Can I replicate the cycle road race routes of Flanders in Göttingen? Although the short answer is ´not easily´, I can nonetheless pay my respects to the Flemish (or Wallonia) theatres of cycle sport even if there are so few substantive stretches of cobbles to ride in the Göttingen region.
One notable race is the Gent Wevelgem semi-classic which actually starts in the Belgian city of Ypres and this event features many sharp climbs (some cobbled) that mark the region, including the infamous Kemmelberg. The race also takes in several gravel tracks used by soldiers in World War One called Ploegsteerts. The British expressed them in WW1 as ‘Plug Streets´, after failing to grasp hold of the Flemish language.
Mind the Gap
What we do have in common in this area of central Germany and the Gent Wevelgem race is windswept winding asphalt roads, plus gravel and Betonweg. Anyone who has ridden on Betonweg will tell you about the rhythmic slapping you feel through your hands when your tyres hit the gaps between the concrete slabs that make up the surface.
Now rebuilt the city of Ypres was destroyed after years of being bombarded because it sat inside an Allied salient that punched into the German Kaiser Reich Western front line during WW1. The area has a poignant air because it is marked by many military cemeteries with some being small and others large.
Overlooking to the west of Ypres are the Messines and Kemmel Ridges and on the latter is the Kemmelberg, these stretches of high ground became notorious during WW1 because of the loss of life and suffering that went on there.
When I rode the Kemmelberg it felt like I was dropping off the edge of the world when I descended from the Kemmelberg down the east side road toward Westouter or Loker. This fearsome descent is not used in modern races because of past accidents such as in 2007 when there was carnage, although now the race is configured so that it ascends the Kemmelberg from both directions. It’s worth stopping at the French Ossuary where the cobbles end and it offers the opportunity to reflect on the final resting place of WW1 soldiers. This spot also gives a cool view across the landscape to Ypres.
The race flows past many reminders of the conflict and battlefields.
At the heart of this ride and standing in for the Kemmelberg is the Kopfsteinpflaster Carousel (as I know it). The Kemmelberg is a cobbled climb much used by many races and I have visited this iconic ascent and fearsome descent a few times. I recall that when I sat down to take a drink at the summit I felt as if the forest was looking over my shoulder, it is a spot imbued with historical menace.
The Kopfsteinpflaster Carousel although not endowed with the same heavy baggage as the Kemmelberg does feel like a suitable alternative. Both are cobbled, lined with heavy tree cover, are narrow and wind up and then down (steeply), although the Carousel is shorter in length and easier to ride.
Each set of cobbles at these locations had been laid with a degree of order but since then they resemble more as if an angry toddler has forced a jigsaw to together with a large hammer and discarded a number of key pieces of a portrait puzzle such as an eye, nose or teeth. A battered cobble section can resemble a punch drunk boxer with a good number of missing teeth.
Whilst the Belgian cobbles on the Kemmelberg are rounded and on the Carousel, they are tile like, they both share a mean streak of inanimate malevolence akin to Lego waiting for a naked foot to tread upon it.
Either set of cobbles are extremely difficult on a road bike fitted with 28mm tyres (Vittoria Pave) to ride and the Carousel has the added challenge of being approached (on this ride) by a long gravel climb after a stretch of Betonweg.
The ride references the Plug Streets by including five gravel sections.
– Onto the B27 cyclepath
– Through Niedernjesa to Sieboldhausen on asphalt.
– Next it is a series of rough asphalt farm roads linking back almost to Niedernjesa.
– Modest gravel section along railway line to Obernjesa.
– A wee bit of cobbled road at Obernjesa (there aren´t that many cobbles in the race).
– Open asphalt public roads through Klein Schneen and Elkerhausen.
– Medium gravel to Marzhausen.
– Asphalt roads and cyclepaths to Reckershausen.
– Two sections of Betonweg to Groß Schneen.
– ´Mind the Gap´ Betonweg to Ballenhausen.
– Mild gravel at Ballenhausen.
– Smooth rolling asphalt to Reinhausen.
– A mix of asphalt, Betonweg, gravel to the Kopfsteinpflaster Carousel.
– Cobbles, Betonweg and gravel ascent/descent to Appenrode.
– Up and down past the Gleichen Hills on fast rough asphalt via Gelliehausen to Benniehausen (60kph).
– Broken Betonweg and gravel along the Garte River:
– Asphalt cycle path to Klein Lengden.
– Public roads through Diemarden.
– At Reinhausen onto a cyclepath past the Wendebachstasse (lake) to the B27 Gö road.
– Asphalt farm roads to end at Geismar.
5 Gravel Sectors
2 Cobble/Kopfsteinpflaster sectors (one being very tough)
6 Betonweg/Concrete Roads
Garmin Connect: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6513739670
On Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/5032231177
Pictures in order of appearance