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Koppenbergcross: Now We Have Begun

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It's an All Saints Day Specialty, and possibly the greatest race of the cyclocross season.

Koppenbergcross.be

With Mathias Brandle bringing the FSA DS season to a close today, it's hard to argue that any aspect of road racing is still going on. Which means there can no longer be any argument that it's not Cyclocross Season. How do we know for double-extra-sure?

Koppenbergcross.

This race serves a lot of purposes. First, for the die-hards, it's the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad of the fields, in that one can no longer call anything "preseason" from this race on. With all three major European series underway, the notion that Koppenbergcross, a.k.a GP Willy Naessens, a.k.a. Oudenaarde leg of the BPost Bank series, is the true opener seems silly. Maybe it's more like Milano-Sanremo, the first monument.

For a quick summation, here's what tgsgirl had to say:

It simply does not get better than this. Koppenbergcross is raced on cobbles. Cyclocross on cobbles! If you know me at all, my love for the Oudenaarde bpost leg should not surprise you. The peloton races about halfway up the Koppenberg on the cobbles, takes a right into the field and climbs on to the top through a grassy meadow, and then zigzags down the hill. Sven Nys first won here in 2001, and king Kop will be looking for his tenth cx kassei to take home this season.

And from there, she had to lie down for a few minutes.

One thing this race definitely resembles is the Ronde van Vlaanderen, at least for a few seconds every lap. Check it out:

Koppenbergcross parcours

The village is Melden, and the Steengat is the Koppenberg, as far as pretty much everyone who doesn't live on the street is concerned. The road race approaches on Meldenstraat in the upper left and hits the Kopp for real right after the intersection with the Rotelenberg, a/k/a the support vehicle exit. Thank you Jesper Skibby. So that's a pretty good chunk of the famous helling before the CX race hangs a right turn into the field.

As for that part, there had been some discussion that this year's course would emphasize climbing a bit more, with the organizers promising "some steeper strips", but it's not clear to me that any great changes have been made. Here's last year's map. The marking of the field right after leaving the cobbles looks slightly different, but maybe they just tried a little harder to mark the course map this time, and in fact the actual course hasn't changed at all. Probably there are some nasty little details in there but I can't detect them from a computer.

Ooh, look, a profile! Apparently the riders will be crossing the Alps.

Koppenbergcross profile

Almost all the stars are on hand. Sven Nys, the 10-time winner of the event, comes in as the heavy favorite, though the pleasant weather forecast could end in a tighter affair. Wout Van Aert, the reigning U23 world champ, is running with the elites, but his nemesis Mathieu van der Poel is not currently on the startlist, presumably opting for Sunday's Zonhoven event, the annual dive-into-a-sandpit affair. More on that later. Tom Meeusen and Kevin Pauwels have scored wins here, while Klaas Vantornhout usually hangs around.

The women's race is almost equally owned by one rider, Helen Wyman, with either Nikki Harris or Sanne Cant for a main competitor. All three are back, as are Dutch stars Sanne van Paassen and Sophie de Boer. There's a full slate of racing, with Juniors, U23 and even a couple youngster categories in the early morning.

Finally, here's the incredibly great 2012 race in its entirety!