With two Tour of Flanders wins under his belt (1999 and 2003) and a childhood spent growing up in the east of the region, few men are more qualified than Peter Van Petegem to analyse the route and climbs for this year's race.
The 2012 edition of the Tour of Flanders takes place this Sunday (April 1) on a significantly altered course that has caused much controversy, mainly to do with the exclusion of the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen (Kapelmuur) climb, and the finish in the town of Oudenaarde instead of Meerbeke. Van Petegem, now 42, retired from professional cycling in 2007. As you'll see from our gallery and from his comments on the route, his passion for the sport still burns brightly.
The Oude Kwaremont
"For me, it is the slope that you can compare most with the the Muur," Van Petegem told Het Nieuwsblad. "Naturally, Oude Kwaremont is more like it than anything else. It is nowhere near as steep, but much longer and this ultimately equals the two out. On the first pass you need to be in a good position when you arrive. You should know that the Tour is not won on the climbs but in the flats. That is the real fight. At this stage of the race it is especially important not to waste energy. That Old Kwaremont is tough indeed."
"While I find the Kwaremont to be more suited to a pure power man like Cancellara and Boonen, the Paterberg is a better climb because it is explosive," he said. "I compared the Old Kwaremont to the Muur, but the Paterberg definitely a lot harder than the Bosberg, the final climb in the past. If anyone drops the hammer here, there won't be any recovery. It's all the time uphill and downhill on narrow roads, and the wind that is on your back one minute and then right in your face or side a few corners later."
"After the last run of the Paterberg there is around 10 flat kilometres to the finish in Oudenaarde," Van Petegem said. "Under normal conditions that's nothing, but now it can be very tough. At the end of the Tour, when the bugs bite in the muscles, there is not much more left in the tank. I'm also wondering how the wind will be. Nine days out of ten the wind is either a tailwind or cross-tailwind, but if not it can be an extra problem. All in all I think the sprint to the finish line will not be comparable to that of recent years towards Meerbeke. The false flat to the finish is in fact slightly less treacherous."