I may exaggerate some, for it is impossible for me to pick a favorite cross race out of Koppenberg, Zonhoven, Koksijde, and Namur. And hey, Zolder is pretty rad too. And Druivencross. Oh hell, what have I gotten myself into?
Anyway, one of the iconic races of the fall is upon us. Iconic because it climbs the Koppenberg, or part of it, making it the cyclocross homage to the spring classics. Iconic because it is on the side of a steep, steep hill and the "quality" of the off-camber switchbacks on the way down crossed line line of absurdity by the time riders round the second... of seven. The steepness and toughness of the off-cambers are hard enough when dry, but most this is Belgium and the cycling gods who reside here usually bless the race with sweet, sweet mud that makes crashes inevitable and the slog up the hill on the grass even more unbearable. Simply put, this is a race you cannot afford to miss. And since it comes on a Friday, those of you on this side of the Atlantic can watch it over your morning coffee at your desk. Will wonders never cease?
The course is one of the hardest ones all year, climbing halfway up the Koppenberg on the pavement then taking a less ridiculous gradient up more of the hill on the grass. After descending back down, riders climb back up on the grass, passing through the pits and the timing station atop the hill. Then, the silly off-camber descent back down towards the finish and the second pit before coming back onto the paved start/finish stretch in Oudenaarde. Below is the map, but really, you need to watch at least a lap to understand the insanity about to break loose tomorrow.
This is the second stop of the bpost Bank trofee, which Sven Nys is leading at the moment. If you were a betting person, you would be smart to put money on him to be in the same position at the end of the day tomorrow. The Cannibal from Baal has had a headlock on this race for most of his career, winning it a startling nine times over the past eleven years. He has won the race every year since 2004 (and once before then) with the exception of that race back in 2011 when Kevin Pauwels won on a depressingly dry day. Tomorrow could very well be a repeat of the same conditions with no rain in the past two days and very little chance of any wetness between now and the beginning of the race. Boo, right? Other sadness comes in the absence of Bart Wellens (back injury) and Lars van der Haar (not Belgian) from the elite men's race.
As a bpost Bank series race, there will also be Juniors, U23 and Elite Women's races prior to the Elite Men's start. Schedule is below (all times CET).
1345 Elite Women
1500 Elite Men