The Muur van Geraardsbergen

Friday, 1 April 2011

Kapelmuur start

The penultimate climb of the Tour of Flanders is so good they named it twice. Some call it the Kapelmuur, some call it the Muur van Geraardsbergen but it’s the same thing. In fact there’s also the French name, the Mur de Grammont. Either way it is a decisive climb for the race.

Two names, two climbs
Kapel means chapel, muur means wall so it’s either the “Chapel wall” or the Wall of Geraardsbergen. There is only one route to the top but it has two parts. First the riders cross the Dender river and then head into the city of Geraardsbergen. No metropolis, it is has city status from medieval times.

Geraardsbergen

Geraardsbergen coat of arms (and legs?)

Note the coat of arms: cobbles topped by a cross. Riders flash through a classic Flemish market town, climbing up past the town square on roads normally pedestrianised. Here he roads are wide and easy but suddenly there’s a sharp corner, the race turns right and hits the Oudebergstraat. This means “Old Hill Street”.

It’s here that things kick off. Simply pronouncing Geraardsbergen is enough to make an untrained throat sore, ride it and the legs burn. Multiple winner Johan Museeuw compared the sensation to orgasm.

Either way the cobbles are rough and with steep sections. The route is hard and correct positioning is essential given the sharp camber, at times the road has a real hump of a camber with rough cobbles in the middle and troughs on the side. Whilst the riders will have faced worse before, this is still boneshaking stuff. Tom Boonen famously cramped up last year as Fabian Cancellara rode away for the win. It tops at 16% on the steepest corner, where woodland shrouds the cobbles to ensure they stay wet for as long as possible. The road opens up towards the top but the embankment is now human, fans occupy every possible piece of terrain.

Top of the muur

See the image, hear the sound

The locals say “the Muur choses the winner” and like many sayings, this isn’t always the case but it makes sense. It’s certainly one of the hardest climbs and coming just 16km from the finish it means that it can be very selective, often a small group of contenders can start the climb together but the configuration changes by the time they pass the Oudeberg chapel at the top. Sometimes it’s not so much who gets over the top first but who is struggling to stay with the kopgroep. If you want to know who will win, watch the legs.

By the kapel the road levels out at about 110 metres above sea level. But the difficulty is not over as the top is an ideal place to attack. The legs are tired, the body is weak and the mind is fading and maybe a crosswind is blowing too. A sharp attack here can pay dividends.

Wall of sound
But the best thing is the atmosphere. The sloping verges are packed with roaring crowds and if you had to a pick a single place to watch the race it would be here although many have the same idea and it gets busy from early in the morning. Indeed it’s such a memorable experience that people have even written songs about it. Dutchman Alex Roeka sings in the video below. It’s not exactly a masterpiece but how many other climbs have their own songs?

A kind reader has pointed out that you can get the rough and raw lyrics online obviously they work better in the original Dutch but here is a taste:

When the wet wind penetrates your bones
And sings the hammer down your ear:
“This is a slap on your neck!”
The cobbled street, your legs turn
And the beast gnawing pain in your knee,
The end lurks in the muck.

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{ 10 comments }

van Loenen April 1, 2011 at 10:19 am

Cant wait, just about to board the bus for my first Ronde experience. Ive had a picture of the Kapelmuur on my wall for the last 12 months as motivation.

Broerie April 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

To be precise the Kapelmuur is the last part of the Muur, from the right hand turn to the Kapel (about 30 meters).
The section from the Dender to the beginning of the Muur is known as the ‘Vesten’ (Dutch for old city walls).

Reno April 1, 2011 at 11:07 am

Small correction to the intro.

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The whole climb is called ‘Muur van Geraardsbergen’, but it’s comprised of ‘De Muur’ and the ‘Kapelmuur’ at the very top. And actually they both are preceded by what is called ‘de Vesten’ – the road between the marketsquare and the foot of the Muur (5% gradient). I asked details about this on a forum a few years ago, as all the different names confused me. Someone was kind enough to answer and apply photo’s

http://www.2cycle.be/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=1532&perpage=10&highlight=Muur&pagenumber=548

photo 1: part of Vesten, often a rider like Flecha or Terpstra accellerates here
photo 2: the first (easier) part of the Muur
photo 3: after a lefthand corner they reach the tough part (22-25%) of the Muur (there’s a mounted TV-camera installed here)

Then you pass a cafe on the left (where Cancellara distanced Boonen, relatively straight/flat) and you make a right. Only now you are on the Kapelmuur (photo 4).

It’s confusing how people refer to the climb sometimes. Many simply call the whole thing de Muur and that’s okay of course. The Walloon and French call it le Mur de Grammont! If it’s one thing, it’s bloody hard though!

Starr April 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Definitely not as feared as the Koppenberg, but it’s strategic point in the race has made it the #1 choice as a launching pad to victory in many past editions. I only rode it twice in all my years there, but the “wall” is engrained in memory like the birth of a child.

12 speed April 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Been there, ridden it and got the souvenir T-shirt. Great vibe on the day.

Scott April 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Where’s the video?

huphtur April 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Check this clip of Johan Museeuw climbing De Muur on a ordinary city bike and then comparing “The Burn” to an orgasm.

gilbert April 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm

want to share with you that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw56yYoeJEU
probably you know italian decan journalist gianni mura wrote this song for tetes de bois dedicated to le tour’s climbs.

JYD April 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Had the opportunity to ride this climb on a training ride during a summer abroad of kermesse racing in 1996. Pretty earth shattering stuff for a boy from Seattle, Washington who had only fantasized about the bergs of the mother country. I will never forget it!

The Inner Ring April 2, 2011 at 1:02 am

I’m looking forward to it. Broerie and Reno, thanks for the precision there and huphtur, I gave your link a shout in the piece above already, thanks. Bring on Sunday… the forecast says rain.

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