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EuroCross Academy: Riding with the best at Koppenbergcross

Finley Aspholm finds herself among strong company at Koppenbergcross.

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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 #10
2 November 2022
Rider: Finley Aspholm
Hometown: Haworth, NJ
Photos: @toelen_wouter

Never would I have imagined to race the iconic Koppenbergcross with the Elite Women. Just being on the start line, listening to the names of women whom I have watched on tv and looked up to. Being called up amongst my idols feels like a dream. It is not too often that you, as a junior, get to race against multi-discipline world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. 

Finley Aspholm at Koppenbergcross.

After all of the riders have been sorted into the start-grid, a loud tune of repetitive beeps quickens, in sync with the 2 minute countdown. Anyone behind the front row starts to inch their way forward, squeezing between rear wheels to be as close to the front as possible. Every muscle in my body shakes with nerves, as I anticipate the blow of the whistle. The high pitched sound sends all of us off, surprisingly, in one of the safest starts I have experienced. It is full gas all the way up to the top of the Koppenberg. I can hear loud thuds in the distance, from fans pounding their fists onto the barriers that outline the very top of the legendary climb. Riders yell at each other left and right as they rub wheels and arms, determined to stay clipped into their pedals. I try to weave my way around others, to be in a good position at the first turn onto the field. 

Also read: EuroCross Academy: The legendary Koppenbercross

A loud roar erupts from the 15,000 spectators, as I come out of the tree-lined climb. People cheer in various languages and scents of beer and cigarette smoke fill my nose as I ride close to the edge of the course. Fans coordinate chants and do the wave to stand out on live television. I veer away from foam fingers and baseball caps that have been thrown onto the course by the rowdy fans. 

On the last lap, the cheering grows to be louder than ever. I think I hear my nickname “Fin” being shouted and think “How could so many strangers know my name?” One lap down from the leaders, I am motioned by race officials to exit the course at the 80% sign at the bottom of the climb. Just then, Fem van Empel, the winner of this race and undefeated in the World Cup this season, whizzes past me to climb the Koppenberg one last time. 

I then realize that people are not cheering for me. They are cheering for the strongest rider of the race who was right behind my wheel.

Finley Aspholm and Fem van Empel at Koppenbergcross.