There are a number of famous disgusting little climbs in the Flemish Ardennes, and many of them play a big role in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The Koppenberg is not only always one of the highlights of the Flanders tour, but for more than 25 years it has also been the scene of an exhausting and spectacular cross, the Koppenbergcross.
After last year’s changes to the track were met with much criticism from the riders as well, the track layout was changed again this year. In the past few years, the participants left the cobblestone passage just in front of the steepest part to enter the field for the first time. But this time everything was different, the finish was at the end of the cobblestone climb, which is murderous with twenty percent ascent, and so the participants had to master this passage several times.
Exhaustion was the motto of the day
In all categories the participants had to go to the extreme limit in order to succeed on the difficult course. Mathieu van der Poel, who had started as a clear favourite, took the lead in the first lap, but had to realize quickly that his usual tactics did not work out well here. At first it was European champion Toon Aerts and his team mate Lars van der Haar who managed to catch up with the Dutch Champion. And also World Champion Wout van Aert, who had already won two times before, joined the leading group. Despite mutual attacks, no driver was able to gain a real advantage over his rivals.
In the second half of the race, van Aert had to realize that this would not be his race and could not keep up with the leading group. Aerts, van der Haar and van der Poel, on the other hand, competed in an exciting battle until the last lap. At this point, Mathieu van der Poel managed to pull out a small advantage at the end of the lap, but took a lot of effort. The effort, however, would have almost become his downfall, as he was threatened to lose his strength in the steepest part of the climb.
With his last ounce of his strength he saved his advantage over the finish line and fell from the bike completely exhausted. It took several minutes until he was able to get up again and find his way into the podium tent.
Helen Wyman, who had already been victorious on the old track three times before, was able to celebrate her first big win of the season. Wyman was able to distance the American champion Katie Compton, who was leading at the beginning, on the cobbled climb and nailed a relatively secure victory, while last year’s winner Jolien came in third.
Pidcock proves to be a good tacticion
Tom Pidcock once again demonstrated his outstanding strength at Koppenberg. And this time not only from a technical and driver’s point of view, but the british rider also showed great tactical ability. Maybe it was the experience of his team manger and nine time winner of the Koppenbergcross Sven Nys, well known as King of Koppenberg, who let Pidcock time his race so cleverly.
At first it was ex-world champion Eli Iserbyt, who seized the book of action and tried to set himself apart from the field. But Pidcock immediately followed and stayed tied to Izerbyt’s wheel. After a short time the Dutchman Jens Dekker joined the two leaders and this trio controlled the the race until the end. At the penultimate climb to the finish, Tom Pidcock tried for the first time to see if he could outdo his rivals on the steep section, but immediately dropped back from the lead to third position. He had seen what he wanted to see and waited patiently for the end of the last lap.
And so it came as it had to come, the three U23 riders turned in for a final sprint to the finish line. Now it was up to Pidcock to fire his last cartouche, which he did with flying colors and even found the strength to cheer at the finish. Eli Iserbyt had to take favour with the second place ahead of Jens Dekker.
Ben Tullet was the junior who managed to secure a clear start and finish ahead of Wout Verwoort and Jarno Bellens. Surprisingly, Lennert Belmans won the U17 category defeating Salvador Alvarado and Thibaut Nys.