Transformed Ronde van Vlaanderen prepares for new Oudenaarde finish
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Friday, March 30, 2012

Transformed Ronde van Vlaanderen prepares for new Oudenaarde finish

by Ben Atkins at 1:42 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg circuits to make toughest course in race’s history

Sunday will see the most radically different Ronde van Vlaanderen course since its finish moved to Meerbeke in 1973. With its switch to Oudenaarde, in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes, and with the majority of the region’s most famous climbs on its doorstep, the route was bound to change. With the complete omission of the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur, in Geraardsbergen to the east, and the use of a circuit for the first time in the race’s history, there have been plenty of critics.

What has been almost universally agreed, however, is that the race’s new finish makes it one of the toughest in the race’s 99-year history.

The new finale of the race is based around three climbs each of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. These are two of the toughest climbs in the area; the Kwaremont’s relatively benign gradient is nullified by its cobbled surface and its length, while the Paterberg’s gradients of up to 20% see a number of riders forced to walk at the back of the peloton.

Historically, the 2.2km Kwaremont was where the strong teams would start to assert themselves, while the Paterberg was where the favourites would fire their opening shots. With 80km still to ride, however, the climb - which is one of the steepest in the area - was never as decisive as its near-mythical status would warrant.

However with the third scaling coming just 13km from the finish this time, the combination of Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg takes the place of the Muur-Kapelmuur/Bosberg of previous years. The new combination, especially with what it follows, will also be far tougher.

Breakdown of the new route:

The course will pass through Oudenaarde for the first time after 100km, then complete a loop that scales the Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Molenberg, Rekelberg, Berendries and Valkenberg, most of which are more familiar as features of the previous course. After passing close to Oudenaarde for a second time, the race will hit the first of the three finishing loops.

Ronde van VlaanderenThe first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg will be followed by the Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries and Kruisberg/Hotond, in a similar way to usual, but the course will then restart the second, shorter circuit, which climbs the Kwaremont and Paterberg again, then goes on to the Hoogberg/Hotond.

The third circuit is likely the place that will see the serious action start, much as the Muur-Kapelmuur used to be on the old course. For the first time, the Oude Kwaremont could be used as a place to attack, rather than to grind down your opponents, and attacks on the Paterberg will be to win, rather than simply to cause a selection.

Once over the top, a breakaway rider will have a steady 4km descent to Kerkhove on the opposite bank of the river Schelde, then a flat 9km run to the finish.

After 255km of the toughest kilometres in the sport, the winner of the 2012 Ronde van Vlaanderen will surely be one of the worthiest champions for many years. But it’ll only be after the event when we see whether the new course will capture the imagination of the riders and public as much as the old one did.


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