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The top 10 climbs of Flanders

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13 Nov 2020
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Ten of the best climbs that Flanders has to offer and how to tame them

No-one does cycling quite like the Flemish. The original hardmen, Flandriens have a certain way about them and it’s almost certainly down to the landscape. On a good day, bucolic and rolling, on an even better day dirty, tough and punchy.

Cycling in Flanders is incredibly testing and triumphing over its terrain leaves you with a feeling you’ll not find any other place. That first crisp Belgian beer and salty frites after a day hacking over cobbles will be the best you’ve ever tasted.

Yet even more overwhelming than the local pub’s beer menu is the sheer number of climbs Flanders has to offer, so here we’ve compiled ten of our favourites. But not in order. We’ll let you get out there, get riding and get making up your own mind on that score.

To celebrate the launch of the Flandrien Challenge, we've compiled a list of our top 10 favourite climbs in Flanders

1. Koppenberg

So called because the original cobbles looked like partly exposed skulls in mud (koppen is Flemish for ‘head’), this berg is less than 600m long and only debuted at the Tour of Flanders in 1976, yet its appetite for riders is voracious.

Starting from a sharp bend out of the village of Melden there is no real opportunity to carry speed as the gradient pitches from 2% to 12% within the first 200m, then rears to 14%, 16% and then peaks at an excessive 20%.

It’s at this point the road narrows and the trees overhang most, creating an ice-rink surface with nowhere to hide. It’s also at this point your tyre will start slipping, you’ll have long since run out gears and though you are looking forward and up, all you can see is a wall of cobbles.

Or to sum this climb up more succinctly: Eddy Merckx pushed his bike up here in 1976.

Koppenberg: The stats

Length: 0.55km
Elevation: 73m
Average gradient: 11.1%
Max gradient: 22%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19452499

2. Oude Kwaremont

Just a 10km spin from Oudenaarde city looms the mighty Kwaremont. Well, to be precise, the mighty Kluisberg, because Oude Kwaremont (meaning ‘old’, there is also the parallel, asphalted, Nieuwe Kwaremont) is the name of the road going up this hill.

At 2.2km it’s the longest berg in Flanders, and with its steep mid-section and 1.6km of cobbles, one of the most revered. The first 600m are relatively easy, the road tarmacked and the gradient shallow, but by midway the cobbles are in full flow and the gradient has risen to 12%.

Then suddenly it’s over. Only it isn’t. With a kilometre to go comes a false flat, as punishing to the mind as it is to the legs. Pity the professionals, then, who have to climb the Kwaremont not once but three times at the Tour of Flanders.

Oude Kwaremont: The stats

Length: 2.2km
Elevation: 104m
Average gradient: 4.3%
Max gradient: 11.6%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19452462

3. Paterberg

If you ever wondered just how much your average Belgian loves cycling, consider the Paterberg: a mere dirt track until a local farmer suggested it get paved (well, pavé’d) with cobbles in the hope of attracting the Tour of Flanders to pass his front door.

And it worked, the Kluisbergen council stopped its plans to smooth the track, cobbles were laid and the Paterberg appeared in the 1986 edition of the Ronde.

It has been a continuous fixture ever since and in 2012, after a reorganisation of the route, became the final climb of the race. At just 350m long the Paterberg might sound a mere blip before the finish, but its obscene gradient has made it a thrilling last act of the Belgian Monument, and a highly-prized scalp for cyclists across the globe.

Paterberg: The stats

Length: 0.35km
Elevation: 71m
Average gradient: 11.7%
Max gradient: 20.3%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19452641

4. Muur van Geraardsbergen

As Flandrien stars go the Muur boasts an incredible roster of roles: E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem and even the 2019 Tour de France.

But of course it’s the queen of them all, the Tour of Flanders, that has made the Muur the legend. For years the Muur was part of the Ronde’s final duo of climbs (the other being the Bosberg), today it still features but appears much earlier due to the parcours change in 2012.

Regardless of the occasion, the Muur always makes for the most show-stealing of spectacles, a sea of colour as flag-waving fans cram onto the summit in the gaze of the Chapel of Our Lady of Oudeberg. In fact, it’s the chapel atop the climb that gives the 20% steep Muur its other name: Kapelmuur, fittingly translated as ‘chapel wall’.

Muur van Geraardsbergen: The stats

Length: 0.91km
Elevation: 102m
Average gradient: 6.8%
Max gradient: 20.2%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19453373

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5. Bosberg

Merckx and De Vlaeminck; biere and frites. And you can add to that list ‘Muur and Bosberg’, because as Belgian things go there are few as fiercely Flandrien and inseparable as these two bergs. Like its sibling the Bosberg is just under a kilometre long and is cobbled all the way to the top, but the gradient appears less severe and so one might think this the easier climb.

But just ask the pros in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and they’ll tell you different thanks to this climb coming after nearly 200km of racing. Then try it yourself and realise that even with fresh legs the challenge here is as much technical as it is about brutish power.

