Tour of Flanders
|Local name(s)||Ronde van Vlaanderen (Dutch)|
|Nickname(s)||De Ronde (Dutch)
Vlaanderens Mooiste (Dutch)
Flanders' Finest (English)
|Competition||UCI World Tour|
|Race director||Wim Van Herreweghe|
|Editions||99 (as of 2015)|
|First winner||Paul Deman (BEL)|
|Most wins|| Achiel Buysse (BEL)
Fiorenzo Magni (ITA)
Eric Leman (BEL)
Johan Museeuw (BEL)
Tom Boonen (BEL)
Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
|Most recent||Alexander Kristoff (NOR)|
The Tour of Flanders (Dutch: Ronde van Vlaanderen), also known as De Ronde ("The Tour"), is an annual road cycling race held in Belgium every Spring. It is part of the UCI World Tour and organized by Flanders Classics. It is the most important cycling race in Flanders. Its nickname is Vlaanderens mooiste (Dutch for "Flanders' finest").
Before the second World War, the race was usually held on the same day as Milan–San Remo, the most important classic race in Italy. Prominent Italian and French racers preferred the latter which explains why there was only a single non-Belgian winner before the war. After the War the race grew in importance when it became part of the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo, a precursor of today's UCI World Tour, of which it is now a major event.
Today it is one of the five Monuments of cycling, together with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy. It is one of the two major Cobbled classics together with Parix-Roubaix, which is on the calendar one week after the Tour of Flanders.
The Tour of Flanders is unique among the major classics in having six record holders. Belgians Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen, Italian Fiorenzo Magni and Swiss Fabian Cancellara each have three victories.
- 1 The beginning
- 2 History
- 3 Route
- 4 Race characteristics
- 5 Rider characteristics
- 6 Epic races
- 7 Opinions
- 8 Winners
- 9 Records and statistics
- 10 Tour of Flanders for Women
- 11 Experience center
- 12 Cyclotourism
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
The Tour of Flanders was conceived in 1913 by Karel Van Wijnendaele, co-founder of the sportspaper Sportwereld. In the era it was customary for publishers of newspapers and magazines to organize cycling races as a means of promoting circulation.
The Ronde as a cultural symbol
Cycling was in a poor state across Belgium by the beginning of the 20th century. Velodromes were closing and national championships on the road or track were no longer organized. The one big Belgian race, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, was in the French-speaking South. As the gloom increased, Odile Defraye became the first Belgian to win the Tour de France, in 1912. He was 20 years old and, even though he was riding for a French team, Alcyon, he symbolised a potential rise for Belgian cycling. His victory inspired August De Maeght, director of the Société Belge d'Imprimerie, to publish a weekly sports magazine called Sportwereld.
Sportwereld's most prominent cycling writer was Carolus ("Karel") Ludovicus Steyaert, who wrote by his pseudonym Karel van Wijnendaele, the name by which he was best known. [n 1] Van Wijnendaele was the fifth of 15 children of a family in the hamlet of Wijnendaele, near Torhout. His father, a flax worker, died when Karel was 18 months old. He wrote in 1942: "Being born into a poor family, that was my strength. If you're brought up without frills [sober opgekweekt wordt] and you know what hunger is [door een mager leven gaat], it makes you hard enough to withstand bike races." He left school at 14 and worked for a baker, looked after cows, washed bottles and delivered parcels. He worked for French-speaking families in Brussels and Ostend and felt humiliated by the way they treated him.
Van Wijnendaele tried cycle-racing, won a few lesser prizes but made little impression. Instead, he turned to writing about cycling as a regional correspondent, first for De Torhoutenaer, his local paper, then from 1909 for Onze Kampioenen in Antwerp and Sportvriend in Izegem. It was then that he adopted his pen-name. This attracted the attention of De Maeght and his collaborator, the race organiser Len van de Haute, with whom van Wijnendaele had collaborated at Sportvriend. The two travelled to Torhout and asked van Wijnendaele if he would join a new paper to be called Sportwereld. Van Wijnendaele said he replied "Could be [misschien wel]." The first issue appeared in time for the Championship of Flanders on 12 September 1912. Van Wijnendaele became its editor on 1 January 1913. He said:
We thought there was a lot we could do in the area. We also wanted to publish a paper to speak to our own Flemish people in their own language and give them confidence as Flandrians. We conducted a 10-year war, for instance, with the French-speaking management of the national cycling federation in Brussels. And we won it.
The Ronde and Flemish nationalism
Much has been written about the link between cycling in Flanders and Flemish nationalism. Van Wijnendaele wanted to create a race run entirely on Flemish soil, crossing as many cities as possible, because "all Flemish cities had to contribute to the liberation of the Flemish people".
The Tour of Flanders is the only classic to have been held on German-occupied territory during the Second World War and in full agreement with the German command. The Germans not only allowed and enjoyed the race but helped police the route as well. This led to accusations of collaboration in an age where many Flemish nationalists had strong ties with Nazi Germany. After the War, De Standaard and Het Algemeen Nieuws-Sportwereld were sequestered by the state and several journalists, although largely non-sports reporters, were sentenced for collaboration. Van Wijnendaele was forbidden to work as a journalist for life, a ban lifted when he produced a letter of support from General Montgomery, confirming that he had hidden downed British pilots and had protected them in his house.
A rival Flemish newspaper, Het Volk, started the Omloop van Vlaanderen in 1945. Het Volk, of left-wing signature, wanted to initiate a new cycling event in Flanders as a rival race to what it saw as the Ronde's closeness to the nazi's. The Ronde's organizers protested that the name was too close to their own – in Dutch there is little difference between Ronde and Omloop. The Belgian cycling federation demanded Het Volk to change the name of the event. That race became the Omloop Het Volk, nowadays the opening race of the Belgian cycling season.[n 2]
The first races
On 25 May 2013 Karel Van Wijnendaele organized the first Tour of Flanders, crossing the two western provinces of Flanders. It finished on the track at Mariakerke, now a suburb of Ghent, and ran through Sint-Niklaas, Aalst, Oudenaarde, Kortrijk, Veurne, Ostend, Torhout, Roeselare and Bruges. It covered 330 km, all on bad roads with just the occasional cycle path. There were 37 riders. The race finished on a wooden track that circled a pond in Mariakerke, where ticket sales covered only half the prizes.
