No more Muur

Friday, 16 September 2011

The finish of the 2012 Tour of Flanders will change from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde. If you’re not familiar with these places, Meerbeke isn’t famous for much whilst Oudenaarde is more at the heart of Flanders and is home the museum of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen too.

Top of the muur

See the image, hear the sound

The race itself is arguably the king of one day races thanks to a combination of distance, the climbing and emotional and knowledgeable roadside crowds. For many years the epicentre of action has been the Kapelmuur. It’s so good they named it twice as others call it the Muur van Geraardsbergen. The locals say “the Muur choses the winner” and like many sayings, this isn’t always the case but it makes sense.

But the story of the 2012 race isn’t so much the change of the finish town but the new route. Next year the race will not visit the Muur and nor the Bosberg too.

Instead the race will loop three times over the Oude-Kwaremont, the Patersberg, the Koppenberg and the Kruisberg. Now that’s very hard.

But what to make of it? Thinking aloud, I can see arguments for and against.

Nevermind…
Fans will probably debate the change. Losing the Muur is a bit like doing the Pyrenees without the Tourmalet or visiting Belgium and not tasting a beer. But the race itself will be harder. The Muur was partly so special because of the sound of thousands of fans clinging to the slopes and screaming their heads off when the race went by. This will continue, just elsewhere.

Also cycling is relentlessly commercial. You probably know the Tour de France was created to sell newspapers and it’s one of the few sports where teams bear the name of their sponsors.

Then again…
But there was something special about the Muur because it could hold so many fans on top. The way it climbed up to the church often gave the media a quasi-spiritual narrative to exploit. It remains to be seen if the race is as noisy on the Koppenberg.

If the sport is commercial, sometimes it goes beyond business. Races like De Ronde have become socio-cultural objects where families unite to watch the race. The modest geography of Belgium is turned into a gladiatorial arena for a day.

Conclusion
There’s nothing wrong with change. The Tour of Flanders has constantly sought out new routes and towns bid to host the start and finish; the start has changed many times. But missing the Muur is something worth noting.

But for me the biggest change is the “circuit” finish at the end of the race. Repeating the same climb again and again is something you see in the Amstel and that’s because the Dutch don’t have too many climbs so they need to reuse them. Doing this in Flanders somehow reduces the romance of the race. It won’t become a kermesse overnight but I rather liked the unique parcours that said out loud the race was so big it would criss-cross the whole region without having to re-use sections of road. The fear is that organisers try to charge entry to the finishing circuit.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale September 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

The Kapelmuur is one of the great scenes in sports, and I say this as an American who has never been to Europe and loves stuff like American football. I’m disturbed by the change, in part because just a few months ago talk was surfacing about monetizing some of the climbs and the finish in Flanders by setting up admission areas. The Kwaremont and the finish were mentioned. Now–poof!–no Kapelmuur. This is worrying.

DeskChairCyclist September 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Have the dates been released for Flanders and/or Roubaix?

Ankush September 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

aah, I will miss the excitement when the race would eventually hit Kapelmuur and the top contenders would emerge

Ben September 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Back to the racing, is there a profile? How close to the finish is the final climb? Is this change designed to suit Gilbert?

Matt September 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Surely it’s more like doing the Tour without the Alps.

While the ‘climb’ is 475m, the actual ascent is over 1km, which makes it one of the longer climbs on the Ronde. I think that’s part of what makes it so iconic – there’s time for the action to unfold. Some of the shorter climbs get TV pictures at the start, then there’s a flurry while riders and tv motos try to ascend, then everyone tries to unpick what the new race situation is.

Though maybe because of the loop, they’ll have more static cameras on the repeated climbs.

Ben September 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Yes, ~14km, No

Dale September 16, 2011 at 5:52 pm

The Muur is one of cycling’s greatest sights and for that alone it should be included. The most salient point is covered above though – undoubtedly hard though the Koppenberg and Paterberg are, I personally do not want to see a race including them over and over again. There are many great bergs around Flanders, including the Muur-Kappelmuur, so why not spread the love a little?

STB September 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I rode the Tour of Flanders Sportif this year and during the weekend I signed the petition from the Meerbeke supporters trying to keep the finish in their town. Apparently the ‘rights’ to the finish in Meerbeke ended this year and we up for grabs by other bidding towns in Flanders.

Finishing in Oudenaarde makes sense, I am not so sure I like the 3 lap finishing circuit but this will be great for spectators on the course. It will be a shame to lose the Kapelmuur, it is a classic part of the race, but the Tour of Flanders will remain an iconic event.

