The organisers of the Tour of Flanders have announced that the route of this Sunday’s race will have to undergo a late change after thieves stole a significant section of cobbles on the fearsome Koppenberg climb. Belgian police have revealed they have received information suggesting that the cobbles were stolen to order and may have already been spirited out of the country. They believe the cobbles are destined for the driveway of a fan of the Belgian Classics.
The ultra-steep and narrow Koppenberg did not feature on the Flanders route for many years because of the dangerous state of the cobbles on its 25 per cent slope. Following renovation work, the climb returned to the Flanders itinerary in 2002, but was dropped again in 2007. More extensive renovation work saw it return in 2008. Unfortunately, the quality of the new cobbles is believed to have resulted in this week’s theft.
Speaking to the media in Ghent, Belgian police detective Tom Bliboos said they had received information suggesting that a shadowy underworld figure known only by the nickname “Makka Pakka” is behind the theft. Residents close to the Koppenberg report hearing strange noises coming from the climb in the middle of Wednesday night.
“Locals say there were strange lights from the climb and an occasional trumpet sound,” said Det. Bliboos. “They thought it was kids messing around and did not call the police until it was too late. The theft was run like a military operation. Aside from the theft of the cobbles, the thieves barely left a trace apart from a well-used sponge with which they may have been planning to polish the stones.”
A tip-off suggests that the stones may be destined for a new home on a driveway in Wales. “We’ve been told that a bike fan with the initials IG and living in the village of Llepiggle funded the operation,” explained Det. Bliboos. “He is said to be a huge fan of the Classics and could not resist the thought of paving his driveway with some authentic Ronde cobbles. We would appreciate anyone with information on this person to come forward with details.”
The detective did add that there has been positive side to the story. In the course of removing the cobbles, the thieves uncovered a bent bicycle wheel which carbon dating analysis has shown is from the year 1987. “It looks like someone has driven over it in a car,” said the detective, who added: “This whole affair has created a real hoo-hah in Flanders and turned the organisers plans upsy daisy, but the race will go ahead on Sunday as planned.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).