The first race in 1913 was won by 25-year-old Paul Deman, winning the sprint of a group of six after more than 12 hours in the saddle. Deman went on to win Bordeaux–Paris in 1914, but his career almost ended with the First World War. He joined Belgium's espionage underground war effort and smuggled documents into the neutral Netherlands by bike. After many trips he was arrested by the Germans, jailed in Leuven and held for execution. The Armistice of 1918 saved his life.[n 3] He started racing again and won Paris–Roubaix in 1920 and Paris–Tours in 1923.
The first race consisted of 37 riders, followed by five assistance cars. In 1914 the field was 47 and the organization still struggled to find enough financial resources. A disappointed van Wijnendaele later said:
Sportwereld was so young and so small for the big Ronde that we wanted. We had bitten off more than we could chew (verder springen dan zijn stok lang is). It was hard, seeing a band of second-class riders riding round Flanders, scraping up a handful of centimes to help cover the costs. The same happened in 1914. No van Hauwaert,[n 4] no Masselis, no Defraeye [sic], no Mosson, no Mottiat, no van den Berghe, all forbidden to take part by their French bike companies.
However, there were hints of the growing status of the race as a symbol of Flemish nationalism (see above). Marcel Buysse, one of Flanders' cycling icons in the early 20th century, insisted on entering the race, even though his French Alcyon team had ordered Belgian riders not to participate. Buysse took part in the second edition in 1914 as one of the favourites and won the sprint of a group of six on the velodrome of Evergem, in the vicinity of Ghent. The distance was scaled back to 264 km.
1920s: Birth of a Legend
During World War I the race had its only interruptions and was resumed again without interruptions as from 1919. The interwar editions were marked by appaling road conditions and grisly landscapes in war-ridden Flanders, but the Tour of Flanders gained popularity fast.
In the 1920s Flemish track specialists dominated the race. Gérard Debaets, a specialist of six-day racing in the American circuit, won the race twice, his first as one of only 17 finishers in dreadful weather conditions. Swiss Heiri Suter became the first foreign winner, just one week before he achieved the first ever "double" win with Paris-Roubaix. In 1926, a group of ten sprinted to the finish. Five of them crashed heavily and Denis Verschueren, competing his first race as a professional, won the race.
1930s: Problems of success
If the first Rondes were held to limited public success, by the 1930s its popularity had grown so spectacularly that the vast masses of spectators along the roads and cars following the race had turned the Tour of Flanders into a true cultural festival. By 1933, there were 164 participants and seven times as many cars and motorbikes in the race caravan. This booming of the event brought inevitable problems of safety. In 1937 writer and Flemish literary icon Stijn Streuvels wrote to Sportwereld that the Ronde, as seen from his house in Ingooigem, was "more a procession of cars than of riders." [n 6]
Historian Rik Vanwalleghem speaks of a "wild rodeo" of spectators driving behind the race and seeking shortcuts across the course to see the race several times. He said the police estimated the crowd for early races at 500,000. People followed the race in cars, overtook it when they could, or stood so thick by the roadside in villages and at control points that the riders sometimes had trouble passing.
Van Wijnendaele involved the gendarmerie in 1933 but to limited effect. The 1937 race was exceptionally chaotic with several accidents, causing race organizers to have the entire course secured by motorized police, in those days a revolutionary move. Since then, the situation started to improve somewhat.
In sporting terms, the race grew more and more international with participants from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. Belgians continued to dominate however and Romain Gijssels became the first to win the Tour of Flanders two consecutive times. The editions of 1934 and 1935 were exceptionally rainy, making the races grueling contests of perseverance. 
Conditions for riders
The Ronde, in its first decades, followed the general rule that each racer was responsible for his own problems. Help from others was banned and riders carried spare tyres looped round their shoulders to cope with punctures. It could take two or three minutes to change and inflate a tyre, longer if it was cold or there were other problems. Tyres weighed around 500g (compared to currently around 200g). A rim or any other part of the bike that broke spelled the end of the race and still left the rider with the problem of getting to the finish.
Conditions improved in the 1930s and riders were allowed to accept a rain jacket, a spare tyre and a pump, but only in an emergency and at the judges' discretion. A change of bike was allowed only if a frame, wheel or handlebar broke, but riders were still expected to ride with spare tyres and a pump. Riders in the 1940s had to hand their bikes to officials the day before the race to have them identified with a lead seal, later with a ring similar to that fitted to racing pigeons. In that way the judges, or commissaires, could see if a rider had illegally changed bikes.
The Ronde moved towards modern rules in 1951, with riders being allowed limited help from team cars and to combine with others from the same team on the road. By 1955 it was possible to accept a replacement bike from a team-mate but not from a car. The rules changed from year to year until they resembled those of today by the end of the 1950s.
Prizes for the first race in 1913 came to 1,100 Belgians francs. By 1935 the fees and bonuses had increased to 12,500 francs, with 2,500 for the winner down to 125 francs for the 19th place finisher (at a time when a newspaper cost 40 cents). In 1938 there was a bonus of 100 francs for any rider who had a lead of 30 minutes. Prizes during the war years were whatever the organisers could find, including boxes of razors, a stove, bottles of wine and cycling equipment. There were 100 francs in 1948 "for the last rider to reach the finish in Eeklo." The last four riders in 1949 were given bottles of massage oil.
1940s: War years and resurrection
Organizing magazine "Sportwereld" merged in 1939 with "Het Nieuwsblad", a popular daily newspaper. "Sportwereld" was made the sports section of both Het Nieuwsblad and its sister daily De Standaard. In May 1940 German troops occupied Belgium. The government escaped to London and the king, Léopold III, was held under house arrest. Many sport events were cancelled, but Het Nieuwsblad continued to organize the Tour of Flanders in agreement with the German command.
The first wartime race in 1941 was postponed to May, won by Achiel Buysse. Because of road restrictions its course was altered to badly-surfaced trails and ridges with a start and finish in Ghent, totalling just 198 km.
