What's Cool In Road Cycling

Belgian PEZ #3: Riding The KEMMELBERG

Tuesday’s ride was another “Velo Classic”, routed across the Flemish countryside taking in parts of the Gent-Wevelgem race course, including the famed Kemmelberg, which the race climbs twice. The climb was wet, steep, and cobbled, but wait till you see the descent…

Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours leads the way on most rides.

Belgium, like most of Europe, is criss-crossed with tiny roads leading somewhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s why we love riding here. But it’s easy to get lost and even easier in Belgium because in Springtime the sun doesn’t shine all day, so getting your directional bearings is always a challenge. But we were in good hands with Velo Classic Tours, who map out each ride on very detailed fine-scale maps. Each ride is broken down into several legs, and these are given to the riders on laminated map cards that fit easily into jersey pockets. And when you do get lost, there’s always a pub or cafй nearby.

The day started with that Belgian liquid sunshine pouring down as soon as we parked the van at the start point. It was cold about 5 degrees C, and the wind was blowing hard, chilling us even more. But when in Belgium… do it like the locals, and put yer head down and go.

The first 2 hours were accomplished at a blistering 22kph!, through a cold wind and intermittent rain. Occasionally the sun shone through, and we were treated to some amazing scenery.

Thar She Blows! In the distance – the historic Kemmelberg awaits. Many battles were fought in the area in World War One, and small cemeteries filled with white crosses are a frequent sight. Riding through these fields, on a cold, wet day, looking out across the Belgian mud, I could only imagine how much better life is fighting the cold & wind on your bike than fighting a war from a mud-filled trench. My two wheeled battle was a walk in the park by comparison.

A few km’s before the Kemmelberg, the route climbs over the Monteberg – just to get to the other side. Climbing just a couple hundred meters offered some big views, and was a nice break after 4 hours of flat roads.

The sun came out and the mood in the group lifted as we hit the bottom slopes of the Kemmelberg – the roads were wet, so we knew the cobbles would be slippery. None of us had been on the Kemmelberg before, so getting over it was the great unknown. Then another heavy rain shower rolled through, and soaked us again.

The cobbled climb is about 1km long, entered with a sharp left hand turn, and immediately points straight up the hill at about 10%. I was climbing in a 39×23, and working hard to keep going and not slip out. A 25 would have been nice…

The climb veers to the right and keeps going up to a false flat at about 800 meters. The constant hard effort makes it tough here. Looking ahead, the road goes left again for the final 200 meters to the top.

The worst is behind as Randall crests the top to the flat paved run across the ridge, about 500 meters. The last pitch was again slippery, and my rear wheel spun several times, but I’m happy to report it was riding all the way, with a couple of stops to collect some pics…

The descent is something else – you’ve seen it on World Cycling’s videos, but standing at the top and looking down is something else! The first pitch off the back is 23%, which then levels to about 10% for about another 500 meters. It was wet when we took these pics, so riding down was only accomplished by going off-road in the track on the left. Race day in the rain will be something to see!

On Wednesday’s race, the riders climb over the Kemmelberg twice, and should be a selection point in the race, even with 50ish km still to go. Again, riding these roads and climbs has brought on a whole new appreciation for the pros are doing. Riding here is tough.

View looking back up the descent – easier walked!

How’s The Bike? The hand-built Ristretto from Co-Motion has been performing flawlessly (seen here beside a pile of real cobbles). It’s built for racing, with tighter geometry, but has tracked straight and stable over the cobbles, which beat you up no matter what you’re riding. The aluminum frame is stiff and light – (15.5m lbs! – full bike weight), which makes battling the Belgian headwinds a lot easier, and racing along with the tailwinds a real blast. Stay tuned for more as we head to Arenberg on Friday.

The PEZ Belgian Spring Break is proudly partnered with:
Velo Classic Tours

Co-Motion Bicycles

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