By Brecht Decaluwé and Sue George
The next edition of the Tour of Flanders on April 8, 2007 will not feature the 'mythical' Koppenberg. Presenters made this important announcement during the presentation of the course for 'Flanders most beautiful' on Tuesday in Oudenaarde, Belgium. Other notable climbs like the Foreest and the Steenberg will be dropped, too, although eighteen climbs, one more than last year, will be in the 2007 Tour of Flanders.
The omitted climbs will be replaced with some that have been part of recent editions of the Tour of Flanders: the Kluisberg, the Knokteberg, the Kortekeer, and a completely new climb, the Eikenmolen.
By skipping the Koppenberg, the organizers are hoping to avoid a sporting fiasco. First introduced in 1976, the hill has given many riders cause to walk up it during the race. This spring, Tom Boonen and no more than seven other riders were the happy few who were able to ride up the steep, cobbled hill. But the 2006 edition wasnt the first edition of the race in which racers had to walk the famous climb near tiny Melden, close to the city of Oudenaarde. Fans may remember legendary images from 1987 when Jesper Skibby's bike was run over by a following car after he fell. The vehicle barely missed his foot.
Wim Van Herreweghe, organizer of the event, explained at the course presentation that the climb wasnt expelled forever and that the riders can make the race as hard as they want to, even without the Koppenberg. Maybe we can re-initiate the Koppenberg in the future as an executioner deep into the finale of the race, but we dont want to allow the non-sporting elements to rule how the race unfolds, Van Herreweghe said. In the last 80km, there is a hill about every five kilometers, so I think the classical ingredients for a good Tour of Flanders are there, said Van Herreweghe, expressing his desire for a classical battle through Flanders.
In previous years, when the Koppenberg was in better condition, it was less decisive due to the fact that it came relatively early in the race, at 74km to go. Later climbs in the last 30km such as the Valkenberg and the Muur were historically more likely be a critical point. The Koppenberg climb was widened and recobbled, and re-introduced into the race in 2002. But the road surface has quickly deteriorated, creating notable gaps between the cobbles. Wet weather would certainly make the Koppenberg climb dangerous and perhaps too difficult. For the time being, the famed Koppenberg climb remains suitable only for 'cross racing in events like the last month's Koppenberg 'Cross.
The 2007 Tour of Flanders includes the following climbs with each length, average grade, and maximum grade indicated: