28km to go
A long serving staple of De Ronde, the Kruisberg is 9% up a 1.8km carpet of cobbles. Whilst perhaps not one of the best known climbs in Flanders, the Kruisberg was the finish line for the 1983 Belgian National Championships as well as for the 1988 World Championships, won by Italy’s Maurizio Fondriest after Canadian Steve Bauer had forced Claude Criquielion into a fence, denying the Belgian victory. This will be the 47th time the riders have to cruise up the Kruisberg in the 85 years since it was first included in the Tour of Flanders route.
Oude Kwaremont – 17km to go
While not as steep as the others, with only a 3% average, the cobbled Oude Kwaremont berg compensates with its length: 2,200m. Imagine having to ride up it for a third time, after nearly 250km of ups and downs all day. That’s what faces the riders this year. De Oude was the launch pad for one of Eddy Merckx’s greatest ever rides, as he attacked on its slopes in 1975, with over 100km to the finish. The Cannibal dragged poor Frans Verbeeck with him up and over the remaining bergs, finally dropping him with 5km to go. Verbeeck’s verdict on Merckx, as he was helped off his bike at the finish? – “He’s from another world.”
Paterberg – 13km to go
Rising up above the village of Berchem, with a pleasant view and lush grassy banks alongside the road, the Paterberg is classic Belgian countryside. None of that will matter on Sunday, though, as the pros power up these 360m of 12% average gradient – the last chance to stretch the elastic on the cobbled climbs. Like Oude Kwarement, the Paterberg will be ridden three times, although after the final effort all that remains is 13km, mostly downhill, to the finish. Swiss Fabian Cancellara motorbiked everyone off his wheel in the race winning move at the 2013 edition of De Ronde – a must watch.
This is the landscape that has shaped some of the hardest of cycling’s hard men, a dark, brooding theatre with a romance and history all its own and which, in many ways, represents the quintessential Belgian racing experience.
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