Mick Tarrant September 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Way I heard it a few months back from Belgian and Dutch colleagues was the move was on the cards partly becauseof lack of VIP access at the Muur. You said it yourself “Also cycling is relentlessly commercial”

Starr September 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Oudenaarde makes absolute sense as a finish town.
The RVV museum alone will now draw thousands of new visitors through it’s doors that week.
And the circuits just plain make sense when trying to sell anything to the masses.
It enables people to plop down for a few hours and not have to traverse the land in the hope of catching a quick glimpse, maybe.
My friends at the ASFRA-Flanders bike shop will sure be excited about this change.

ave September 16, 2011 at 10:10 pm

First it sounds like a bad idea, but let’s see the race first. It might be a classic Classic. :)

Bundle September 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm

It can still be a great race. But it loses something, a bit of identity. No more long TTs in the GTs, no more winning 150 km mountain breakaways, no more GP des Nations, no more Baracchi Trophy, no more Paris-Bordeaux, no more Setmana Catalana, no more Midi Libre, no more Vuelta a los Puertos, no more Classique des Alpes. The trend is quite depressing. What’s next? Climbing the Stelvio on a motorbike because Shimano wants to rival Honda?

Flashing Pedals September 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Meerbeke has held the finish for many years, but it is a bland town.
The run off the Bosberg to the finish, sometimes enabled last minute attacks, in some years a large group arrived at the finishing straight, but maybe the change is needed to simply add some new excitement?

The Muur was resurfaced a few years ago, and whilst it didnt lessen the impact, the brutality of the rutted, dipping cobbles as they were, was not the same. The race was still hard, and without the Muur it will be strange. Lets hope that the alternative route brings or offers excitement.
I believe its a commercial decision first, and a variation of course second.

Larry T. September 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Giro di Lombardia has changed many, many times over the years but retained a lot of its story and passion. I hope Giro di Fiandre can do the same, especially since I plan to see both of the next editions, my first time to see either. I planned to see Paris-Roubaix as well. I remember a hotel where many of the pro teams set up their base for these races…does anyone out there remember the name of it? I hoped to get lodging at one place for P-R, then another place for the Ronde and make a long week of it with a visit to the Flanders museum in the middle. We know lots about Italy (already have a room reserved on the Ghisallo climb) but don’t know much about northern France, etc.

Starr September 17, 2011 at 12:51 am

^^^
Holiday Inn near Gent
A lot of teams pile in there for a couple weeks
At least they used to

Starr September 17, 2011 at 12:55 am

^^^
Although I recommend Hotel Tijl in Oudenaarde (now the finish of the RVV)
A couple blocks from train
Two meals a day included with room
Small pub for a night cap
And close to “everything classics”
Many amateur racers have stayed there over the years, while doing the kermis scene

Flashing Pedals September 17, 2011 at 8:01 am

Park Hotel Kortrijk – is the usual location for teams during that ‘3 week period” between E3 + Roubaix.

Gent hotels are used for Omloop / Kuurne.
Of course teams change hotels, but generally they follow what works for them, and suits location wise.

For the Ardennes classics : Waalse Pijl / Luik Bastenaken some choose Valerio Piva’s family hotel Malpertuus

Bomsie September 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

Your last sentence is the biggest fear!

Charging to watch a road race would be a disaster in my opinion. The fact that spectators will gather hours ahead to glimpse a few seconds of a race is what makes it such a unique sport to watch.
If people are charged, then it means that the paying spectator will expect more than a non payer and ultimately changing the way the race is run to make it commercial as a spectator sport.

Rooie September 17, 2011 at 10:57 am

Lets hope they make the race safer. Rvv is always very crowded with people drinking à lot. À course that is easier secured is preferable

BeckyD September 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This year’s RVV was fantastic so my initial reaction was “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”. It makes sense then that the motivation is likely to be commercial . I was in Geraardsbergen last year and the atmosphere when the race hit town was incredible. We were planning to go again next year, even though the crowds were so big we saw far more of the climb on the big screen there than in the flesh. I’m sure it will still be a great race but it seems a shame to miss out the Muur completely.

Godsight September 17, 2011 at 2:25 pm

What becky said. Even with a circuit race like quebec and montreal, you are always better off to watch it on a screen. What makes going to a race interesting is the start where you can see the rider, talk to them and everything. Only vip part of Quebec race was the athlete village before the sprint challenge. And then maybe go see the finish if you can get a good place. Other than that, if you really wanna see the race, get a tv screen and watch it on that.

