Belgian Affirmations: Beer And Bloating On The Koppenberg

Belgian Affirmations: Beer And Bloating On The Koppenberg

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The memories still foment in my mind. They don’t keep me up at night, but they are there, hidden in the recesses of my recall mechanism or whatever it is called, sitting there waiting, waiting to remind me of the darkest day of Keepers Tour ’12. The day of the Ronde, and the horrors that befell me and a half dozen other wretched souls, when any number of factors within and beyond our control conspired against us, just as they had against many men more equipped to deal with them so many times before.

The day hadn’t started well, the excesses of a week-long binge of riding, drinking and myriad other distractions, good times for sure, now turned on me in some kind of cruel punishment dished out by a body bent on reaping revenge on itself. Why does it hate me? It hadn’t complained at the time, continually and gladly accepting the wickedly delicious Belgian nectar so eagerly without recourse or reflux. Maybe it decided that since the sky was grey, the air cold and the ground wet, it would team with the elements in a joint offensive to make a long, hard day even more difficult. As if the cobbled bergs couldn’t complete the hatchet job alone.

Although I’d been coughing like a coal miner all week, the cacophony now included most of the party; Bob Fleming would’ve gone unnoticed among this rabble. Some made comment on the increased frequency and ferocity of the phlegm rockets exiting my throat; it seemed G’rilla was also suffering the same fate, but was probably too well-mannered to make it as obvious as I. He would later pay dearly.

We were wet from the off, soaked to the bone and cold even before we’d missed the turn-off to start the 120km journey through the fields of Flanders, following as much of the Ronde route as possible, taking in the fabled climbs and faeces-riddled farm tracks we held in such esteem. Bergs came and went without much fanfare or incident; their names reeled off as we hit them en masse, then crested strung-out, disheveled and panting, the shortness more than offset by steepness and of course the greasy stone surfaces, not as rough or randomly scattered as those of Roubaix but unanimously considered to be tougher. Throw a climb at a cyclist, no matter how smooth or shallow, and the ride will always have just gotten that much more painful. We were revelling in it, quietly and with no outward boasting. We knew there was much worse to come.

But when? Each famous climb would just pop up out of nowhere, as the hills in the region don’t really present themselves to you from any distance away. There were some landmarks to help us, ones we’d seen in photos or on videos of races from years past. The smokestacks and jagged fenceline signaled the arrival of the Paterberg, and its reputation prompted a warning from our cheerfully sadistic guides, snickering with evil intonations as they pointed out the gradient and how to tackle it. Neither of which really help, all you can do is hang on grimly and try to keep the rear wheel planted and rolling just enough to prevent it spinning, avoiding the dreaded zzzzzing that heralds the death knell for both first-timer and Pro. Done, with a full set of pass marks for the students.

The first clue you are about to enter sacred territory is the sign. I’m sure nothing was said as we approached, or maybe by this time I’d slipped far enough from the front and into a deep enough state of fatigued resignation that I didn’t hear it. But I saw it, and think I spoke it out loud, or as loud as I could at this stage. “Koppenberg” to no-one in particular. The pecking order was soon established as it had been all day, all week even, but this time we all desperately scrambled to put some form of daylight ahead of us, the fear of no traction and a kneeful of cobbles seemingly more present. The reputation of the hill well and truly preceded it, and the levels of respect shown grew tenfold among the bunch. I wasn’t badly positioned, and felt that those around me were keeping a high enough tempo that nothing much could go wrong. It is probably at that point when falsely inflated confidence plays its card, and the traction you were clinging to just seconds ago is now laying alongside you on the damp cobbles.

There’s no way to get remounted, clipped in and in motion again, no matter if you’re leaning against the grassy bank with your wheels in the smooth(er) ditch. It’s just too bloody steep. If there were a crowd here three deep, maybe they could help, but my own saviour came in the form of a mate, a true comrade who, like me, had travelled halfway across the world for this and now gave up his own fight with the hill to help me out. Bianchi Denti is that kind of man, as is Alex, more than our guide cum faithful pusher of strewn bodies and bikes. Away again, riding yes, but the sense of defeat was hard to swallow. There was no going back, our one shot at the legend had come and gone, and the legend had won.

We all made it to the top, some in one piece, others in two, but becoming a single entity again as we continued across fields, on to the next berg, the next tiny nondescript town, the next brush-stroke on the canvas of the bigger picture that we all painted together, and signed ‘Keepers Tour’.

The next time we meet will be in the name of redemption. The Koppenberg shall succumb, revenge and honour will be mine. As Museeuw is my witness.


Keepers Tour: Cobbled Classics 2013 packages and information here.




// Belgian Affirmations // Keepers Tour

  1. @Bianchi Denti

    Yes, Andrew…

  2. Nice article.  Awesome photo…

  3. I am envious of those of you that actually were there to ride up it.

  4. Hangin out with the Gilbear like this?

  5. Well it’s a nice story, Brett but I’m struggling to find much sympathy. Particularly given you’ve got another chance to hit it next year.

    Have you considered running a compact? Or maybe a triple would suit you better. Museeuw’s doctor may have some red eggs to give the legs better sensations… Or refer to Rule #5.