Despite the war conditions, the 1940s were the remarkable scene of some of the race's most notorious champions. Achiel Buysse became the first rider to win three times. Briek Schotte and Rik Van Steenbergen gained two victories and became the leading figures of Belgian cycling. Briek Schotte linked his named indelibly to the race with 20 participations, eight podium finishes, two victories and several memorable exploits. In 1944 Rik Van Steenbergen controlled the race, distanced his rival Briek Schotte in the final kilometers and stunned followers by becoming the youngest winner ever at 19.
In 1948 there was a record number of 265 participants, the largest peloton to take the start, of which 50 foreign riders. Briek Schotte won his second Ronde.
1950s: International Classic
In 1947 the Tour of Flanders had been included in the first running of the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo [n 7], cycling's first international season-long competition, which had spurred its growing internationalization. Until the Second World War, the Tour of Flanders was organized on the same day as Milan-San Remo, which was considered the biggest classic in cycling, and the Ronde had above all been an affair for "Flandrians". Consequently, the Ronde had only one non-Belgian pre-war winner. The organizers changed the date to meet the needs of the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo.
Italian Fiorenzo Magni was the first exponent of the internationalization. The Tuscan achieved an unprecedented three consecutive victories in just four participations. The Tours of 1950 and 1951 set the tone, with solo wins in bad weather by the Italian. In 1951 Magni attacked with 75 km to go and finished 5' 35" ahead of Frenchman Bernard Gauthier. Attilio Redolfi was third at 10' 32" from Magni.
In 1955 cycling greatness Louison Bobet, already a two-times winner of the Tour de France by then, became the first French winner. Another Frenchman, Jean Forestier, won the following year. Flemish fans needed to get use to the many foreign riders excelling in Flanders, but the international prestige of the race increased fast.
The Tour of Flanders crosses the two western provinces of Flanders, West-Flanders and East-Flanders. Since 1998 the race starts in Bruges, in the northwest of Flanders, close to the North Sea. After the start on the market square in the city center, the race heads south, along broad roads over the flatlands of West-Flanders. In recent years this straightforward southern route is followed for 55 km until Kortrijk in the south of West-Flanders, before heading east, towards the Flemish Ardennes where the landscape gradually becomes hillier.
The first climbs of the race are usually addressed in the periphery of West-Flanders, after 70-80 km of racing. After ca. 100 km the course passes Oudenaarde a first time, after which the race remains in the Flemish Ardennes, in the southern half of East-Flanders, with a succession of hills (hellingen) and a few cobbled roads that determine the nature of the race. The hills offer many opportunities to attack and are usually the decisive sites of the race. These climbs are notorious for being short but very steep, and most of them - but not all - are cobbled. In recent editions 17 to 19 of these hills are included in the route, although the number is subject to change as some climbs are cut and others included almost every year.
Most of the climbs are located in a relatively small area, causing the roads to turn constantly and often abruptly, which explains the winding and irregular trajectory of the finale. The Oude Kwaremont is the longest climb at 2.2 km: an atypical hill because it is not very steep, but considered one of the most arduous climbs in Flanders because of its length and cobbled surface. The steepest of all is the fully-cobbled Koppenberg, 900 meters long with gruelling stretches of 22% over a poorly-paved narrow road. Additional to the hills, there are also some sections of flat cobbled roads included in the route, although they are usually in a good condition and come before the race finale.
Since 2012 the race finishes in Oudenaarde. The last two climbs of the race, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, are both addressed twice in a "loop finale". During the last loop, the Oude Kwaremont comes at 16 km from the finish and the Paterberg at 13 km, often marking the decisive sites of the race.
Like most of cycling's classics, the route has developed considerably over the years, but it has always been raced in the provinces of East-Flanders and West-Flanders. In the first 30 years the race was run from Ghent to Ghent, although the location of the finish in Ghent changed every few years.
The first edition of 1913 headed eastward to Sint-Niklaas before making a clockwise circle along Aalst, Kortrijk, all the way to the seashore in Ostend and via Roeselare back to Ghent. With this course, the race attended all the major cities of the two western provinces of Flanders. The course of 1914 was similar, but cancelled the leg to the coast.
In 1919 the direction converted to a counter-clockwise course, turning south in Bruges. In 1920 the route extended to the coast again, heading out past Eeklo and Bruges to reach the North Sea between Ostend and Blankenberge. The general route remained this way until 1938. Race director Karel Van Wijnendaele insisted on including the coast to the course because of his sentimental vision of Flanders.[n 8] The stretches of roads along the sea were often accompanied by strong winds that inhibited attacks but spelled the end for those left behind the shelter of the main peloton. "Turning left at the sea" meant that the wind blew from the side, producing a diagonal line of riders, each sheltering the other, typical of the Ronde and other Flemish races.[n 9]
The passage along the coast was cancelled when war broke out in Europe, as access to the sea was restricted. The wartime route was a loop in the interior of Flanders, but in 1946 the race returned to its pre-war route. In 1952 the ride along the coast was abandoned for nine years, then returned in 1961, only to disappear again in 1964.
In 1973 the race had a new finish in Meerbeke, for the first time since its inception outside the vicinity of Ghent. The race was no longer a loop and the new finish was much closer to the hill zone, bringing new opportunities to include new climbs in the finale of the course. The Muur van Geraardsbergen, with stretches of 20% and its top at 16 km from the finish was often the site where protagonists launched their decisive attack. From 1973 to 2011, the Muur constituted a pair with the Bosberg, the ultimate climb at 11 km from the finish. The steep Muur in the center of Geraardsbergen, with its prominent chapel at the top, became one of the iconic sites in Belgian cyling and of cycling in general.
In 1998 the starting place moved to Bruges, one of Europe's fairest cities, making a seaside passage possible again, but preserving the traditional finale over the Muur and Bosberg.
In 2012, the finishing place was awarded to Oudenaarde, 30 km to the west of Geraardsbergen, thereby exluding both the Muur and the Bosberg from the race course. The final climbs are now the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.
The Tour of Flanders has started in three different cities. Until 1976 the race started in Ghent, first on the Korenmarkt in the city's historic center, then at the fashionable Albert hotel on the Clementinalaan, close to St-Pieters railway station, where riders signed on. The race was neutralized in the city center until Mariakerke. In the 1950s a mass was held for riders before the start in Ghent, as the race was often held just before the Holy Week or on Easter day.
