Trembling legs, arms as heavy as Black Friday shopping bags. Breathing feels like inhaling fire and every goddamn cobble in the road is a literal pain in the ass. You're a few pedal strokes away from throwing up and then... you get hit by a car.
That's exactly what happened to the young Danish rider Jesper Skibby during the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in 1987, on the widely feared Koppenberg. Beyond his limit, Skibby was struggling on the cobblestone surface when he got hit by the car of the race director. Not only that, his bike got run over too, meaning the end of Skibby’s race. Following the incident, the climb was eliminated from the course for many years.
The 'Bump of Melden', as the Koppenberg is known locally, shows mercy to none, not even the legends of the sport. Eddy Merckx, Belgium’s most famous cyclist once said: “One might as well ask the riders to climb a ladder with their bikes on their shoulders.”
With its introduction in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1976, only five riders were able to stay on their bikes before reaching the top. Even the mighty Cannibal had to walk up. The nickname ‘Flemish Torture Chamber’ was born.
The Koppenberg is in Melden, a village near Oudenaarde in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes, Belgium. The bulge is a mere 64 meters above sea level and only 682 meters long, but includes parts that incline up to 21%.
The road is very narrow and is made up of 66,240 cobblestones over 2,760 rows at an average of 24 stones per row on the steepest part. The repetitive impact of the sharp cobbles makes you lose all momentum and it's what makes this climb brutal.
In 2002 the Koppenberg returned to the Tour of Flanders, after some significant renovations. Extra security measurements were taken, the cobblestones were relaid and they widened the road a tiny bit.
The Koppenberg is an iconic killer and is for sure the nastiest climb of the Tour of Flanders. Yours to conquer, if you dare. A famous Belgian post ride beer is awaiting you in the Tour Of Flanders Visitor Center in Oudenaarde.
If you want to conquer Koppenberg or know more on the endless possibilities for riding up north, Cycling in Flanders can help.
Read more about iconic climbs around the world in our Montagnes du Monde series.
Footnotes: Photographry Jered & Ashley Gruber / Text Dries Verclyte of Cyclinginflanders.cc