Friday, February 25, 2011

Oudenaarde and the Ronde

The big news on the eve of the Belgian season opener is Oudenaarde' s bid to host the finish of the Ronde in 2012. The city is already host to the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen and the central hub in a network of Ronde-related cycling loops (or lussen).


This once sleepy small city with its beautiful Gothic monuments is quickly becoming a major tourist hub in Belgium. Tourism in Oudenaarde is inevitably linked to cycling and racing.

If Oudenaarde were to win its bid, the course of the Ronde would change rather dramatically. The muur-kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen, the traditional final or decisive climb would then become the opening climb. The Oude Kwaremont, a climb that can certainly match the muur in difficulty, and that is now the opening climb, would most likely become the final challenge before riders head to Oudenaarde along the Schelde river.

For those of you unfamiliar with this classic race, it probably sounds a bit confusing but essentially the race has three parts. The Ronde has always started in the flat country-side of West-Flanders. Bruges is the current start site. In the olden days, the race included a detour along the coast, where crosswinds and resulting echelons made a first selection. That loop was deleted for several years but has been re-introduced recently (but it is absent this year again).

RVV 2007 without the coastal loop

From the coast the race heads inland to the hills around Oudenaarde, better known as the Vlaamse Ardennen (Flemish Ardennes.) Here it twists and turns into every little farm-road and bike path within the Oudenaarde - Ronse - Kluisbergen triangle. The space is surprisingly small, a nearly equilateral triangle that is less than 15 km (9 miles) on the side. Within that triangle and on its outskirts lie all the major climbs and cobbled stretches that have made the Ronde famous.

2010 with the more traditional coastal loop

Here you find the Paterberg, the Oude Kwaremont, the Koppenberg, and the Steenbeekdries.

Finally, the race leaves the tight loops and heads towards the capital. Along the way it hits a few more climbs and cobbles then Geraardsbergen and the infamous muur, before finishing in or around Ninove. The new route would essentially invert the sequence putting the last third first and finishing in what is now the middle third.

If this new route is accepted it will make Oudenaarde the place to be in Belgium for cyclists, amateur and professional alike.

You may have noticed that many of the climbs and cobbles in the Ronde also feature prominently in other races, including the season opener, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and the semi-classic Gent-Wevelgem.

Stay tuned for opening weekend with the Omloop on Saturday and Kuurne Brussel Kuurne on Sunday.

Tom Boonen says he is ready and that he will definitely be part of tomorrow's race. That in spite of the fact that many of the big names have decided to bail out. Conditions are expected to be rough, but maybe not quite as bad as last year's Kuurne Brussel Kuurne. 

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