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25-05-2022 | Wouter Fioole

Rund um Köln: hammering hard just before the pros

On the same day as the pros ride Rund um Köln (UCI 1.1), there is also the opportunity for the gran fondo enthusiast to test themselves. A beautiful, excellently organized ride just across the border. Ideal for a quick visit (if you live close by). The longest route is 125 kilometers with about 1350 meters of climbing and really a very nice 8. Over 3000 participants were at the start, including myself.

The 8 is both literal and the final number for this GF. The start is in the center of Cologne on a beautiful wide street on the Rhine. The start time of half past 10 is of course ideal. You can travel in the morning, make use of the enormous parking facilities (I was literally parked under the start). Just unpack the bike, get the start number and you roll right into your starting section. I start in the front section and there I am behind the leaders in the German Cycling Cup Ranking of which Rund um Köln is a part. This is also noticeable because, just like in the more local French gran fondos, entire teams including full support are at the start here.

Up and down

After the start, the peloton heads east on a completely car-free road out of town. After about three kilometers the group leaves the city and we ride into the green surroundings of Cologne. There, beautiful green vistas, some longer runners of climbs, steep slopes and very fast descents await. The hills are a bit of a mix between the gradual climbs you encounter in the Schleck GF, for example, and the Limburg hills. For me personally, it really is an ideal playground. The roads are not flat anywhere, it always goes either up or down.

On the first real challenge of the day, there is a separate mountain classification. The Altenberg is (including foothills) 6.6 kilometers long and climbs at over 2% average. The first two kilometers are the most difficult with an average of 5.5%. A runner where it goes wonderfully fast, especially in the big crowd. This is followed by two shorter, fierce climbs of 700 and 900 meters with peaks close to 20%. The Bensberg even ends on a strip of real cobblestones. Here the larger groups break up into still large, but in any case more manageable, groups. After 55 kilometers, the short distance (67 km / 550m+) goes directly left back to Cologne. The 125 km (1350m+) goes right for a loop with three more wonderful gradual climbs. The nice part doesn't start until you have bridged the steepest first few hundred meters. The harmonica effect can be seen here continuously, on the mountain it stretches and sometimes the group splits. In the descents the group gets back together again, the first of one group often join the last of the group before them and vice versa.

That pro feeling

For the gran fondo, after this extra loop of 40 kilometers, it's back to the left towards the two shorter climbs that were conquered earlier. Now we also turn left at the T-junction back to Cologne and ride a nice 8. For me, this would also be the final grade of this event. Only looking at the organization, I would give it a 10. Everything was excellently indicated and marked. During the race, at the feed stations water bottles were given to you so you could get new drinks without stopping. That real pro feeling!

A hefty price

After the finish line, I've never seen such an extensive food and beverage facility. The 0.0% beer from the main sponsor of course, but in addition bread, fruit, sports nutrition in abundance and space for all participants. There are also cons. On the one hand for the sometimes bad road surface. Pot holes and loose gravel caused dangerous situations, crashes and a deluge of flat tires. But especially the price of registration, which is at least € 85 for early registrants and € 100 for a normal registration really high. You do get a real pro race in return.

Talking about the pro race, it's a good idea to hang around after your ride to watch the finish from the front-row seats! Niels Politt of Bora-Hansgrohe won this year, by the way. The results of the gran fondo can be found here.

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