In 1977 Sint-Niklaas replaced Ghent as the starting place of the race, mainly because it had more space to accommodate the growing number of spectators on its large market square. Race briefings were held in the city hall. By 1988 the start had grown into a highly mediatized two-day event with a spectacle presented by the Flemish television (BRT) on the evening of the race. The contract with Sint-Niklaas ended in 1997.
In 1998 the start of the Tour of Flanders moved to Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its illustrious history and medieval architecture, as part of the city's promotional campaign and to not rely solely on historic tourism.[n 10] The move from Sint-Niklaas to Bruges brought criticism unrelated to the route change. Until then it had been a tradition that spectators could mix and meet with riders before the start. Fer Schroeders said:
"On the Square in St-Niklaas, at the foot of the magnificent city hall, the start of the Ronde was always a privileged moment. The riders came there to sign their papers for the race before happily going to meet their fans, giving autographs, posing for a souvenir photograph with a young admirer. So far as that is concerned, times and customs have changed since 1998. [...] Now there are railings to hold back the public from mixing with the riders. The start of the Tour of Flanders has manifestly lost, in its new configuration, everything that made it charming." 
Nonetheless, most Flemish fans have embraced Bruges as the starting place, praising the historic site as a fitting tribute to their Ronde. Moreover, the closeness of Bruges to the coast made it possible again for the race to pass by the seashore, which it did in 1998 and 1999. Many "traditionalists" of Flemish cycling were particularly enthousiastic of this.
The finish in 1913 was on the velodrome of Mariakerke, part of greater Ghent, but failed to have the aspired success. It moved in 1914 to the Deeske Porter velodrome in neighbouring Evergem where, Van Wijnendaele recounted tongue-in-cheek, "there were a good 20 spectators more than the previous year."
Wetteren hosted the finish from 1928 until 1961 with some interruptions during World War II, when it was moved to Ghent. Fiorenzo Magni won his three Tours of Flanders in Wetteren. From 1962 to 1972 the finish was in nearby Gentbrugge, on the outskirts of Ghent, where triple winner Eric Leman achieved most of his victories.
From 1973 to 2011 the finish was in Meerbeke, part of the municipality of Ninove, some 20 km west of Brussels. For 39 years the race finished on the Halsesteenweg, with a finishing straight of 400 m, going slightly uphill in the final meters. Johan Museeuw achieve the most victories on this location, winning three times in the 1990s.
In September 2011, it was announced that Oudenaarde would be the new host city to finish the Tour of Flanders, thereby ending a 39-year old tradition of finshing in Meerbeke. The new arrival was part of a full restyling of the race by new organiser Flanders Classics, which also saw the introduction of "loops" in the course. Many fans and followers were upset with the altered race finale, and the organisation's decision was met with resistance. Tom Boonen was the first winner at the new finish in 2012.
Start and finish:
- 1913 Ghent – Mariakerke
- 1914 Ghent – Evergem
- 1919–1923 Ghent – Gentbrugge (Arsenal)
- 1924–1927 Ghent – Ghent velodrome
- 1928–1941 Ghent – Wetteren
- 1942–1944 Ghent – Ghent velodrome
- 1945–1961 Ghent – Wetteren
- 1962–1972 Ghent – Gentbrugge
- 1973–1976 Ghent – Meerbeke
- 1977–1997 Sint-Niklaas – Meerbeke
- 1998–2011 Bruges – Meerbeke
- 2012-2018 Bruges – Oudenaarde
Nature of the race
The Tour of Flanders is known for being a strategic race, where race favourites have multiple opportunities of planning their decisive attacks. The tactical part of the race begins in the hilly region of the Flemish Ardennes, where teams and riders often have to react to unpredictable developments and shadow favourites make anticipatory moves.
The steep nature of these hills favours an aggressive, attacking style of riding, making the Tour of Flanders an attractive race for viewing audiences. The peloton often rushes furiously over the narrow roads towards the climbs as teams try to position their captains in the front of the group. A climb is usually followed by a bigger road for some recovery, before taking the next small roads and climb again.
As most hills are in agrarian locations or along small villages, the climbs themselves and the roads leading to them are often narrow, causing the peloton to stretch into a long line and frequently break into smaller groups. Consequently, the best riders are forced to continually fight for space at the front of the pack. The race is therefore both renowned and notorious for its nervous course, with some favourites falling behind early in the race because of a crash or puncture, often unable to return to the front of the race.
As a consequence, the element of "luck" is arguably one of the reasons why there has never been a rider able to win the Tour of Flanders more than three times, as even the best and greatest specialists of their time suffer bad luck or are foiled by unpredictable race circumstances occasionally.
Since the race's restyling in 2012, the climbs of the Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg, just south of Oudenaarde, are the heart of the action. The Kwaremont is a long section of cobbles that starts sharply before gradually levelling out. It’s where the powerful riders often make the race-winning move, as Fabian Cancellara did in 2013, when he attacked with Peter Sagan on the early stretches of the Kwaremont before distancing the Slovak on the Paterberg. The Paterberg is the ultimate climb of the day where fans usually create a carnival-like atmosphere. It is a short but cobbled climb and, at 20 percent, viciously steep. After 245 km of racing, it is generally an ultimate test of endurance and strength.
The race culture and primal competition is an identifying factor of the Tour of Flanders. Twofold winner Peter Van Petegem says:
- “It doesn’t really matter where it goes. You have cobblestones and climbs and small roads, and that provides the character of the race.” 
The short, sharp hills in the Flemish Ardennes are a defining feature of the Ronde and the places where spectators often gather in vast masses to see the race. Each climb has its own characteristics that present different challenges to the riders. The Kwaremont, is 2.2 km long but relatively shallow. The Paterberg is short and brutally steep. The Koppenberg in Melden is the steepest hill of the race at 22 percent with a bad, very uneven cobbled surface. Its road is also extremely narrow and the high banking on either side turns it into a natural arena. Other famous climbs include the Eikenberg, Molenberg and Taaienberg.
