The bidding for a new finish of the Ronde van Vlaanderen was settled and Oudenaarde won. The finish has been in Merebeek for the last twenty-plus years, but their contract was up which opened up the bidding.
It was a fierce battle, but the race promoter said the highest bidder did not win. The best choice was selected based on many criteria. The new finish belongs to the same town that holds the Tour of Flanders museum and hosts many other races throughout the year. None of these other races are of the same caliber as the Ronde, but this town still has a lot of experience.
With the new finish come changes to the route. Reading the Belgian comments, I don’t think people are so upset about the town for the finish, but rather about the changes in getting there. For the first time in a very long time the Bosberg, and more importantly Muur-Kappel-Muur, are not in the race. So many times those two hills have selected the winner. In 2010, watching Fabian Cancelara power away from Tom Boonen on the Muur was electrifying! I have ridden those hills many times and to just look so smooth and calm yet be destroying the best competitor, wow. I mean wow.
So that is now out. The course will not even visit those climbs. Instead we will see laps or maybe concentric rings for the finish, with three times up both the Owde Kwaremont and Paterberg, and with other hills on two of the loops. As if the route were not confusing enough, the racers take in seven other climbs before finding the Owde Kwaremont and Paterberg. Then they head out a little bit to find some more cobbled streets and two more climbs. Then the route goes back to the pair again, then there’s another climb, and then back one last time to the pair. Finally the course winds into Oudenaarde for the finish.
As I mentioned, my searches of Belgian commentary indicate that the people there are generally very unhappy. The racers are withholding comment, but they’re all thinking of how they can use the new route to their advantage. The news media is split.
For me, I don’t really care. Let’s have an exciting race! We’ll ride the race course the day before and see what we really think about riding all these climbs and the final pair three times. Ask me what I think then!
On April 8th, 2012, we will all know if the new course is a match for the old one!