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The highest point in Flanders, Belgium, rises only some 150 meters above sea level—the region is very much in the Low Countries. So how does a place like this get a reputation for having the hardest climbs in the world? It’s quite simple: cobblestones.
Without experiencing cobbles in person, it can be easy to dismiss the challenge they present. But just close your eyes for a moment. Think of the steepest climb you can imagine, or the hardest kicker on your Sunday loop. Now think of the worst-maintained road, the one you always curse which seemingly disappeared from the city’s maintenance map sometime during the Clinton administration. Now combine the two—tossing in the memory of the pain of a 20-minute power test for good measure—and you’re partway there.
Cobbled climbs are a different beast, and riding them requires a certain skillset; there’s a reason entire careers are defined here in Flanders. Luckily, the basics can be picked up easily. Putting those basics into action? Well, that’s not so easy.
For pros, one cardinal rule holds true across cobbled races: be at the front. These stones are challenging enough to ride without having to shoulder your way through 200 of the world’s best for optimal placement climb after climb. Miss your positioning just once and quickly get stuck behind a bottleneck on these narrow farm roads, your day effectively over. Luckily, us mortals don’t have to worry about this, but we still face an epic challenge.
With cobblestones, power is the name of the game. Maintain a fast pace, with your weight shifted over the rear wheel for maximum traction, and you’ll almost float over the ancient stones. Lose that pace and each individual bump becomes more pronounced; your wheel gets knocked off its line, causing you to correct your steering and concentrate less on power output, in turn messing up your steering once more. It’s a spiraling feedback loop that ends with a foot hitting the ground. This happens to countless pros each edition of the Tour of Flanders. Even the great Eddy Merckx has had to walk his bike here.
So then, how to maintain that speed? The answer is simple enough: more power. But absent the innate ability of a Tom Boonen or Johan Museeuw, most of us will struggle to muster enough watts to even crest many of the region’s most notorious climbs. That’s where the Specialized Turbo Creo comes in. Its lightweight SL 1.1 motor, designed by Specialized’s own Turbo team in Switzerland, is its not-so-secret advantage in e-bike design. It intelligently delivers 240 watts of power, not as a lump sum that you have to contend to control, but as a gradual power delivery that matches your cadence and power output, assisting with acceleration in a way that feels like a natural extension of your body.
When even world class riders struggle here, world class power is what’s needed just to survive these bergs. The Creo’s infusion of 240 watts allows us to experience Flanders’ finest roads with exactly that level of strength—which is to say, enough to get over them enjoyably and experience the feeling of being a Boonen or a Kasper Asgreen, but still requiring all the watts we can muster.
We don’t always need that power infusion, though, so we spend the miles between bergs cruising along in Sport and Eco modes. But for the hardest parts of the day, like the iconic Kapelmuur, we easily slip into Turbo with a press of the Turbo Connect Unit on the toptube. The Creo snaps into action at a moment’s notice, adapting effortlessly to the conditions. With the Creo’s assistance, we get even more out of our pilgrimage here, experiencing more climbs and seeing more of this countryside steeped in history.