Tour of Flanders chooses Antwerp; returns to roots in Geraardsbergen

The city of Antwerp is to host the start of the most famous Flemish cycle race, the Tour of Flanders, for the next five years. At the same time, the renowned Muur van Geraardsbergen (photo) will again feature in the race, with organisers confirming the arduous cobble-stone climb among several other changes to the course. Oudenaarde remains the city of arrival as the final 75km of the race remain unchanged.

“Everyone on the Flanders Classics team worked hard over the past few years for a return of the Muur to the route,” says Race Director Wim van Herreweghe in Het Nieuwsblad.

“This updated route is a complete package; it brings the very best of more than a century of the Tour of Flanders together in a single monumental race.”

"We leave Bruges with pain in our hearts"

In addition to the Muur’s return, race organisers Flanders Classics announced that the race start would be moved from Brugge to Antwerp, the former having hosted the start since 1998. “Antwerp is a city with national and international flair, which has come forward as a cycling city, and a sports city in general”, explains Wim van Herreweghe.

“Antwerp combines a hip atmosphere with gorgeous historical surroundings, something the Tour of Flanders has no trouble identifying with. (...) But I do have to add that we leave Bruges with pain in our hearts."

Bruges Burgomaster Renaat Landuyt told the VRT that he saw it coming. "I've had this fear for 3 years. Emotionally this is hard to bear." Landuyt also points to the impact on the city's image and the local economy.

"Not a question of money"

Antwerp paid 400,000 euros to get the start there, but Wouter Vandenhaute of Flanders Classics says it was not a question of cash. "The normal price for a Tour de France stage is 360,000 euros, but the Tour of Flanders has more grandeur. Antwerp was immediately prepared to pay the amount. We didn't even discuss money further with Bruges, as we didn't want to start a kind of auction."


The "Muur" (the Wall) is back

The full route for the 2017 Tour of Flanders is yet to be revealed, but organisers have provided some initial detail. In 2017, the Muur will be the eighth climb of the day, some 100km from the finish. The last time it featured in De Ronde, the Muur was the penultimate climb, 16km from the finish, and a crucial point in the race. Now, the Muur could mark the start of the pre-final to the race.

The final 75km of the 2016 route will remain in place next year, including two passages of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg before the finish in Oudenaarde.

The return of the Muur van Geraardsbergen (“The Wall of Geraardsbergen”) will be welcomed by many cycling fans, who lamented its removal in 2012 in favour of the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg finish. The steep, kilometre-long ascent is likely to have less impact on the race than in years past, however, given its distance from the finish.