November 1 is a Monday, but it’s also All Saint’s Day, the traditional day for Koppenberg Cross!

Koppenberg has held to its holiday date, despite the Overijse World Cup being scheduled for the day before. For fans, it’s just two opportunities to spectate and party! For athletes, it’s back-to-back “climbing races,” perhaps the toughest 2-day block of the season.

Koppenberg cross is one-part iconic climb and another part “party in a cow pasture.” The race climbs the famous Koppenberg cobbles and descends via the adjacent cow pasture. (The cows are removed just days before the event.) The party is legendary. Fans stumble down off the hill long after dark.

Challenge Tires spoke with Helen Wyman, the “Queen-of-the-Koppenberg,” and four-time winner of the event. If there’s anyone who knows the Koppenberg, both the course and the race’s cultural significance, it’s Wyman.

“To Belgians, winning Koppenberg is probably only second to Worlds and equal to Koksijde in significance,” said Wyman.

Winning it four times confers legendary status.

Wyman explains: “If you said to a Belgian, I’ve won Ruddevoorde or Zonhoven or Niel, they would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s cool.’ But as soon as you say, I’ve won Koppenberg four times, they are like, ‘Oh my God, you are amazing. Are you Helen Wyman?’

Wyman’s most memorable win was her final in 2017.

The race came down to a dual between Katie Compton and Wyman. Compton was faster on the descents, but Wyman reconnected before the cobbled climb every lap. “There was a section of the course that I had practiced multiple times,” said Wyman. “Where you come up from the VIP tent, there’s a little drag. It’s not flat but it drops to like 4–5%. Every lap, I would catch her there.”

Wyman understood that the first rider to hit the cobbles would take the win. “It’s hard to overtake anyone on the climb,” said Wyman.

On the final lap, Wyman attacked, overtaking Compton on the drag. As Wyman predicted, she stayed away on the cobbles for the win.

“The moment that you know ‘this is how I am going to win this race’ is quite a cool feeling,” said Wyman.

Wyman’s win was redemptive: “I had a collarbone break the previous year and my Kona team sponsorship had come to an end,” said Wyman. “There were a lot of things going against me at that point. It was awesome to prove that I was capable of winning.”

Asked to predict the weather and the tires for Koppenberg 2021, Wyman chose dry and Grifos or Chicanes. “In the old days, muds, every time it was muds,” said Wyman. “In more recent years, it’s been dry.”

Rest assured, whatever the weather, there will be a party on the hill (but the cows will be in the barn).

Tech Spotlight: Challenge Handmade Tubeless Ready (#)

Love the convenience of tubeless but prefer the suppleness of Challenge’s handmade tubular tires?

Now, you can have both.

Challenge is excited to announce the release of Handmade TLR (H-TLR) tires for cyclocross!

You may be familiar with Challenge’s vulcanized TLR tires. These tremendously durable, well-sealing tubeless tires combine Challenge’s reliable treads with tubeless ready convenience. Riders commend the vulcanized TLR for ease of use. Tubeless allow different treads for different seasons without multiple wheelsets.

It’s true that vulcanized tires can feel a bit stiff, chiefly due to the high temperatures required to vulcanize (bond) their layers. With H-TLR, you get the convenience of a tubeless system with the performance of handmade supple tires.

The Tech:

  • H-TLR are 300TPI, as compared to 120TPI for the vulcanized TLR. The high TPI delivers suppleness on par with other handmade Challenge tires.
  • H-TLR offers the same handmade construction and materials as our handmade clinchers with the addition of a tubeless-ready bead that meets the new ETRTO and ISO global tubeless standards. A unique bead-to-bead inner coating is added for additional airtightness and puncture protection. Finally, a bead protector chafer strip is added to reduce rim chafing and potential cutting.
  • H-TLR are hookless compatible.
  • The tires are 33mm and are designed to be compliant with UCI width limits with most rims having an internal rim width of 23mm.

H-TLR are currently available with Grifo or Chicane treads. Baby Limus and Limus will be available in November.

Avoid pinch flats, swap tires as needed for changes in weather and gain a supple, grippy ride with H-TLR!

Meet the Rider: Starcasino CX Team’s Newest Pro Audrey De Keersmaeker (#)

Don’t know the name Audrey De Keersmaeker? Soon you will.

De Keersmaeker is the newest professional on Starcasino CX Team. She earned her contract in an unconventional manner, winning “Koers Zo Vrouw,” the team’s talent search for a new female cyclocross pro.

“Koers Zo Vrouw” is named after a hit Belgium television show (of the same name) wherein a farmer searches for a wife. Starcasino’s contest was wildly successful (drawing in excess of 4,000 applications, including 500 Belgians), perhaps in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, De Keersmaeker became a cyclist as a result of the pandemic. Her athletic history is as a swimmer with success at the national level. When the pandemic shut down her pool, De Keersmaeker began cycling as cross-training. “I felt myself becoming stronger quite quickly,” said Keersmaeker. “I was looking at Strava and the segments and I was always top-10 on the hills. I was curious what I could do in cycling. I felt I had reached my full potential in swimming. I saw the contest and thought, ‘Why not?’”

The contest was a series of challenges that eliminated riders with each step. Initially, contestants tested on watt bikes, did a skills test on a technical circuit and took a running test. 10 potential riders made the next stage: two days of training under the tutelage of Niels Albert. Finally, the competitors raced and those with the best result and “most potential” graduated to training camp. Eventually, De Keersmaeker emerged the winner, receiving and signing her contract after camp.

This unexpected “win” has put De Keersmaeker’s old life on hold. She is qualified as a math and sports teacher but has delayed her career in order to make the most of the year with Starcasino. “I know it could be that I have to work next year, but I love this cycling job more, so I am trying to grow and stay in it.”

Naturally, De Keersmaeker is a beginner when it comes to tread selection and tire pressure. However, she has been lucky enough to work with Starcasino’s new trainer Dieter Vanthourenhout. “He really helps us a lot. I always ask him how much pressure and which tires,” said Keersmaeker. “I am always listening to him.”

Asked her favorite tire, De Keersmaeker choose Grifo: “I always train with Grifo. You can use them in mud as well. They don’t slide away in the corners. But when it’s a little drier, they also carry the speed.”

We wish De Keersmaeker the best of luck in her pro career!