Close encounters on the Koppenberg

Photo gallery: Fans and pros meet in pre-Flanders training

The most appealing aspect of the sport of cycling is the ability for fans to get close to both the riders and the challenges they face in competition, and there is no better example of this than the Koppenberg in the days before the Tour of Flanders.

Cyclo-tourists and amateur racers monopolize the course of the Ronde van Vlaanderen on the day prior to the professional event when the organisation hosts the tourists' Ronde, but on Friday before the big events, the two groups mingle on the Belgian cobbles.

Imagine the thrill of struggling up the Koppenberg - a behemoth of a climb, rife with slippery 'kasseien' and grades of up to 22%, perhaps even walking your bike - only to have 2007 winner Alessandro Ballan come flying past with US champion George Hincapie on his wheel. A few lucky enthusiasts experienced just that on Friday.

Enjoy this photo gallery from Sirotti and imagine you were there.

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