Three years on from the first suggestions that Brussels would host the 2019 Tour de France Grand Départ, race organiser ASO confirmed on Tuesday that the Belgian capital will indeed see off the 106th edition of the race, which will mark two key anniversaries: 50 years since the first of Eddy Merckx's five victories and 100 years since the creation of the maillot jaune.
Merckx, a Belgian, won six stages on his way to the yellow jersey in the 1969 Tour, which was secured by the mammoth margin of 17 minutes 54 seconds over Roger Pingeon. The 'Cannibal' also won the points, mountains and young rider classifications. He went on to rack up a record 34 stage wins over the course of his career.
The project to bring the Grand Départ to Brussels has been led by Alain Courtois, the former Secretary-General of the Belgian Football Association, who, along with Merckx, met with ASO in 2014. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme was said to have been "pleasantly surprised" during the meeting, with negotiations ongoing since.
Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported that in the past week ASO representatives have visited Brussels, and the official announcement came on Tuesday morning. It is unclear whether the 2019 Tour will start with a prologue or a road stage, while the direction the race would take from Brussels is also yet to be decided.
Brussels has welcomed the Tour de France on 10 occasions, and hosted the Grand Départ in 1958. It first hosted a stage finish in 1947, when Rene Vietto won stage 3, and the race returned in 1949, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992 and, most recently, 2010 when Alessandro Petacchi won stage 2 in a sprint.
Other Belgian cities to have hosted the Grand Départ are Chaleroi (1975) and Liège (2004 and 2012), while Antwerp has expressed its desire for the 2020 Grand Départ to mark the centenary of the first and only Belgian Olympic Games. The 2017 Tour de France starts in Düsseldorf, Germany, but will itself visit Belgium, with a stage from Düsseldorf to Liège on the second day and a stage start on Verviers on day three.
With the Vendée in France hosting the start of the 2018 edition, the current trend of the Grand Départ taking place in a foreign city every other year is maintained.
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