The Tour de France is the world’s biggest cycling event. Twenty-one stages are being held this year with a third stage starting in Binche in Belgium on Monday. The Tour will conclude on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on 21 July.
Today’s first stage starts in Brussels at 12:00 CEST and finishes here too, but before the finish the riders will have covered 194.5 km by making a loop south of Brussels. There is a ceremonial start on the Koningsplein. The race proper starts at 12:25 CEST in Molenbeek. It encompasses both Flanders and Wallonia. On the way the riders will pit their skills against the Flemish cobble stones and ascend the legendary Wall of Geraardsbergen. The Wall comes early in the race and will thus probably not be decisive in today’s stage. The finish is expected to be a sprint outside Laken Castle, the home of Filip, King of Belgians.
The Tour is starting in Brussels to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first win by legendary Belgian rider Eddy Merckx. In all Merckx won the Tour five times making him a joint record holder together with Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Jacques Anquetil. Today’s stage is mainly flat but will take the riders up and down here and there. Riders will climb 800 metres in all. The stage starts on the Koningsplein in central Brussels and takes the riders via the Brussels boroughs of Molenbeek and Anderlecht towards the Wall of Geraardsbergen. The Wall’s a cobblestone climb over 1.1km with an average gradient of 9.2% (20% at its steepest).
The riders then head for Charleroi and a two kilometre cobblestone stretch. The route then goes via Villers-la-Ville, Waterloo, Overijse, Tervuren and the Brussels borough where Eddy Merckx grew up, Sint-Pieters-Woluwe. Then it’s ten kilometres to Laken Caste. There are 500 metres with a 4% gradient up to the finish! The finish is expected around 17:00 CEST.
Today’s Grand Depart in Brussels is only the second time in the history of the world’s most important cycling event that the Tour started in the Belgian and Flemish capital. On the previous occasion the Grand Depart marked the 1959 World Exhibition in Brussels.
In all the Tour de France has visited Brussels on eleven occasions. The first visit to Brussels was in 1947. The last time Belgians were able to witness a stage in their capital was nine years ago.
In addition to the two starts in Brussels the Tour de France started in Belgium on three other occasions: in Charleroi in 1975 and in Liège in 2004 and 2012.