Two races will be held this weekend, but these are not just any races. These are two classics of the sport. Koppenberg is more so, its road cycling heritage brings a level of awareness that Zonhoven, the other race, in Limburg, will probably never achieve, but based on the course, it definitely deserves it.
One of the difficult things about the Koppenbergcross is the climbing. Every lap, you have climb up half way up the actual Koppenberg climb, then turn right and after fairly flat section, you have to climb up almost all the way up to the top. But, as the saying goes, what goes up, must come down. Descending from the can be just as hard, even in good weather. From the top, the slope looks like a long snake that slides down to Oudenaarde, which is a succession of off camber switchbacks. These corners are rather slippery, even on a dry day, so a few days of rain before race day brings caution and crashes to equal measures.
Watching the best riders in the world descending at Koppenberg is still one of my favourite moments of the season. The calculation they have to do every lap is fascinating: go fast enough to stay competitive but not too fast to lose grip. You see total concentration in the eyes, itís not the descent where you want to lose control.
Tomorrow’s race will be special for another reason as well. This will be the first race in Europe that offers equal prize money for women. Initiated by Helen Wyman, backed by 20Twenty Cycling, it’s a big step in the right direction in terms of gender equality in cross. And if you’re not sure why this is so important, just take a look at our infographic of the prize money difference between women and men in cross.
Zonhoven has an equally daunting calcuation to tackle. After a few hundred meters form the start, the riders reach the top of the main spectacle, the sandy arena. They have to hurtle down on a steep patch of shin-deep sand. This is one of the few downhill sections, where crashing doesnít necessarily have to hurt as you land on the soft sand, but should you go down, you can kiss good bye any chance to win the race.
Then comes a quick run up on the an equally sandy sidewalls of the arena, then they repeat the previous excercise once more and then the sand pit is done. Until the next lap.
Zonhoven is a hidden gem outside of Belgium. Itís too far from Calais for a convenient daytrip but the fan-filled arena and the sand-diving riders makes it one of the best races of the season.
Koppenbergcross tv coverage starts at 3pm CET on Sporza
Zonhoven TV coverage starts at 3pm CET on Vier
Sunny and warm (15-18 degrees) for both days, so still no proper cross weather.
If you havenít seen it yet, check out my coffee table album about the 2013/2014 cyclocross season. It is an exclusive chronicle of the 13/14 season on 240 high-quality, colourful pages.