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Did You Know? It’s Donkey Race Time!

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on tap for Sunday

Tim de Waele

More fun factoids for you legions of people who don’t really need a proper course review for Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne classic...

Did you know! That in fact the race should be renamed Kuurne-Eichem-Kuurne? That town which is maybe allied in some way with Ninove is about where the race turns around and heads back to Kuurne, where the race does actually begin and end. Excluding Brussels from an actual race is a no-brainer: city centers are logistical nightmares for guys on skinny-tire bikes, and my host at the super great BnB I stayed at in Gent told me that nobody would want to ride a bike there anyway. Brussels hasn’t hosted any part of the race since 1968, which is sort of shameful given all that time they’ve had to come up with a new name. But not going into Brussels? Not that shameful.

The only new news about the course has to do with an early climb called the Onkerzeleberg, which sounds like it should translate to something adorable but it doesn’t. It’s adorably early in the race, which means we won’t care about it because we won’t have seen the race go over it in the first place.

KBK 2017 climbs

Did you know? The Nokereberg might be one of the busiest climbs in all of Flanders. It manages to not get featured in the Tour of Flanders all that often, just four times in the last 14 years. But it gets into K-B-K as well as coming last in Dwars door Vlaanderen, just 7.9km from the line in 2016, and roughly 10km from the finish next month. It shows up quite early on in the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad tomorrow (but not the men’s). And it is positively ridden to oblivion in the Nokere Koerse race, where they go over it again and again until everyone gives up and someone standing atop the Nokereberg is declared the winner. Not too shabby for a stretch of cobbles that could charitably be called “polite.”

nokere 2015 DAVID STOCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The most distinguishing feature of K-B-K, apart from the lack of B, is its sprinter-friendly format, and a sprint has erupted at the end of this race more often than it has in some of the other cobbled classics. But this is classics season, sort of, when crosswinds come rolling in off the North Sea and put paid to anyone’s plans for an armchair ride to the finish. I say sort of because it’s actually worse than classics season. If you think that distinction is reserved for April, I can tell you that in April there are at least a few leaves on the trees in Flanders to slow down the crosswinds.


In February? Not so much. The weather calls for rain in the early morning and mid-day, along with winds in the 15mph range (375kph). So looking up the names of all the bunch sprinters might not do that much for your prognosticating skills.

Did you know! Since 2000, exactly four editions of K-B-K have ended in a full-on bunch gallop. Two of those went to Mark Cavendish, another to Tom Boonen, and one more to Chris Sutton. Mind you, that was sprinty 2007 Tom Boonen. Four other editions since 2000 have ended in small groups sprinting it out, and two of those were won by not-so-sprinty 2009 and 2014 Tom Boonen. The point is, if you want to win the race, you need to either be a really lucky sprinter who’s at least as fast as Mark Cavendish, or be prepared to battle it out in the style of a true cobbled classic slugfest. Or be Tom Boonen. Those three wins are the all-time record for the race, which is interesting since he’s won almost every classic except the one that happens the day before K-B-K.

Boonen wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
Tim de Waele

Despite the wave of mondialisation happening among the cobbled classics, which has caused a number of them to be elevated to World Tour status, K-B-K is not World Tour. It’s also not owned by one of the groups working under the Flanders Classics umbrella. Those two sentences may or may not be related. It’s also not clear how long either of them will remain true. Actually Flanders Classics only includes the Omloop, Dwars, Gent-Wevelgem, de Ronde, the Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl in its sphere of influence. K-B-K is run by the Koninklijk Sportingclub Kuurne. I do not know if Flanders Classics wants anything to do with the KSK.

But I do know that lots of races are getting snapped up by the World Tour calendar, and if the Omloop is too (it is) then it’s a little odd for K-B-K to remain excluded. The two go together like ham and cheese inside a croissant. Sure, I guess the croissant doesn’t have to contain the ham and cheese. It could just have the ham, for example, while the independently owned and operated cheese is served and eaten simultaneously. I don’t know.

Ham and cheese croissant.

Did you know! Speaking of mondialisation, you probably think a foreign guy is going to win this year. Sure, that’s hardly assured, given the presence of the winningest-ever-guy (Boonen) and the most recent winner (Stuyven) — both very much Belgians — and a host of Belgian teams and riders who should be taken very seriously. You might also take note of the fact that 53 of the 69 editions of K-B-K have been won by Belgians. But since the turn of the millennium foreigners have won seven times — half of the starts — and this year’s crop of foreign hopefuls includes World Champion Peter Sagan, 2015 Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff, and that Cavendish guy again, vying to tie Boonen’s record for most Donkey trophies.

Donkey trophies? Yes!

Did you know! The official symbol of Kuurne is a donkey. There is an origin story on Wikipedia, which I hope is actually true. It claims that the nickname was given to Kuurners by those mean people from Kortrijk who didn’t like being woken up a bit early on market day by the sounds of Kuurners trundling into town with their donkey-drawn carts. “Here come those asses from Kuurne again,” was what “they” would say, and the name stuck, with the Kuurners themselves adopting it and ruining what the Kortrijkers probably thought was a pretty sick burn. But! If that isn’t enough, there is actually a second donkey-themed origin story. And it goes, a priest went to officiate a service on Ash Wednesday, where one of your jobs is to rub ashes on everyone’s forehead, but he forgot the latin line for “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” For the record, the line in Latin is “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.” Also, for the record, Belgium in general has a lot of very strong, delicious beer, and one of those (Kwaremont) is something of a symbol of the race. Maybe the intricacies of both Latin and beer became momentarily incompatible. Whatever the cause, the priest instead was said to have uttered “You were born an ass, and you will die an ass.” The recipient allegedly said “I’ll remember that!” Now, in front of the city hall is Ambroos the Donkey. You can see lots of photos of her here. The winner of K-B-K gets a stuffed Ambroos along with a giant beer and a few kisses on the cheek.

Stuffed Ambroos
Tim de Waele

Happy K-B-K Sunday everyone! Pray for crosswinds!