Het Steen and the Grote Markt form the backdrop for the race start in Antwerp
For the first time in Tour history, the riders are departing from the bustling city of Antwerp. The starting shot for “Flanders’ Finest” will be fired at 10.30 a.m. at Het Steen. Prior to that, cycling fans are invited to gather on the Grote Markt, around the stage in front of the city hall, where the riders will sign in and be presented to the public. The riders then make their way to the start along Suikerrui, through what is certain to be a massive crowd. A fan village, with a big TV screen, will be set up on the Groenplaats for all fans from home and abroad. The riders’ coaches can be seen in the riders’ village on the Scheldekaaien.
Approach route via Sint-Niklaas and Aalst among other places to the Flemish Ardennes
The new approach route for the Tour of Flanders has already been announced. With Antwerp behind them, the riders wend their way to the Flemish Ardennes via seven “Villages of the Tour”. From Antwerp they head, via Linkeroever and Brecht, to Sint-Niklaas, the starting point for the Tour between 1977 and 1997.
After passing through the “capital of the Waasland”, the pack roars past the village of Hamme-Zogge, birthplace of Olympic Champion Greg van Avermaet, along the Donkmeer and through Berlare town centre. The festivities continue in Aalst, where residents plan to turn the Tour into a second “Aalst Carnival”. Erpe-Mere, where they celebrated Lucien van Impe last year, is the next town along the way.
Passing through Herzele and Zottegem, where they run into the first cobblestones of the day on Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat, the riders begin pounding on the door to the Flemish Ardennes. The pack is expected to pass through Oudenaarde for the first time at around 1 p.m, when the hill climbs begin.
Three new climbs on the menu at the heart of the Tour
On Sunday 2 April the riders can expect a total of 259.5 km, 18 climbs and five cobble sections. Once through Oudenaarde, the convoy heads to Oude Kwaremont for the first time (1st climb, at 115 km). The route takes them up the Kortekeer, the Eikenberg, the Wolvenberg, the whole of Holle Weg (a cobble section, at 138km), the Haaghoek (cobble section, at 144km), the Leberg and the Berendries.
Three climbs have been dropped since the jubilee Tour of 2016: the Molenberg, the Valkenberg and the Kaperij. In their place the riders tackle Ten Bosse (the 7th climb of the day, at 154 km), the Muur van Geraardsbergen/Kapelpuur (the 8th of 18 climbs, at 164 km) and the Pottelberg (the 9th, at 181 km). No longer do the riders have last year’s cobblestones to fear at Huisepontweg, Ruiterstraat, Kergate and Jagerij.
The Muur van Geraardsbergen is an important benchmark on the route
The attention-grabber in this succession of steep climbs through the Flemish Ardennes is, of course, the Muur van Geraardsbergen. After five years of absence, the decision to include the Muur on the route once again has met with a warm welcome both at home and abroad.
A whole day’s racing at Geraardsbergen
On Sunday 2 April 2017, Geraardsbergen will be an absolute hotspot on the new Tour of Flanders route.
Past battles on the Oudeberg cobbles have been known to unlock the path to victory, and now the Muur - the eighth of 18 climbs, 95 kilometres from the finish line - could prove to be an important benchmark on the route. Favourite riders feeling strong will undoubtedly be able to test their competition for a first time on this legendary hill with its 9.5% average gradient: an important indicator of how the race might go from then on.
The men are expected to pass at about 2.15 p.m. An hour before that, at about 1.15 p.m., the women tackle the climb of just over a kilometre and attempt to tame the 20% gradient at its steepest section. The Muur van Geraardsbergen also separates the wheat from the chaff in the Tour of Flanders for Juniors on 2 April. They face the rigours of De Muur three times before finding out, at about 12.30 p.m., at the Vesten along the Kapelmuur, who will succeed the Dutchman, Timo De Jongh.
Public party at the Vesten and the Muur
The Muur van Geraardsbergen is the third most frequently climbed hill section in the history of the Tour, after the Oude Kwaremont in Kluisbergen and the Kruisberg in Ronse. At de Muur, thousands of fans saw an unfettered Eric Vanderaerden pull away from the rest in 1985, watched an unrivalled Johan Museeuw extend the gap on its cobblestones in 1995 and witnessed the legendary battle between Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen in 2010.
The return of de Muur will undoubtedly be celebrated by thousands of fans at a huge party in Geraardsbergen. The city council and the race organisers, Flanders Classics, anticipate a huge influx of people, from home and abroad, and are putting all the necessary measures in place.
As the riders pass through the centre of Geraardsbergen, fans can follow the elite men, elite women and Juniors live from this iconic location. A huge fan village will be set up at the Vesten and a big screen will be provided, so that the fans don’t have to miss a single second of the final stretches of the 101st Tour of Flanders.
“The Muur is a sacred place for race lovers”
“The walk to the Muur is a pilgrimage; awaiting the riders an intense ritual,” says Mayor Guido De Padt of Geraardsbergen, revealing his great satisfaction with the return of this Flemish race monument. “The Muur is a sacred place for race lovers and exerts a tremendous pull, at home and abroad. The Muur is an ambassador for Flemish cycle racing.”
“The Muur van Geraardsbergen is monumental in the world of cycle racing, and far beyond,” adds race director Wim Van Herreweghe of Flanders Classics, the event organiser. “The return of this iconic climb is a win-win-situation for both parties: the Tour brings prestige to the city of Geraardsbergen; the Muur adds allure to ‘Flanders’ Finest’”.
Last 75 kilometres unchanged. Formula of Oude Kwaremont x 3 and Paterberg x 2 remains in place.
The last 9 climbs and the last cobble section of the 101st Tour of Flanders remain as they were in previous races. After the Kanarieberg (the 10th climb), the riders take on the Oude Kwaremont (the 11th climb, 55 km from the finish) and Paterberg (the 12th climb, 51 km from the finish).
After this, the riders are served yet another plateful: first they face the monument of the Koppenberg, and after that the front runners head on, via Mariaborrestraat (cobble section), to Steenbeekdries, the Taaienberg and the Kruisberg/Hotond. The ultimate knock out combination is then the Oude Kwaremont, (17th climb), 17 km from the finish, and the Paterberg (18th and final climb), 13 km from the finish.
“These last six climbs on the modern day route are typical Tour of Flanders climbs - they are all inclines on cobblestones. They produce an instantly recognisable and intense rhythm, which has yielded memorable finals in recent years. The most recent highpoint was only last year, in the jubilee 100th edition, when world champion Peter Sagan triumphed, forcing Fabian Cancellara to miss out on an absolute record. We just want to keep the last 75 kilometres as a feature of the race. Its instant recognisability should become a real race tradition,” concludes race director Wim Van Herreweghe.