The cobbles are uneven and the upper slopes enveloped by trees – hence the name, meaning ‘forest hill’ – which makes for a treacherous ascent. Then there’s that other great Belgian pairing, cobbles and rain, at which point the Bosberg becomes like a spillage in a soap bar factory.

Bosberg: The stats

Length: 0.99km
Elevation: 108m
Average gradient: 6.1%
Max gradient: 10.7%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/21643592

6. Taaienberg

What’s in a name? You can tell rather a lot from the Taaienberg’s. Literally translated it means ‘tough hill’, and were that not enough to warn you, it also earned itself an equally arresting nickname – Boonenberg.

It was here Tom Boonen made decisive moves to win four of his five E3 Harelbeke trophies, and here where Belgium’s second favourite son would routinely demonstrate explosions of power in the Tour of Flanders.

Like many bergs, the Taaienberg is designated a ‘protected monument’ by the government, and thus its original cobbles endure, having been re-laid in 1993 and well-maintained since. As such going is smooth (for cobbles), but don’t let that fool you.

Yes this is short, but the first 250m are a serious 14% right hook, while the remaining 250m will jab you in the ribs all the way to the top.

Taaienberg: The stats

Length: 0.53km
Elevation: 80m
Average gradient: 6.3%
Max gradient: 14.5%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19452944

7. Oude Kruisberg

Like a few others in this list, the Kruisberg is actually a hill on the outskirts of the city of Ronse, and there are several ways to the top. Thus the actual road you’ll want is the older Oudestraat, as opposed to the much smoother, much wider, much less fun Kruisstraat that runs parallel.

The Oude Kruisberg does share in some tarmac too but only in its early section, because after 300m the road breaks down into 450m of awkwardly laid cobbles.

Since 2012 this has come third-to-last behind the Kwaremont and the Paterberg in the Tour of Flanders, and as such is one the professionals won’t relish.

The going steepens consistently throughout, sharpening to early teens over its cobbled climax. However, if you care to be official about things and have the stamina, Tour of Flanders organisers recognise the Kruisberg-Hotond, which comprises a 1.5km gently sloping tarmac extension that adds an extra 23m of elevation.

Oude Kruisberg: The stats

Length: 0.75km
Elevation: 105m
Average gradient: 7.2%
Max gradient: 11%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19453051

8. Kanarieberg

If berg is ‘hill’, bos is ‘forest’ and kapel is ‘chapel’, what is Kanarieberg? Yep, ‘canary hill’. And Muziekbos? Correct again, ‘music forest’. But that’s about where the fairytale ends.

The Kanarieberg has long featured in smaller races but in 2014 got the call-up from the Tour of Flanders, where it now sits just before the second ascent of the Kwaremont around 200km into the race.

That alone speaks to its credentials, albeit unlike many of Flanders’ better-known climbs this bird is tarmacked all the way up. But don’t get complacent.

The Kanarieberg’s rolling fields are an idyllic backdrop, so too the Muziekbos woods at the top, but the stats don’t lie. The Strava record is held by Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Dries Devenyns at 1m59s, but this berg packs a 10% average gradient that bucks to 14%, so anything under four minutes should be considered a win.

Kanarieberg: The stats

Length: 0.92km
Elevation: 142m
Average gradient: 9.2%
Max gradient: 14%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19610530

9. Kemmelberg (Ossuaire/Belvedère)

The Kemmelberg’s height and its proximity to the French border made it a strategic target in the First World War and as such it’s reckoned some 120,000 soldiers from both sides lost their lives. This sombre history has not been forgotten, and rightly so, memorials dot this hillside.

Yet despite everything this remains a picturesque Flanders climb, and one to which crowds flock each year to see decisive plays being made at Gent-Wevelgem, where riders climb the berg twice.

That’s on the Belvedère side, named after the restaurant part way up, but for those not tied to a race commissaire’s course profile there’s also the Ossuaire side to attempt, so-called as it goes past an ossuary to 5,237 fallen French soldiers.

Whichever side you choose, expect cobbles and gradients over 20%. And remember: what goes up must descend down, so at 20% you better watch your step, particularly in the wet.

Kemmelberg (Ossuaire/Belvedère): The stats

Length: 0.73km/0.55km
Elevation: 156m
Average gradient: 9.6%/9.2%
Max gradient: 23%/20%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segments on Strava: strava.com/segments/20921246 & strava.com/segments/20920752

10. Eikenberg

This is one the longer bergs in East Flanders, but still, its relative straightness set in open farmland makes it seems doubly long, the end always a vanishing point on a horizon that never seems to get closer.

That puts paid to any notion that a 5% climb that peaks at 10% is going to be easy, especially as the road is cobbled bottom to top. But at a moderate pace, this is a berg on which you can sit up and smell the rural-Belgium proverbials, and if the cobbles are taking their toll there is a B-line of patchy tarmac up the road's edge. Although riding in the gutter isn’t really in the spirit of things.

This is Flanders, not Roubaix.

Eikenberg: The stats

Length: 1.23km
Elevation: 83m
Average gradient: 5.1%
Max gradient: 10%

Check out the Flandrien Challenge segment on Strava: strava.com/segments/19453557

 

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