This year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, scheduled to take place on April 1, 2012, has been a topic of discussion since the organisers of Vlaanderen's Mooiste announced a substantial make-over of the classic's route in September 2011. Yesterday, the new parcours was officially presented, and the head of the organising company De Vijver, Wouter Vandenhaute, explained his decisions.
The Tour of Flanders will this year finish in Oudenaarde instead of Meerbeke, thus omitting the race's most mythical helling, the Muur van Geraardsbergen. The new finale will include the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, to be covered three times on a final circuit - with the Paterberg as the last ascent before the finish in Oudenaarde, 13km before the finish.
"The Oude Kwaremont could take over the role of the Muur," Vandenhaute told Sporza. "The decision was very difficult to take, because the Muur is a tradition in the Ronde and we had to be careful changing that. The new course, including the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg three times, is meant to boost the sporting angle of the finale.
"Also, we realised that there were much more spectators in the Flemish Ardennes than in the previous finale [in Meerbeke - ed.]. To go to the Muur and Meerbeke, you ride away of the hilly zone. On the long and straight roads there were seldom any spectators. The excitement on the Muur itself was of course fantastic, but it lies completely off track."
The creation of a final circuit, with geographically close key points, is hoped to further increase spectator presence. "Not only will there be more spectacle, but also the spectators points of view will be increased. During the last 90 minutes of the race, they will be able to see the riders pass by three times," continued Vandenhaute, for whom the new route is a trial version that will be "evaluated over two years. If it turns out that we messed up, then we'll have to admit it and re-assess everything.
"But if this finale turns out good, the we'll have it like that for six years," added the Belgian, who wants to modernise cycling. "If this succeeds, then the Ronde can be a model for all one-day races. Racing from point A to point B has had its time."
While public reaction Belgium was rather critical because of the scrapping of the legendary Muur, some of the Ronde's key contenders have reacted positively to the new route. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), winner in 2010, thought that the new finale spiced up the race.
"My first impression was: the race looks harder," he said. "Three times the Oude Kwaremont means a bigger and longer fight than just one time up the Muur. It's a special climb, too. There's uphill cobblestones, then a flat part, and then again a climb towards the top. It's a long and hard sector, and especially after such a long and hard race with so many kilometres."
"It will be a very beautiful race, a very different one. The concept has completely changed," said Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), who won the event in 2005 and 2006. His teammate Sylvain Chavanel, who finished second last year, also welcomed the changes.
"Before, the decisive section was Geraardsbergen. That's where the favourites played their cards. Now, it's entirely different. It's improved," said the French champion.