For more than half a century, organizers have offered prizes and bonuses to the first riders on many of them. In 1940 the first rider up the Kwaremont, Edelare and Kruisberg won 500 francs. A combined prize for best climber on all the hills came in 1950, when Maurits Blomme won bedroom furniture. The prize at the top of the Kruisberg in 1953 was a washing machine; the first up the Muur of Geraardsbergen won 18,000 francs. In 1950 Fiorenzo Magni won 30,000 francs in bonuses during a long breakaway, in those days enough to buy a middle-class house.[n 11]
The Koppenberg has been dropped some years because it was deemed too difficult and too dangerous. Particulary when wet weather had made the cobbles slippery, it was hard for riders to take the steep slopes all the way riding. One rider falling could bring many others down and, in turn, halt those behind, who often had shoulder their bikes and run up the remainder of the hill. In 1984 only two riders – Phil Anderson and Jan Raas – got to the top on their bikes. In 1987 Danish rider Jesper Skibby slipped and fell on the slick cobbles, before being run over by an official's car who tried to pass him. The climb was subsequently banned from the Tour of Flanders for the next 15 years.
The Koppenberg returned in 2002 after its surface was renewed. It was briefly dropped in 2007, replaced by the Kluisberg and the Côte de Trieu, but was included again in 2008 after the city of Oudenaarde had renovated it. It is now a fixed site of the course. Following cars are diverted before the foot of the climb to avoid chaos.
In 2008, the 17 hills were:
|Number||Name||Kilometer Marker||Pavement||Length (in m)||Average climb (%)|
|6||Paterberg [n 12]||189||cobbles||360||12,9|
|10||Berg Ter Stene||213||asphalt||1300||5|
Kluisberg: Buissestraat, Bergstraat, Kluisbergen-Ruien. Climbs 66m from 27m to 93m. Maximum 11 per cent. First climbed 1955
Molenberg: Molenberg, Zwalm. Climbs 32m from 24m to 56m. Maximum 17 per cent. First climbed 1983.
Oude Kwaremont: Broekstraat, Kwaremontplein, Schilderstraat, Kluisbergen. Climbs 93m from 18m to 111m. Maximum 11 per cent. First climbed 1974.
Koppenberg: Steengat, Koppenberg, Oudenaarde-Melden. Climbs 64m from 13m to 77m; Maximum 25 per cent at inside of bend, otherwise 22 per cent. First climbed 1976.
Taaienberg: Taaienberg, Maarkedal-Etikhove. Climbs 45m from 37m to 82m. Maximum 18 per cent. First climbed 1974.
Berg ter Stene: Stene, Horebeke. Climbs 68m from 32m to 100m. Maximum 9 per cent. First climbed 1957
Leberg: Leberg, Brakel-Zegelsem. Climbs 39m from 60m to 9m. Maximum 15 per cent. First climbed 1977
Berendries: Berendries, Brakel-Sint-Maria-Oudenhove. Climbs 65m from 33m to 98m. Maximum 14 per cent. First climbed 1983
Valkenberg: Valkenbergstraat, Brakel-Nederbrakel. Climbs 53m from 45m to 98m. Maximum 15 per cent. First climbed 1959
Muur-Kapelmuur: Abdijstraat, Ouderbergstraat, Oudeberg, Geraardsbergen. Climbs 77m from 33m to 110m. Maximum 20 per cent. First climbed 1950
Bosberg: Kapellestraat, Geraardsbergen-Moerbeke. Climbs 40m from 65m to 105m. Maximum 11 per cent. First climbed 1975.
Tenbosse: Olifantstraat, Brakel. Climbs 28m from 45m to 73m. Maximum 14 per cent. First climbed 1997
The course traditionally includes a number of flat sections of cobbled roads. Recent editions included the Paddestraat (2400m), Mater-Kerkgate (3000m), Haaghoek (2000m) and Mariaborrestraat (2400m). Only the Mariaborrestraat comes in the race finale, as it also comprises the climbs of the Steenbeekdries and the descent of the Stationsberg. Contrary to the fearful sections of pavé in Paris-Roubaix, these roads are in excellent condition nowadays as they are part of a busy traffic network. They haven't been the decisive sites of the race for decades, but many "purists" of the Tour of Flanders want to keep them included because of their value as symbols of Flemish landscapes.
Until the 1950s the many dirt roads and cobbled roads were crucial sites in the race. Historian Tom Van Laere states that the Tour of Flanders had never set out to use poor roads – cobblestoned roads were all that were available if the race were to be long enough. In the Interwar period, Belgium's infrastructure was severely scarred by war and only the intercity roads were smooth. Roads were laid in cobblestones, simply because it was the cheapest material at the time. After the Second World War, Belgium picked itself up from devastation and provinces began asphalting roads.
When some of the iconic hills were asphalted, cycling fans and organizers were alarmed by the disappearance of cobbles. Organizer Van Wijnendaele could no longer rely on many of the traditional roads as they were not difficult enough. His staff began searching for alleys and footpaths in maps and talked to people in bars who knew the local roads. "It was either that or risk the race ending in a mass sprint, and that's the last thing organizers wanted," said Van Laere. Most back roads happened to be in the low hills between Ronse and Geraardsbergen, the region that became the heart of the race.
Over the years the mileage of cobbles decreased but the number of cobbled hills rose. The climb of the Paterberg was unpaved until 1986, when its cycling-mad owner paved the road in cobbles because he wanted the race to pass by his house. The site was immediately included by race organizers and has become a fixture in the course.
Several of the remaining cobbled roads in Flanders, including the Paterberg, are now protected sites and classified as part of Flemish cultural heritage.
As with most cycling races, weather conditions have a significant influence in the nature of the day's race. Under bad weather conditions, the race is often a grueling contest and the peloton is thinned out in the early parts of the race. In modern times, the edition of 1984 was hit by exceptionally stormy weather and only saw 24 finishers. When weather conditions are good, the teams of race favourites can control the race more easily and more riders are able to keep up with the pace. As the weather in April is highly unpredictable in Flanders, the race has repeatedly been affected by rough weather conditions.
