The 2019 Tour de France will begin in Brussels, with the Grand Depart expected to include an opening road race stage visiting both Flanders and Wallonne as a sign of Belgian unity. Stage 2 will be a team time trial in Brussels, according to a report published by Het Nieuwsblad.
The Brussels Grand Depart was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx's first overall victory. However his presence is still in doubt after a fall-out with race organiser ASO over the running of the Tour of Oman.
The mayor of Geraardsbergen, in the heart of Flanders, has been lobbying hard in the hope that the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen – so often used in the Tour of Flanders, will host the finish of stage 1. Greg van Avermaet has backed that plan, however ASO also organise Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the Wallonne part of Belgium, and so may have other ideas and may be under pressure from the French-speaking part of the country.
Full details of the 2019 Tour de France Grand Depart will be revealed on January 16.
Brussels has welcomed the Tour de France on 10 occasions, and hosted the Grand Depart in 1958. It first hosted a stage finish in 1947, when Rene Vietto won stage 3, and the race returned in 1949, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992 and, most recently, 2010 when Alessandro Petacchi won stage 2 in a sprint.
With the Vendée in France hosting the start of the 2018 edition, the current trend of the Grand Depart taking place in a foreign city every other year is maintained.
No Merckx, no party?
The 2019 Tour de France will also mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the race leader's yellow jersey. Merckx holds the record of 96 days in yellow and dominated the Grand Boucle on his debut in 1969. However he is threatening to boycott the 2019 Brussels Grand Depart and the 50th anniversary celebrations.
"I am disappointed with ASO. Extremely disappointed," Merckx reportedly told Het Laaste Nieuws in November after his spat with ASO concerning the Tour of Oman was revealed.
Before he would consider appearing at the ASO's event in 2019, he said, "a serious discussion will have to take place."
Merckx helped to pioneer the major races in the Middle East, first helping to organise the Tour of Qatar in 2002 and then in 2010 the Tour of Oman.
"The Tour of Oman will certainly take place in 2018, but it will be without me," Merckx told Het Laaste Nieuws. "I have nothing to do with it anymore."