Koppenberg op de Kemmelberg: How the Quick Girls Spin in Flanders.

Hayley Simmonds and Dani Christmas in the lead group on the Kemmelberg

Last Sunday in Flanders Fields we were lucky to be part of a vintage edition of the Gent Wevelgem cobbled classic.

We got frozen, soaking wet, delayed by level crossings and blown clean off the road by the brutal cross winds. But we weren’t even the ones riding our bikes!
In short, we spent the day enjoying everything we love about the spring classics and road racing.

We were there to see the elite women’s edition of the race and to cheer on the quick girls of Team Velosport Montegrappa, and our very own SAS racer Dani Christmas, riding for Belgian squad Isorex. 

Dani has been racing her
custom titanium Speed Metal all over Flanders this season, whilst Velosport’s fleet of fast Fondriest TF3’s are all shod with custom built X Series Koppenberg Carbon Fat Boys.

If you saw the men’s race on TV you’ll have seen incredible scenes of the battering the boys took out on the exposed Flandrian roads, with big guys like Geraint Thomas being blown off his bike and plenty of others ending up in ditches, one or two riders even going for an unscheduled dip in a stream. 

Well, those were the very same roads and muddy cobbled bergs that the world’s best women raced up and over just ahead of the boys. The women’s race was no less spectacular to witness, no less brutal and certainly no easier. It’s really just a great shame there’s no wider coverage of the women as the racing is fantastic, and the girls deserve nothing less.

The Velosport girls sign on in Ypres

The truly epic weather conditions brought carnage to the peloton even before the neutralised zone had been completed, with riders crashing everywhere in a desperate attempt to maintain position, ready for the inevitable formation of the echelons that would define and determine the race.

Velosport’s Jenny Crouch: My race started well enough – we’d got a great starting position and I
was pleased with how I held my nerve in the neutralised section, with people
crashing all around me. Unfortunately I soon realised that something wasn’t
right with the bike – the bolt that clamped my shifters to the bars had come
loose and so the hoods were slipping down round the bars. I went back to the
team car and got it tightened, but at that point the peloton was doing c. 55kph
and there was no way I was ever going to get back on, so my race effectively
ended after about 10k. I was really disappointed not to get the chance to see
how far I could actually go in such a race, but we’ve got the whole season
ahead of us so there was no point risking a silly crash

Dani Christmas: With the race split to
pieces before the end of the neutralised zone I spent the first 8km
completely in the red. Jumping from wheel to wheel to wheel in an attempt to
reach the leaders, being battered by the worst winds I’ve ever experienced and with riders being blown off the road it was do or die! Either I made it to the
front or it was game over. Giving it everything I had I finally made it to the
sanctuary of the lead group containing less than 50% of the starters.

We set up station near the summit of the Kemmelberg and eagerly awaited the first group’s arrival. First time up the legendary cobbled ascent and we were pretty excited to see multiple British TT champion, Team Velosport’s Hayley Simmonds along with Dani riding super strong in the lead group, with Amy Brice not far back in the second group.

Dani Christmas on the Kemmelberg ascent

Dani: The first ascent of the
Kemmelberg proved to be a decisive one. With riders scrapping for position
leading into the tight turn onto the cobbles the inevitable crash occurred,
unfortunately just ahead of me. Grabbing the barriers I stayed upright and
managed to slowly weave my way through the carnage.

The race quickly blew apart into several groups over the top of the climb and on to the treacherous descent. Below you can see the Kemmel cobbles but what you can’t is the wind and the biting cold. 

Up close and personal on the Kemmelberg cobbles

Our girls were still riding strongly on the second and last circuit of the cobbled hellingen sector and looked comfortably positioned for strong finishes at their first attempt, during one of the hardest editions in the race’s long history.

Sadly, their incredible efforts were to come to nothing behind the barriers of a level crossing before being pulled from the race with less than 20km to the line.

Dani battles on solo

Dani: By
the bottom of the first Kemmelberg descent the first group was shattered and I eventually found
myself in the third group on the road. With a lot of uncooperative riders I
inadvertently rode off the front. For the next 10kms I was determined to bridge up to the second group but with the gap slowly closing I could feel my
powder turning to clay in the brutal conditions. A reduced group chased me down
and caught me shortly before the second ascent of the Kemmelberg. Never before
have I come so close to blowing up in a race. Every cell in my body was
screaming to stop, and I found myself grinding the enamel off my teeth but yet I held it. The
rest of the race was a bit of a blur but my legs had by now slowly recovered and I was
readying myself for the finish until with about 23km to go we got stopped at a
railway crossing! The joys of racing in Belgium!  7 minutes later we were on
our way again, only to be informed 3km down the road we were outside the time limit
and cut from the race… I was livid but that’s racing! I learnt an awful from this race and I’m really looking forward to
applying it in my forthcoming battles.

Dani wipes the Floortje! Lotto Cycling Cup

A few days later and Dani was back in the saddle at the Dottignies Kermesse for the third round of the Lotto Cycling Cup, getting away into a break with Liv Plantur’s Floortje
Mackaij, Gent Wevelgem’s eventual winner, and seen here on the left with Dani.

But back on the Kemmelberg last Sunday, the men’s race quickly followed the ladies, and was equally thrilling to behold ascending the twists and turns of this brutal hill, up close and personal in the way that only cycle sport can deliver. But on such an epic and truly vintage edition of this classic race, our thoughts went back to the girls, and to women’s cycling in general. 

Because earlier that morning in the wind lashed and rain sodden Grote Markt of Ypres, our riders turned up to sign on for the race and were expecting to be presented to the fans. Only there weren’t any. And the compare didn’t even bother to turn up. We marvelled as all the girls cheerfully anticipated a tough day’s racing ahead in weather conditions that had kept most of Belgium safely back at home, even though their brief moment of recognition had been denied them.

And because women’s racing at this level is no less thrilling to watch and enjoy than the top men’s events. In some ways it’s even better and even more accessible. The girls are as tough as the boys and they race with the same level of guts and determination, yet simply don’t get the coverage nor the attention they deserve.

Jenny Crouch: I have rather mixed emotions. It was a very
surreal experience sitting on the start line of such an iconic race, and now
that I’m back sitting at my desk in the office again it feels like I dreamt it
all! The weather conditions made the build up all the more nerve-wracking and
for a while I was wondering how on earth I’d ended up there. Still, not
everyone gets the chance to race Gent Wevelgem and while I was slightly out of
my league, it was amazing to even be there.The best part of the weekend was being able to bond further as a team,
and learn about each others strengths and weaknesses in a high pressure
environment – we think we’ve got a strong team this year and we’re really
looking forward to having a crack at some of the domestic races now.

If you haven’t yet seen an elite women’s race, we can tell you: you’re missing something special. Our hats are well and truly off to the ladies.

And especially to those who Spin On These: Team Velosport Montegrappa and the Isorex Team’s Dani Christmas.

For us, it’s always a treat to see the stuff we make competing out on the road, doing precisely what we’ve designed and built it for. To know it has helped our racers compete at the very top levels and bring them safely through conditions like these is satisfying, but also very humbling.

Our thanks go to all the quick girls and boys who made Gent Wevelgem 2015 such an incredible couple of bike races. And we’ll leave the last word on choosing the right equipment to reigning British 10 & 50 mile TT champion, Hayley Simmonds.

@SpinOnThese you know I’m not going to give them back at the end of the season, right?!