Founder Karel Van Wijnendaele was keen on using hyperboles to dramatize the nature of the race. Van Wijnendaele wanted the Tour of Flanders to be an icon of Flemish culture and a romanticized metaphor of Flanders. He intended to create a character race with protagonists in the image of the Flemish people of the time: hard-working, struggling men in a constant battle with the elements. He was quoted saying:
- "So much the better when bad weather is predicted for the Tour of Flanders. In rain, wind and mud she thrives best."
This rhetoric, combined with often harsh conditions, contributed to the image of the Tour of Flanders as a character race where only the most headstrong and physically robust could win.
Since the early years, winners of the Tour of Flanders acquired the literay epithet Flandrien or Flahute – a French term eagerly used by the Flemish press. Flandriens were riders with a formidable durability who were able to ride fast all day, over vast distances and in all weathers. Their exploits helped cement bike racing as the foremost sport in Flanders.
Because of its demanding course and specific characteristics, the Tour of Flanders has favoured a certain type of cyclists in modern times, known as classics specialists or specialists of the cobbled classics. Main contenders must possess a broad range of athletic potential in order to win. The aggressive nature of the climbs favours explosive riders, but the length of the race requires the highest level of fitness and durability.
Although the race has never ended in a mass sprint, sprinters often do well, especially those who evolved into classic riders, like Tom Boonen or Alexander Kristoff. Time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara successfully focused on the cobbled classics, thereby using his ability to maintain a high pace as a strong weapon on the last hills and on the flat run-in to the finish. Cancellara finished solo on two of his three wins.
Many recent top-placed finishers of the cobbled classics share the same physical attributes. Record winners Johan Museeuw (186 cm and 79 kg), Tom Boonen (192 cm and 82 kg) and Fabian Cancellara (186 cm and 81 kg), totalling nine combined victories, are all powerful riders and among the "heavier" types of cyclists. Recent Norwegian winner and classics specialist Alexander Kristoff is in the same range at 181 cm and 78 kg.
Gabe Konrad writes: "The 1919 winner, van Lerberghe, showed up on the line in full racing attire but, for some reason, without a bike. He borrowed one from the brother-in-law of another competitor and, prior to the starting gun, threatened the pack that he was going to drop them all at their own front doors on the way to victory. Van Lerberghe hadn't had, and would never have, an impressive career, and all the cyclists laughed as he pulled away immediately – never to be caught. Just prior to entering the velodrome for the finish, van Lerberghe stopped off at a pub to take in a few beers. His manager, worrying that he would miss a chance at victory, had to track him down and get him back on the bike. After he had crossed the line and done his lap of honour, van Lerberghe stood in front of the crowd and, in all seriousness, told them 'to go home; I'm half a day ahead of the field.'"[n 13]
Karel Kaers, the youngest man to win the world road championship, also won the Ronde in 1939 – without intending to. For him, it was training for Paris–Roubaix. He drove to the Kwaremont hill near Kluisbergen, parked his car, then rode 40 km to the start in Ghent. His plan was to ride round the course with his usual training partner, stop when he got to his car, then drive home. Knowing he wasn't riding the whole distance, Kaers jumped clear of the field – again as training – and rode up the Kwaremont with a minute's lead. But his car wasn't there. He pressed on instead and won the race. His manager had driven the car away to save Kaers from temptation.
Rik van Steenbergen said: "When I turned pro, I couldn't ride it straight away. There were three categories of rider: road-riders A, road-riders B, and track riders. I was registered with the federation as a track rider. At first they wouldn't let me ride the national championship. But Jean van Buggenhout, the manager, got me reclassified on the Wednesday before the race. I won it and became an 'A' rider. Then I could start the year in the Tour of Flanders. I was 19 and I'll probably stay the youngest person ever to win." Van Steenbergen was in the break when several riders fell on the cinder track to the track in Ghent. Van Steenbergen rode round the fallen and won. Next year he decided not to ride. Van Wijnendaele was offended. But Van Steenbergen had realised why he'd turned pro: to make a living. "I could probably win more money elsewhere," he said. "The Tour of Flanders didn't have the attraction that it does now, especially not internationally."
Van Steenbergen returned in 1946 and won again. He said: "That was one of my best wins ever. I could do whatever I liked, ride better than anyone. In the end I was with Briek Schotte and Enkel Thiétard. They were happy just to follow me. We made an agreement. I said that they could stay with me until we got to Kwatrecht. I wouldn't drop them provided they'd do their best to work with me. They were happy with that. They didn't have a choice. Under the bridge at Kwatrecht I just got rid of them."
Fiorenzo Magni, a rare Italian in Belgian classics, won so many intermediate prizes during his long solo flight that they would have bought him a house (see above). He was one of nine to escape the field at Ingelmunster. The others cracked one by one until Magni was alone by Strijpen – the point where he made his winning move the previous year. He rode the last 75 km alone to win the Ronde for the third successive year. Magni won by almost eight minutes and the first five finishers were foreigners.
Such a gale blew in 1961 that the banner over the finish line blew down. The British rider Tom Simpson was clear with the better-known Italian champion, Nino Defilippis. Simpson, the weaker sprinter, accelerated for the line with a kilometre to go. It was too far and Defilipis came past him as he weakened. Simpson struggled to stay with him and was delighted when the Italian began freewheeling just before the finish. Defilippis said he didn't know where the finish was because the banner had blown down, but the two riders had already covered two previous laps of the finishing circuit. For the same reason, the Italian protest that the line on the road wasn't clearly marked also failed. Defilippis asked Simpson to agree to a tie, saying no Italian had won a classic since 1953. Simpson said:
|“||"I replied that an Englishman had not won one since 1896!"||”|
Eddy Merckx dominated world racing in both classics and stage races but couldn't win the Ronde. By 1969 he had not only frustration to contend with but rising resentment of other riders unhappy that he won so many races. He attacked early and half the field never saw him again. The other half was reduced with each successive attack until he got clear alone. The chase was furious but ineffective and Merckx won by more than five and a half minutes over Felice Gimondi and more than eight minutes on the rest. The Ronde remained an unhappy race for him; it was another six years before he won again.
