Michele Bartoli has voiced his disappointment at the absence of the Muur van Geraardsbergen from the route of this year’s edition of the Tour of Flanders. The Italian has found memories of the Muur, after soloing clear on its slopes to win De Ronde in 1996, but the legendary helling has been removed from the course as the race now finishes in Oudenaarde rather than in Meerbeke.
“It’s worse than taking the Poggio from Milan-San Remo,” Bartoli told Gazzetta dello Sport. “For me, the Muur is a piece of the history of the Tour of Flanders, it’s a huge loss. I mean, if I had attacked at another place [in 1996], it wouldn’t be remembered so readily now.”
While the Muur and the Bosberg have consigned to the history books, the finale of the race now features three ascensions of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. On paper, the new route is more difficult, but Bartoli pointed out that it would all depend on the approach of the riders.
“The Oude Kwaremont isn’t very hard, but it’s long and disjointed. It’s also a bit anomalous in that there’s a stretch of flat pavé afterwards that can hurt. The Paterberg is short but it goes up at 20%, a real wall,” he said. “I couldn’t say if Flanders will be harder because it depends on the riders, but at its key points, the roads are very narrow, and technical ability will be fundamental.”
Bartoli reckons positioning ahead of the first ascension of the Kwaremont with 70km to go could prove essential, but he was loathe to pick a favourite out of Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara. “It’s hard for Boonen to drop Cancellara, but the opposite could happen. Although if it doesn’t, then Tom would be at a real advantage in the sprint…”