Back in 1912, entrepreneur and reporter, Karel Van Wynendaele, decided that the Flemish part of Belgium should have its own cycling race. His newspaper took responsibility as organiser of the event and it fell upon Wynendaele to find a suitable route. The name, Ronde Van Vlaanderen – Tour of Flandres – was taken very literally by him. This meant that the first edition of the race sent the 37 riders on a 330 km ride along the coast to Gent and Brьgge visiting scarcely populated parts of the flat landscape.
However, the event was no overnight success. Had it not been for the benevolence of the Sportswerelds newspaper, the race probably would not have been kept alive. It was not until after an involuntary break – caused by World War 1 – that the race found a place inside the Belgian hearts. The event’s position in the race calendar after Milan-San Remo and before Paris-Roubaix suited the riders and the generous price money meant that the riders kept coming back to compete on the often very poor cobbled roads.
Ronde Van Vlaanderen is Flemish national property but because of its long history with a tradition for great drama, the race has become a very important international event as well. The great one-day riders have all, with few exceptions, made their mark on the race. The Dane, Rolf Soerensen, took a spectacular victory in 1997.
In this year’s race, the legendary Koppenberg climb has rejoined the race. Approximately 70 km before the finish, there is a group of climbs that are often used as the basis for early attacks. Kwaremont, Paterberg, Berendries and Tenbosse are all well suited to force an early decision of the race.
However, the knowledgeable Belgian cycling fans’ preferred climb is Muur in Geradsbergen and it is here that they show up in greatest numbers in order to catch a glimpse of the strongest riders as they power up the steep cobbled road. The final climb, Bosberg, is situated 11 km before the finish. A few years back, Andrei Tchmil, was able to establish a sufficient gap on this climb enabling him to keep the rest of the front group behind him all the way to the finish.
The road to victory in Ronde van Vlaanderen is long and cobbled and no true cycling expert will ever be able to forget a winner of this magnificent Belgian race. And so, on April 7th, yet another rider will be able to make his contribution to the history books.