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The Tour of Flanders is one of the five ‘monuments’ of cycling. The monuments is a collection of the five of the longest, hardest, and most prestigious races in the professional racing calendar (the others being Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Il Lombardia).
The 2022 Tour of Flanders marks the 105th edition of the ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen’, which was first held in 1913.
De Ronde has become one of the highlights of the season, and along with Paris-Roubaix, is one of the Monuments made particularly famous for its road surfaces. Whilst Paris-Roubaix is defined by its sections of treacherous ‘pave’ – stretches of roughly cobbled roads – De Ronde is known for the short, steep cobbled climbs littered through the route. As the race gets nearer and nearer its epic 260km conclusion, the climbs come thick and fast. Amongst those falling in the final 50km, two of the most notorious are the Koppenberg and the Paterberg.
The Koppenberg falls around 45km from the finish line, and whist only being 600m long, averages 11.6% and tops out at a vicious 22%! That would be tough enough on a tarmacked road, but the cobbles make it an almost insurmountable – proven by the way in which so many riders of the sportive have to unclip, shoulder their bikes and walk to the top.
One of the key difficulties of the Koppenberg is that you don’t get any run up with which to gain momentum. The climb starts immediately after a 90 degree bend, and it’s cobbled and steep straight away. Even if you have managed to hit the foot of the climb with some speed and strength, it almost immediately cranks up to 20%. Fear not though, as the grade shallows slightly too around 12% in the final third… not that that will be easy when you’re bouncing off rough cobbles. It’s best to stay seated as you climb to keep your weight at the centre and back of the bike, otherwise you’ll be playing rodeo as your bike jerks around beneath you.
The road is set deep into the hill, has steep banks either side and is shrouded by trees on the steepest sections, which help keep the cobbles greasy – as if they weren’t hard enough already. This narrow road can feel really claustrophobic, which will be exacerbated by those around you; if you’re riding the sportive. Should one of them deviate from their line or fall in front of you, it’s highly likely you’ll have to unclip and put your foot to the floor. And there will be no getting started again!
The Paterberg is famous as much due to its location as its physical presence. As the final climb in the race (though it does appear many times in the maze-like parcours), it has been the site of many a winning move, notably Peter Sagan’s definitive attack in the 2016 edition.
Whilst the cobbles of the Koppenberg are uneven and rough, those of the Paterberg are smooth and easier to ride. However, you still have the issue of getting across its 400m length, which averages 13% and maxes out at 20% – something that isn’t easy at the best of times, whether the road beneath you is cobbled or not.
Like the Koppenberg, the Paterberg steepens immediately, hitting 15% in the initial hundred meters. The road flattens slightly after this initial ramp, then it’s back to the super-steep stuff, so hold on tight! The middle of the climb is a vicious gradient, before relenting a little at the top.
By now though, the adrenaline will be pumping and fuel your efforts, as once you’re over this final climb, it’s only 13km of nice smooth road to the end of a truly monumental day.
Jim is a passionate and experienced cyclist who has ridden with us for various Haute Routes, the Etape du Tour, and La Marmotte. He keeps a blog of his musings and experiences on the bike here: https://mountainmutton.wordpress.com
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