The Koppenberg! (Het Koppenberg!)
The other day Steve (the Scouse), Gleb (the last Russian), and I decided to ride out to Oudenaarde in the Ardennes. The ride was to be about 80k and would include the Koppenberg, a famous hill from the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen).
On the way out I mentioned to Steve something I had seen in a stage of the Eneco Tour.
He said it’s pretty common. He, like most, learned it from the Madison on the track. He said if you fall off a wheel with a guy behind you it’s a courteous gesture. I had him teach me.
In the picture he’s the one giving the sling. I’d ride up and grab his hand and let momentum carry it forward about to his bars. Then, he’d hold his arm still and I’d sling off of him. Both riders hold the top of their bars. The first time I swore I was going down. Steve said to just imagine going 35, pacelining, and having guys flying in and out all over the place. That’s the Madison.
The route took us up on a bit of a plateau out in the countryside.
We were getting into the Ardennes (Belgian “mountains”) so it was getting a bit hilly. Steve got a flat tire along the way. Apparently when you flat here someone always comes out to help. This was no exception. The guy ushered Steve into his garage where he had an industrial air compressor. This guy was into his toys.
Steve’s tire was up to 7.5 bar in a matter of seconds and we were on our way.
“Hurry, otherwise he’ll want to chat. They all do.” said Steve.
A few turns later and we were within striking distance of the Koppenberg.
It didn’t look so bad from afar but I knew it would hurt. The berg itself is only 77 m (253 ft) tall but it’s cobbles all the way up.
I should say a thing or two about the cobbles. Most of the cobbled sections here are pretty short. The first few times they’re fun because they’re nostalgic and you feel all Paris-Roubaix-ish. Make no mistake though, they rock you. Really. After a good 100 m of cobbles you’re going numb. The key is to just go as fast as possible. Even then, your hands hurt and your teeth chatter, but you’re bouncing around so much you can’t even wince.
We get to the hill and Gleb and Steve take off.
I thought of mentioning last one up buys coffee but it didn’t take me long to nix that idea.
The grade near the bottom isn’t that bad and you’re able to adjust to climbing on cobbles. You can’t really stand up because even dry the cobbles are worn slick.
It starts to kick up. I’m in my lowest gear doing about 40 rpm. I’m trying to go straight but the cobbles make things tricky. At times I’m afraid I’m going to lose my balance I’m going so slow.
Finally, the grade eases up and the top is in sight. I reach the summit.
I mean it’s not a hill like Marin is a hill, or even Centennial, it’s totally doable. Racing up it would be a different story though.
We descend into Oudenaarde for coffee and a chat.
We talk about the “birds” in Oudenaarde. Something brings up children and Steve says he wouldn’t mind it. He’s 20. He says he could be a stay-at-home dad and organize a co-op amongst his cycling buddies who have kids. Each could take one day off a week and watch all the other kids while the rest went and rode. He’s thought this all out before.
We get back on the canal and head home. I feel like we’re going along pretty good when I look back to see two guys sitting on the back. They’re at least mid-50s. I didn’t realize we were going that slow.
I pick up the pace a bit on the front. After a few minutes they both come riding past. I sit on for a bit and then we trade taking pulls.
On the way home we ride past the stadium where they hold the Six Days of Gent.
While riding along the canal near our apartment we came across this specimen:
In many ways this specimen embodies the Euro mystique. Many of you have probably seen, or heard stories of, Euro mullets. In addition to these notorious mullets there is a distinct alternative known as the Euro-fro. Notice the close cut hair on the sides and back in contrast to the longer, more tousled hair on top. It’s a simple reversal: party up top, business in the back. The specimen is wearing no helmet because true sporting of a Euro-fro, or Euro mullet for that matter, can only be done sans-helmet.
In addition, notice the high socks worn in combination with the knee warmers-irrespective of the sun and heat. (The year round warmers is more specifically Belgian in origin but more on that later.) The specimen is also wearing bright red Sidis and pushing a low gear at a high cadence. One might argue this is of American origin (i.e. Lance Armstrong) but Eurodom has taken it on with full force.
Lastly, the specimen is informing Steve (the Scouse) that he just got back from training in France. This is the trademark of a true neo-Euro-PRO. You must have just returned or be going to either France, Spain, or Germany-depending on the time of year-for training in the mountains.
I recorded my observations then peaced out and rode home.