Tour of Flanders organisers Flanders Classics announced on Easter Sunday that Antwerp and Bruges will trade as the start location for the race in the next six editions. Antwerp will host the start of the Tour of Flanders in 2022, 2024 and 2026, while Bruges will host the start in 2023, 2025 and 2027.
Any change to the course design for the Tour of Flanders is sure to spark debate. The switch from Ninove to Oudenaarde in 2012 and the removal of the crucial cobbled ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen was highly controversial. In 2016, Flanders Classics approached the city of Antwerp to host the start of the Tour of Flanders without consulting Bruges. Antwerp signed a contract for five starts, paying €400,000 per year, double the amount of what Bruges paid at the time. It ended a series of 19 consecutive starts in Bruges between 1998 and 2016.
With the start being held in Antwerp, the organisers were happy to claim that the different approach allowed for a return of the famous Muur-Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen. Antwerp has hosted three starts with fans – including Tom Boonen's final race with a thunder-clap send-off at the start in 2017 – and two editions without fans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 and 2021 edition of the Tour of Flanders omitted the Kapelmuur, with Flanders Classics claiming in 2020 that it was removed to shorten the course in the busy Autumn schedule. The mayor of Geraardsbergen, Guido De Padt told HLN.be that Flanders Classics removed the passage because they didn't want to pay up for it.
Halfway through March, the mayor of Bruges announced his desire to get the Tour of Flanders start back in 2022. A few days earlier he inked a deal to merge the ports of Bruges and Antwerp, forming the second-largest port of Europe. The improved relationships between the two port towns might have played its part in last week's news.
Antwerp and Bruges told Flanders Classics they didn't want to bid up against each other and wanted to share the starts, even expressing the hope of bringing down the cost. Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel reacted positively and a few days later the deal is done. A last-minute press conference was held at the start of the race in Antwerp on Sunday morning.
Under the deal Antwerp will host the next start in 2022, hoping to finally get some economic return after hosting two starts that were held without spectators amid pandemic restrictions.
The mayor of Bruges, Dirk De Fauw, was present on the start podium in Antwerp next to his colleague from Antwerp, Bart De Wever. "We have fond memories of the starts we hosted in the past. We were sad to see the Ronde disappear five years ago but now we're happy to see the Ronde come back to Bruges, which is a true cycling-loving city," said De Fauw.
There was no mention of the value of the contract.
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