For the second consecutive year, the Tour of Flanders will start in Antwerp. After a lavish spectacle in the Town Square, the riders will begin the 102nd Tour of Flanders on the Steen at 10.30 a.m. © Digitalclickx
Via the Waasland tunnel, the riders will immediately cross the Escaut over to its left bank. In Burcht, the race director Wim van Herreweghe will wave the flag signalling the official start at 10.45 a.m. © Photonews
As the first in a set of seven ‘Tour villages’ that the riders will visit, the riders will pass through Sint-Niklaas, which was the start site for “Flanders’ finest” between 1977 and 1997. The Tour will be returning to the capital of the Waasland for the first time in 20 years, where a huge crowd will no doubt be waiting to cheer the peloton as it passes through.
As we head towards Audenarde, the second ‘Tour village’ on the agenda is Hamme-Zogge, the birthplace of Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet. In 2017, Van Avermaet, who has become one of Belgium’s most popular cyclists, suffered misfortune when he took a heavy fall during the Tour (with Sagan and Naesen), but passing through Zogge will no doubt give a boost to the BMC rider. After success in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Avermaet will be keen to add the Tour of Flanders to his trophy cabinet.
Leaving Hamme-Zogge, the peloton heads via the wonderful Donkmeer to Berlare, birthplace of cycling legend Fred de Bruyne, the 1957 winner. Oliver Naesen, resident of Berlare, would love to follow in De Bruyne’s footsteps.
Founder Karel Van Wijnendaele once wrote of the fourth ‘Tour village’ Aalst that “The Imperial Town shivers when the Tour passes through”. Each year, the post-tour criterium attracts 50,000 fans to the cycling mad onion town. The Tour of Flanders has passed through Aalst a number of times in the past, and if ever there was a town that knew how to celebrate, it’s Aalst.
Cycling is also extremely popular in Erpe-Mere, the fifth stop for the peloton as they head towards Flemish Ardennes. In 2016, the town celebrated the 40th anniversary of Lucien van Impe’s victory in the Tour de France – still the last Belgian to win Le Tour. With more than 35 regional races contested here each year, this cycling mad town was a must-have on the itinerary for “Flanders’ finest”.
For the penultimate ‘Tour village’, Flanders Classics chose Herzele, which has played host to the Junior Tour of Flanders for 48 years and where many young prospects have had the opportunity to experience the Tour for the first time. Jens Debusschere and Stijn Devolder are just two examples of cyclists who have won in Herzele before going on to make the step up to professional level. When the tour passes by, the people of this part of eastern Flanders will get to judge for themselves how young riders from previous years are getting on among the pros.
“Zottegem: mad about cycling, mad about the Tour” was how this last ‘partner town’ promoted itself as a genuine cycling town. Next year, Zottegem will be the gateway to the heart of the Flemish Ardennes. To get there, the riders will need to overcome some serious obstacles as they chase victory in Audenarde.
The first cobbled section for the riders in the 102nd Tour of Flanders: the 1300 m long Lippenhovestraat, a taste of things to come. © Photonews
Straight after the Lippenhovestraat comes the Paddestraat, a name synonymous with the Tour and cycling in Flanders. The riders will have to cope with the cobbles for no less than 2.3 kilometres © Photonews
Before getting back to serious business, the riders will have their first opportunity to refuel. © Kramon
Three: that’s how many times riders must climb the famous Oude Kwaremont during the Tour. 2.2 km of pain with an average incline of 4 % and a maximum incline of 11.6 %. © Kramon
In Maarkedal, the riders must tackle the Kortekeer: 1 km long, with an average incline of 6.4 % and an incline of 17 % at its steepest point. © Photonews
No Eikenberg this year in the course because of road works, but the Edelareberg as a replacement after almost 140 km.The climb is 1500 m long with an average incline of 4.2 % and a peak at 7 %. © Kramon
After 142,1 kilometres, the riders must tackle the fourth ascent of the day. The Wolvenberg in Audenarde is 645 m long and features an average incline of 7.9 %, with a stretch at 17.3 %. © Photonews
Back to the cobbles: the riders will struggle over 350 m in the Holleweg. Still 124 km to go. © Photonews
The Haaghoek, the main attraction of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, is next on the agenda. Something of a break for the riders in this two kilometre stretch as they get ready for another ascent © Photonews
After 151 kilometres, the Leberg is next: this is a 950 m long climb, with an average incline of 4.2 % and a peak at 13.8 %. © Photonews
The legendary Berendries is the next obstacle that riders will need to overcome: 940 m long, with an average and maximum incline of 7 % and 12.3 % respectively. © Photonews
The climbs now come thick and fast: 450 m, with an average incline of 6.9 % and a maximum incline of 8.7 % - it must be the Tenbosse! © Photonews
The Remparts de Grammont are already quaking. Fans will come from far and wide to set up camp here, and we all know why: the Wall is back! © Photonews
Here he is at last! Last year it has already given a big spectacle and some favourites were surprised by Quick-Step. This year the Muur will bring spectacle and the ascent will no doubt attract massive crowds. It is, of course, the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen. The 750 m long climb has an average and maximum incline of 9 % and 20 % respectively. Still 95 km to go to the finish line. © Photonews
The riders will barely have had a chance to get their breath back after the Wall before they’re faced with a new challenge in Flobecq in the Hainaut: 1353 m long and with an average incline of 6.5 %, the Pottelberg presents a real challenge. © Google Maps
Time for a break: bananas, energy gels and maybe a Coke – anything to give the riders some energy before the final stage. © Kramon
Renaix is home to the Kanarieberg, another obstacle for the riders to overcome. The steepest section of this 1 km long climb peaks at 14 %, with an average incline of 7.7 %. © Kramon
The royal duo for the Tour of Flanders comes 55 km from the finish line. The peloton must climb the Oude Kwaremont for a second time. © Kramon
Any rider thinking the worst is now behind, will be in for a shock. After the Oude Kwaremont, the rides need to conquer the Paterberg, with a maximum incline of 20.3 % and an average incline of 12.9 %. © Kramon
Next up is the famous Koppenberg in Oudenaarde: average incline of 9.4 % and maximum incline of 22 %. © Kramon
In Etikhove, riders must tackle the last cobbled section of the day: the Mariaborrestraat. Another 41.6 km to go. © Flickr
There are still 5 more climbs left. The Steenbeekdries in Maarkedal is 700 m long with an average incline of 5.3 %. © Kramon
16:12 530 m
Next up is the formidable Taaienberg. This short but extremely challenging climb is 530 m long, with an average incline of 6.6 % and a peak at 15.8 %. Here Boonen was at the bottom of the ascent with chain problems last year and Sagan placed a scorching acceleration at the top. © Photonews
26.5 kilometres to go. The favourites will see the combination of Kruisberg and Hotond as the ideal opportunity to launch an attack: 2.5 km long, with an average incline of 5 % and a maximum incline of 9 %. © Photonews
In Kwaremont, the teams will position their riders in such a way that will allow cyclists to get the mechanical assistance they need. © Kramon
The riders must tackle the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg combination one last time: the fireworks can start with tens of thousands of fans awaiting the riders to cheer them on. © Kramon
The last climb of the day! It was here that Peter Sagan made his mark in 2016. Will the Paterberg prove decisive once more in determining the outcome of this year’s race? © Photonews
As has been the case for the past few years, the 102nd Tour of Flanders will finish in the Minderbroederstraat in Audenarde. Who will be the successor to Philippe Gilbert and who can write their name in the history books of “Flanders’ Finest”? © Kramon