We live in a flat metro area. We have wonderful parkways, yes. We have new bikes lanes painted all over the city, yes, but for those of us who like to bike up a hill now and again, we Twin Cities’ cyclists are hard pressed to find any significant bump in the local topography.
Once, when talking with a colleague about “climbing” hills in these Twin Cities, he verily scoffed at the idea that there is any such thing as a hill worthy of its name anywhere around here. He had lived in Arizona, attended undergraduate school in Flagstaff, used to mountain bike a bit with the local fat-tire crazies, so he knew a thing or two about climbing hills on a bicycle.
Mountains are not necessary, of course, for a challenging hill course. One need look only at the jagged profile of the Tour of Flanders in Belgium to understand just how tough a course can be without mountains. I am thinking, specifically, of a legendary climb like the Koppenberg.
At first, it doesn’t sound like much. According to Wikipedia, the Koppenberg is a “(253 ft) high hill in Oudenaarde, the Flemish Ardennes, Belgium.” Compared with the legendary Tour de France climbs like the Alpe d’Huez, the Col de Tourmalet, or Mont Ventoux, whose challenges are measured in thousands of feet, a 253-foot climb does not inspire much awe. But that’s only part of the story.
“This climb is part of the route of the Ronde van Vlaanderen professional cycling race and feared by many because of its steepness (22% on the trickiest parts) and because of its cobblestones. This makes the Koppenberg difficult even for top professionals. Quite often, riders slow to the point of losing their balance, especially those at the back of the peloton who have to dismount and scramble to the top on foot.”
Now, I don’t care what anybody says, a 22% gradient is brutal, no matter how long it is. I also don’t know whether the Twin Cities boasts a comparable climb, but if it does, Ramsey Hill comes close.
I have scaled Ramsey Hill perhaps a half dozen times since I bought my Fuji a couple of years ago. It is always a test of my fitness. It always hurts. And since I don’t live in Arizona, and since there are no mountains nearby, Ramsey Hill is my Alpe d’Huez, Col de Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and Koppenberg rolled into one agonizing stretch of asphalt.
I have searched, but have been unable to find, what the average gradient is for Ramsey Hill, and I must confess that I have no real frame of reference for such metrics, but I am going to hazard a guess that it’s somewhere around 18 percent.
I once heard cycling commentator and former professional cyclist Bob Roll describe the Col de Tourmelat as the “Col de Tore-my-legs-off” because it nearly did him in when he was representing the ragtag 7-11 team that tried desperately to stay in contact with the peloton during the early days of American competition in the Tour de France.
Well, today, Ramsey Hill tore my legs off.
Even after more the 1600 miles and 70 spinning classes over the last two years, I still had to “dig deep into my suitcase of courage” as another famous commentator, Paul Sherwen would say, in order to summit this local behemoth. I had nothing left in the tank once I got to the top of Ramsey Hill today, and I was happier than hell.