The route of the 2014 Tour of Flanders has been welcomed by a number of past winners, including Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Nick Nuyens (Garmin-Sharp). While the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg remain the final climbs of the race, the finishing circuit introduced in 2012 has been dispensed with and some of the longer flat sections in the finale have been removed.
Cancellara has the distinction of having triumphed on both the old and new Ronde courses, having powered away on the Muur van Geraardsbergen to win in Meerbeke in 2010, and repeated the feat in Oudenaarde last spring by dropping Peter Sagan on the Paterberg. While the Kwaremont will still be climbed three times in 2014, Cancellara believes the removal of the finishing circuit sees the race return to something like its pre-2012 self.
"This is a beautiful, attractive course. It’s a parcours that’s more in line with tradition," Cancellara told Het Nieuwsblad. "The fans will be satisfied with it. It will provide a good race."
Nuyens, who claimed the thrilling 2011 edition of the race, pointed to the new placement of the Koppenberg as one of the most intriguing elements of the new course. The fearsome climb is now just 45 kilometres from the finish, and should play a more decisive part in the race than ever before. "In the past, it was too far out to play a role, but now it can force a selection," Nuyens said. "Some riders might get back on afterwards, but far fewer than before."
Nuyens thoughts are echoed by triple winner Johan Museeuw, who expects the Koppenberg to be a particularly crucial juncture in the race, which takes place on April 6 next year.
"Riders were very hesitant on the current [2012 and 2013] finale, they tended to wait and it led to a boring race," Museeuw told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Now it will be completely different. Riders get the chance to blow things open from the Koppenberg on."
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) had made little secret of his aversion to the new finale in Oudenaarde over the past two years, but he is hopeful that the tweaks made to the course will alter the complexion of the race and make it less predictable.
"In the last two editions of De Ronde, you rode with the brakes on. You could attack but there was nowhere to go. You could only try something from the second time up the Paterberg, but everybody knew what was coming there," Van Avermaet told Het Nieuwsblad. “"The new course makes it harder. Yes, I’m enthusiastic about it. Also because it could hardly be worse."
Double Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder (Trek) is also content with the altered course. The mercurial Devolder won the race in both 2008 and 2009 while riding for QuickStep, but displayed largely indifferent form on the big occasion until this season, when he played a key role in his teammate Cancellara’s victory. "The harder, the better," he said. "I think it’s a good course."