  6. Aghhh white shorts….can we send him an email?

    By the time Eurosport tuned in to the Falling Leaves, he’d already fallen off and jumped in the car

    Hopefully he will realise this is what happens when you wear white shorts, really Phillippe, WTF!!!

    Beautiful picture of the Koppenberg – hope to make the Belgian bit of the KT this year if you grant us that honour – they look best in black and white, in view of the historical context if nothing else, a reminder of all the fallen heroes, both in war and in bike racing (no link/ context intended obviously)

  7. Nice one, brett! That’s a very cool goal to have in mind over the course of the next few months.

    Just the other day I was out riding and got a bit sad with Lombardia finished, the season truly winding down. Then I thought about the Classics. Then I wondered if I’d be able to survive the many months between now and then. Autumn is just coming on here, but I’m already excited about the spring & the races, maybe feeling just enough buzz to carry me right on through some cold winter riding.

    That opening photo is simply wonderful!

  8. Watching some old Paris-Roubaix races and it really emphasizes how much we lost when Le Profeseur passed away too soon. What a dynamic racer he was! I’m sure he’s riding off the front wherever he is…

  9. I need help, or perhaps it’s the others?  Can anyone explain why there are so many MTBs, often very expensive ones, ridden without the intention of ever going near a hill?

  10. @Velokid

    An indication of how well the big bike co’s have marketed them? I see it like people driving SUV’s who live in the city and rarely get out of town and when they do, their SUV is way over gunned, over powered, and over sized for what they’re actually driving in. Front wheel drive will meet the needs of most of these people and the rest of us would be way better off.

    MTB riders may imagine themselves off on some single track somewhere, and perhaps sometimes they are, but some really high percentage of the time they’re riding the local bike path. Not that a road bike would be suitable for all these peeps but perhaps a fendered 8 speed commuter with 28’s would do. Lord knows it’d be more efficient.

    We saw a number of these people on the Keepers Tour last spring, both on the cobbles and the kassien. More power to them. I’d prefer to see them riding a full suspension MTB through the Trench or up the Kwaremont then not riding, but you gotta wonder what went through their minds when 14 lycra’d up studs on bling road bikes working together went zipping past them like they were standing still. I know what I would have been thinking – “I wanna be one of those guys because clearly I’ve got the wrong tool for the job.”

  11. @minion

    Hangin out with the Gilbear like this?

    Is it a skinsuit?  Just curious, looks like one to me and he wore team bibs at Lombardia.

  12. @Ron

    Just the other day I was out riding and got a bit sad with Lombardia finished, the season truly winding down. Then I thought about the Classics. Then I wondered if I’d be able to survive the many months between now and then. Autumn is just coming on here, but I’m already excited about the spring & the races, maybe feeling just enough buzz to carry me right on through some cold winter riding.

    Only 142 days until Het Volk!

  13. @Cyclops

    When @Frank has kids-

    This dad is ahead of the curve:

  14. @ Nate: as a father and one who has a boy, that video is just absolutely precious!

    @brett: you speak about redemption in the year to come, but perhaps your first run around there was as much about atonement as well

  15. @Souleur

    @ Nate: as a father and one who has a boy, that video is just absolutely precious!

    Yup.  Need to take my older one riding this weekend, methinks.  He asked me to take him last weekend but I went for my own ride instead.  Time to atone.  And the younger one’s legs are just about long enough for one of these — very exciting.

  16. @Nate

    1. That lad is on his BMX bike, no suspension, chapeau.

    2. He has large balls for such a small one.

    3. He rides like someone who hasn’t crashed yet,  to paraphrase @roadslave

    4. Once he rides up to the start of that course, he will be on the path.

  17. @Gianni


    4. Once he rides up to the start of that course, he will be on the path.

    Hardest part for the little ones — their bikes weigh more than ours, in absolute terms.  Relative to bodyweight it kills their VAM.

  18. @Nate Try weighing 195 pounds, that will ruin the VAM all together.

    I love the audio. MTB riding without swearing. What a concept.

  19. @Gianni

    I can attest that the audio is authentic 5-year-old-boy-ese.  Hilarious.

  20. @Gianni@Nate Watched that with my two boys (7 & 9) last night. Sound was off so they didn’t realise it was a kid until some way through it. At first they thought it was just a slow adult. Now they want to go to whistler.

  21. Brett, you are a bastid.  I’ve been telling all who would listen (and, to be honest, telling those who wouldn’t many, many times over, just to be irritating and educational) how I crushed the Koppenberg and made it my bitch, and now here you go blabbing all over the interwebs about the fact I came off on the steep bit. 

    In my defence, physics was never my strong point at school BITD, so how was I supposed to calculate coefficient of friction, pedal leverage, etc. tempered by the effects of gravity, all whilst sinking my teeth into my handlebars with the effort of trying to get up that thing.

    Either way, I’m emigrating to Switzerland so I can sue you for being nasty and horrid, and be rich.  RICH!

  22. Great article Bretto. Can’t wait to suffer the cobbles with y’all this spring.

  23. So Brett, mission accomplished in style eh ?

  24. @strathlubnaig

    So Brett, mission accomplished in style eh ?

    Just saw this… yep, I knocked the bastard off this time!

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