EuroCross Academy: The legendary Koppenbercross

Magnus White takes on the biggest cyclocross race of his life, an experience he describes as akin to an American football game in its scope and atmosphere.

Photo: Wouter Toelen

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During the next two weeks, riders from the EuroCross Academy will be writing exclusive blog posts for VeloNews as they race in Europe.

​​ECA Journal #9
1 November 2022
Rider: Magnus White
Hometown: Boulder, CO
Photos: @toelen_wouter

As we drove into the venue of one of the most famous races in all of cyclocross for its legendary climb through the cobbles of the Koppenberg, I knew that it would be a big race given its history. But the actual size was astonishing, from the size of the crowds of over 10,000 people to the size of our junior men’s category with over 100 riders. It definitely lived up to its name. 

Once we arrived, we had to go straight to the inscription and individually check-in, which surprised me because, at the previous World Cups, it was all able to be done by our coach. From there, we had very little time to get ready as it was quite a ride to get to the course, and we had to pin our race numbers and get prepped to not return to the van. As soon as we left to go ride the course, we were weaving in and out of people just to get to the road of the course. It was a huge migration with the constant rush of shuttles. That truly opened my eyes to the size of proper Belgian cyclocross. It was like an American football game. It’s just amazing that a sport that feels so small back in the States is just as big as a football game in Belgium. 

Magnus White at Koppenbergcross. The cobbled climb reaches 20% gradients. (Photo: Wouter Toelen)

Once we made it through the massive wave of people and arrived at the course, there was a young children’s race on a small loop of the circuit. Surprisingly, there were what seemed like over 100 children under the age of 10 racing which really shows a perspective of how large the sport is. Once on course, an hour before the start of our race, there were already hundreds of people gathered watching us pre-ride. We had time to do two laps before heading to the start.

Also read: Euro Cross Academy: Learning from your mistakes and moving forward

Then, at start time, we lined up on either side of a bike path, and the line stretched for ages with the field size of over 100 riders — bigger than any cross race I have ever done. Call-ups were hectic with so many riders and it seemed like everyone was going and just pushing to get up, thinking their number had been called. The sound of the numbers being called was very faint, making the things even more hectic. 

I ended up getting a second-row start, and once I heard two minutes, I took a second to look back behind me and see at least ten rows of riders. Plus I could see a never-ending line of spectators waiting for us to start so they could enter this legendary race to watch, drink, and smoke. Then, “30 seconds” came, and almost instantly, the lights went green, and the race was on. 

Many riders went out super hard and, by the top, were crawling, and I moved my way into the top five. As I went through the first lap, the crowds were already big with cheers as I lapped the course with the faint smell of beer and cigarettes. The size of the crowd seemed to grow and grow each lap as I fought my way up the 20% climb. As I was nearing the final time up the legendary Koppenberg, I heard the cheers from the fans for fellow American rider, AJ August, who had just won this historic race. 

Coming into the final straight to the finish at the top of the climb, as I sprinted with my fellow American David Thompson, I now knew what makes this race so special. It was the fans and this climb where once you reach the top, you feel like you’re going to tip over. I also felt a sense of accomplishment and a huge smile crossed my face. 

Magnus White at Koppenbergcross. (Photo: Wouter Toelen)

It was then time to go watch the elite women and cheer on fellow teammates in the race. This is where the true size of this race hit me. Seeing the constant flow of people walking their way up the climb and onto any spot they could find to watch the race was inspiring. 

There were areas where the fans went three deep which was just insane to me. I had never experienced something like this in cyclocross because when I was in Europe last December with ECA, no fans were allowed due to the pandemic. Koppenbergcross proved to me today that it is most definitely one of the most legendary and difficult cyclocross races of all time.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.