Bad weather has often hit the Ronde. In 1985, a storm broke in the second half of the race. The weather was so bad that only 24 made it to the finish. The race historian, Rik Vanwalleghem, said: "It was a legendary Ronde, one which wrote Sport with a capital S. It was as cold as Siberia all day and the rain fell in torrents [regende het pijpenstelen]. Of the 173 starters only 24 were counted in at the finish. In this apocalyptic background Eric Vanderaerden got back to the front after looking beaten to ride 20km at the head of the race alone. Impressive."
The danger of the Ronde's narrow and badly surfaced hills came close to tragedy when the Danish rider, Jesper Skibby, was bumped by an official's car and fell onto a roadside bank, still strapped into his pedals. The official's car then tried to pass him and ran over Skibby's back wheel, narrowly missing his leg. The hill was judged too dangerous and did not return until the surface had been improved in 2002. The race official continued to the finish, where he was met by angry spectators throwing mud, cups and stones at his car. The incident overshadowed the victory of Claude Criquielion, to date the only French-speaking Belgian winner of the Tour of Flanders.
- "Only those who are in top condition can say that the Ronde is not hard. For everyone else, it's the Way of the Cross." – Andrea Tafi 
- "I told the organisers it wasn't a race but a war game. It's hard to explain what the Koppenberg means to a racing cyclist. Instead of being a race, it's a lottery. Only the first five or six riders have any chance: the rest fall off or scramble up as best they can. What on earth have we done to send us to hell now?" – Bernard Hinault
- "As a Belgian, winning Flanders for the first time is far more important than wearing the maillot jaune in the Tour" – Johan Museeuw 
- "Looking back, you get a bit nostalgic, but from a competitive point of view, Flanders was one of the most horrible races to ride but one of the greatest races to win." – Sean Kelly 
- "Many great names of Flemish cycling live on the route of the race. This closeness doesn't exist in any other country. That's what gives our identity." – Nico Mattan 
- "These days, you see all the riders, their life is well known. Before, you saw only the last two hours on television. Now, the direct coverage starts before the race has started and the legend that surrounded riders, created in people's imagination, no longer exists. When everything is too realistic, you lose the legend." – Marc Sergeant 
- "The Tour of Flanders is unlike any other bike race in the world. It is, without question, the hardest one-day bike race ever created. What seems like a million corners, combined with twenty to thirty steep pitches and narrow roads, none of which go the same direction for more than a mile, all mix together to make it war on a bike. There isn’t a race in North America that compares. Flanders may as well be a different sport." – George Hincapie 
Active riders are in italics
|3||Achiel Buysse||Belgium||1940, 1941, 1943|
|Fiorenzo Magni||Italy||1949, 1950, 1951|
|Eric Leman||Belgium||1970, 1972, 1973|
|Johan Museeuw||Belgium||1993, 1995, 1998|
|Tom Boonen||Belgium||2005, 2006, 2012|
|Fabian Cancellara||Switzerland||2010, 2013, 2014|
|2||Gerard Debaets||Belgium||1924, 1927|
|Romain Gijssels||Belgium||1931, 1932|
|Briek Schotte||Belgium||1942, 1948|
|Rik Van Steenbergen||Belgium||1944, 1946|
|Rik Van Looy||Belgium||1959, 1962|
|Walter Godefroot||Belgium||1968, 1978|
|Eddy Merckx||Belgium||1969, 1975|
|Jan Raas||Netherlands||1979, 1983|
|Edwig Van Hooydonck||Belgium||1989, 1991|
|Peter Van Petegem||Belgium||1999, 2003|
|Stijn Devolder||Belgium||2008, 2009|
Wins per country
|1||Denmark, Norway, United Kingdom|
Winners of the Cobbled Classics Double
|Fred De Bruyne||Belgium||1957|
|Rik Van Looy||Belgium||1962|
|Roger De Vlaeminck||Belgium||1977|
|Peter van Petegem||Belgium||2003|
|Tom Boonen (2)||Belgium||2012|
|Fabian Cancellara (2)||Switzerland||2013|
Records and statistics
- The longest Tour of Flanders was its first running in 1913: 324 kilometers
- The shortest Tour of Flanders was the war-time edition of 1941: 198 kilometers
- The fastest edition was in 2001, won by Italian Gianluca Bortolami: 43.6 km/h average.
- The slowest edition was in 1923, won by Swiss Heiri Suter: 26,2 km/h average.
- The Tour of Flanders attracts 600.000-800.000 spectators along the road annually, on a total Flemish population of 6.5 million.
- The record for most participations is held by Briek Schotte, who participated 20 consecutive times from 1940 to 1959.
- Six men share the record for victories, with three each: Achiel Buysse won in 1940, 1941 and 1943; Italian Fiorenzo Magni won in 1949, 1950, 1951; Eric Leman won in 1970, 1972 and 1973; Johan Museeuw won the race in 1993, 1995 and 1998; Tom Boonen won in 2005, 2006 and 2012, and Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who won in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
- The nation with the most victories is Belgium (68).
- Seven riders have won two years in a row: Romain Gijssels, Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder and Fabian Cancellara.
- Only one rider (Fiorenzo Magni) won three consecutive victories.
- Two riders achieved a record eight podium finishes: Briek Schotte (twice first, twice second, four times fourth) and Johan Museeuw (three times first, three times second, twice third).
- Sean Kelly and Leif Hoste have the most second places without ever winning the Tour of Flanders, each finishing second on three occasions.
- Four riders won the race in the rainbow jersey as world champions: Louison Bobet in 1955, Rik Van Looy in 1962, Eddy Merckx in 1975 en Tom Boonen in 2006.
- The smallest margin between the winner and runner-up was in 1994, when Gianni Bugno beat Johan Museeuw by 7 mm in a sprint.
- The biggest margin between the winner and runner-up was in 1969, when Eddy Merckx won by a margin of 5 minutes 36 seconds over second-place finisher Felice Gimondi. In 1951 Fiorenzo Magni won by 5' 35" over [[Bernard gauthier].
- The youngest winner was Rik Van Steenbergen in 1944 at 19 years and 206 days.
- The oldest winner was Andrei Tchmil in 2000 at 37 years and 71 days.
Tour of Flanders for Women
Since 2004 there is a women’s edition of the Tour of Flanders (Dutch: Ronde van Vlaanderen voor Vrouwen), held every spring on the same day as the men's race. It is part of the UCI Women's Road World Cup and is considered one of the most prestigious events in women cycling.
From 2004 to 2011 the race ran over a 115 km course following the last 55 km of the men's race to finish in Meerbeke. Since 2012 the race starts and finishes in Oudenaarde. It is 145 km and has a similar finale as the men's Tour of Flanders, with many of the same hills, except for the Koppenberg. In 2015 the race featured 11 climbs including the Molenberg, Berendries, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. It traditionally includes three long flat cobbled sections: Paddestraat (2400m), Mater-Kerkgate (3000m) and Haaghoek (2000m).
The Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders Center) is an interactive cycling-themed experience center and museum in Oudenaarde devoted to the Tour of Flanders. It opened in 2003 with an extensive array of audiovisual material from old television and radio broadcasts. Visitors are able to experience a ride on a cobbled road or experience the Kwaremont climb, in a virtual contest with stars like Peter Van Petegem.
The Center's founder and director is ancient sports journalist and writer Rik Van Walleghem; the museum curator is ancient cycling icon Freddy Maertens, who provides guided tours.
The Center is located on Oudenaarde's city square, close to the finish of the Tour of Flanders, relocated to Oudenaarde in 2012. There is also a brasserie and a museum shop.
Since 1999 there is a Tour of Flanders for cyclotourists, organized annually on the day before the professional event. Cycling fanatics can ride the entire 250 km course starting on Bruges' city square, but most favour one of the shorter distances of 127 km or 71 km, which start and finish in Oudenaarde. Because of its growing success, the number of participants has been restricted to 16,000 in recent years, in order to secure riders' safety on the roads. Tickets are usually sold out months before the race and half of all places are assigned to non-Belgian participants.
- Carolus ("Karel") Ludovicus Steyaert, who wrote as Karel van Wijnendaele, was born in Torhout, Belgium, 16 November 1882, and died Deinze, Belgium, 20 December 1961. His name, which translates in English as Charles, was properly pronounced "Carol". Among acquaintances he was called Koarle, pronounced "koala". His monument is at the top of the Kwaremont climb near Kluisbergen, in Ronde van Vlaanderenstraat. It was placed there in 1964.
- A consequence of the enforced decision to change the name of the upstart rival race to Omloop Het Volk was that rival papers, including Het Nieuwsblad were reluctant to mention the name of another newspaper (Het Volk) when discussing the race. Unable to use the old name, papers called it Ghent-Ghent, a description of its route. What made this even more odd was that Ghent-Ghent was the same route as what the Tour of Flanders had been until the end of the war.
- American writer, Gabe Konrad, recounts that Paul Deman "was highly decorated, receiving medals from Belgium, France and England for bravery. During a mission to Holland, he was captured by enemy forces and sentenced to death. Luckily, the war ended just in time to save his life and send him home." Konrad, Gabor and Melanie (2000), Bikelore, On The Wheel Publications (USA),ISBN 1-892495-32-5, p100
- Cyril van Hauwaert had become a hero by rising above his humble origins to achieve relative prosperity as a cyclist, "the man who had made it thanks to the bike," as Rik Vanwalleghem put it
- The kattestoet is an Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry of the Cloth Hall, perhaps through the association of cats with witchcraft. The original kattestoet involved live cats. In this more moderate age, the ceremony is conducted with toy cats. It is usually only a mock witch that is burned afterwards.
- Stijn Streuvels, b. Heule, Belgium, 3 October 1871, d. 15 August 1969, was the pen-name of Frank Lateur of the Van Nu en Straks (Now and Soon) literary group in Flanders. He and van Wijnendaele became friends. Streuvels wrote when he was 97: "Karel made cycling what it is and the riders what they are."
- The Desgrange-Colombo, named after the organisers of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, was cycling's first international season-long points competition. It was succeeded by the Pernod and Super Pernod competitions and eventually by the World Cup. Above all, in an era when travel was difficult, the Desgrange-Colombo couldn't have two events on the same day and so the Ronde van Vlaanderen, as the newer race, changed its date to avoid Milan – San Remo.
- Sentiment for the North Sea as a feature of Belgium is a familiar theme. The Belgian singer Jacques Brel (8 April 1929 – 9 October 1978) sang of "The Flat Country" in both French and Dutch. In French, the words refer to the vagues (waves) that mark the start of his vague (flat, merging with the sea) Belgium. For Van Wijnendaele the North Sea had extra significance because the whole of Belgium's coast is in Flanders.
- In English the formation is known as an echelon. Despite that being a French word, the French term is bordure. The Dutch is waaier. Riders spread across the road in a staggered line, the rider most exposed to the wind riding there for a while to shelter the rest before crossing the road to join the other end of the line. In that way every rider takes a share of sheltering the others. There is great competition and often physical force to get into any echelon, but especially the front one in which the main contenders are likely to be riding.
- Bruges' campaign to bring the city to life, and not rely solely on historic tourism, went beyond cycling; in 2000 it attracted the European football championship and in 2002 was named the cultural capital of Europe for the year. Moenaert said he was delighted by the Ronde, which brought 15,000 people to Bruges, he said, and was broadcast to 16 countries by Eurovision, with an audience estimated at 50 million.
- The primes, or intermediate bonuses, were of particular importance until the late 1960s, in an era when few professionals were paid by their team. Their expenses were often paid and they were given a bike but their income, in the absence of winning the race, depended on what they could pick up along the way. The result was that the hills acquired a financial, and consequently a strategic, importance which they have kept ever since.
- The Paterberg is a road built expressly for the race. A farmer jealous of a friend who lived beside the Koppenberg and saw the race pass at close quarters built a cobbled road in front of his house. He said in 1984 that he wanted the Ronde to cross his front yard. The road was finished in time for 1986.
- Ritten van Lerberghe's victory speech was reported in dialect, presumably to reflect his manner of speech, as "Gaat nu ollemoale nar huz weijje. En komt morgen achternoene were, 'k lig nen halven dag vorut." Van Wijnendaele wrote occasionally in dialect and frequently in a distinctive style of Dutch that emphasised his peasant origins and the way the language had developed differently from in the neighbouring Netherlands.
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