Flashing Pedals September 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm

the race website is here : http://www.rondevanvlaanderen.be/nl

CAT4Fodder September 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Call me cynical, but this just smells of a race organizer setting up for having special “VIP” centers at the race.

Larry T. September 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Thanks for all the suggestions! We paid to see the World’s in Canada and plan to spend plenty of euros on beer and frites (not to mention airfares, lodging, etc.) for these Spring Classics, so for us an entry fee is not a big deal. This will likely be a one-time experience as I want to see each of the 5 monuments of cycling in-person before I’m dead. They can’t close off the entire course so even without paying you can be there to experience the atmosphere, which is why you go in the first place, right? No argument the TV viewer knows much more about what’s going on, but anyone can watch that…and replay it a zillion times over afterwards. But you can only be there in-person ONE time and if you don’t go, you can’t relive the feeling..you’re just another person sitting in front of a TV screen. The course change sounds like the spectators can see more of the action without moving (staggering drunkenly?) around near the race finale so that may be just fine with all but the Ronde purists.

T-Dog September 17, 2011 at 11:32 pm

One of the things that makes the Masters golf tournament so special is that it is played on the same course every year. It is the only “major” tournament to do so. Familiarity with the course gives fans deep insight into the action before them. It also fosters an appreciation for performances across different years. The one constant is the course. I can see each hole in my minds eye; know from where the wind usually prevails; can tell how any putt will break. It is the only golf tournament each year I really watch. Sunday dinner is in front of the Tele – no complaints from the wife because it is sharing a meal with an old friend.

I am relatively new to cycling. I have the same developing relationship with the Ronde. The route has always been the same. I know the route cold. I appreciate the ebb and flow of the race better. I can compare performances from year to year. It is becoming an old friend.

I even pilgrimaged to Flanders to ride the route. To remove the Muur and finish crit-style diminishes the race. I will watch come Spring. Regardless of the spectacle, a race without the buildup and catharsis of the Muur, the death knell which can be the Bosberg and the suffering that is the wide open false flat into Meerbeke is not my old friend. It will be a shadow of someone I use to know.

CAT4Fodder September 18, 2011 at 4:15 am

I think many, many events can take a lesson or two from the Masters. The quick-buck can often result in long-term decline or dis-interest.

Xavi September 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm

This is definitely a commercial decision. The fact it touches the ‘Tour des Flandres’ makes it more mediatically noisy but it is already the same for many smaller races. Circuits mean less area to secure and to close from traffic. It means the inner spectators can see the riders various times, which can be a good reason to charge the entry, and maybe even offer tourist packs like Hotel + Museum + Race finish ticket.

The race is the least of the interests in this decision. Circuit races are always more boring.

We don’t know the whole situation. Maybe the Tour des Flandres is not financially profitable and the decision was change it or close it. A race like Paris Tours was downgraded from Protour only for financial reasons (and it was another Grammont spoiled, this time the famous ‘Avenue de Grammont’. Btw muur de grammont is the french name of The muur van Gerardsbergen)

CAT4Fodder September 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I just wish they could come out and say it. Hiding behind “fan safety” is insulting to all of us fans of the sport. It seems each week there is another story of some party (be it race organizer, athlete, team, governing body) doing something in their own self-interest, but adding another nail in the coffin.

Now Clenbuterol might be eased off a bit in terms of allowable amounts, because of the 3rd World’s use of the stuff. Really? So rather than force these countries to clean up their own food safety standards, we will just lower it to basically ensure cheating during the off-season to help them cut weight. Great.

Raouligan September 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

One think that’s hugely evident on visiting teh Roned Cente in Oudenarde is that the race has changed route through it’s existence.

I can’t remember exactly how many times the race has changed it’s route, it constantly evolves and takes in what’s contemporarily important in Flanders.

Charging for a finishing loop, yes it’d be unique in road racing, but certainly it happens at Kermese and nobody minds, I’m guessing if the organisers do what was done at the cross worlds in Hoogerheide a few years back with a big fence that yo charge admission to it’ll be seemless.

I’d rather see it all for free though I rather suspect that the outcry of charging for the circuit would be too great for it to happen.

red knight September 19, 2011 at 11:34 am

First of all I have nothing against changing the ‘parcours’ & I believe it is one the charms of the Ronde. For many years now it is a healthy mix of the classic climbs/cobbles and other ones.
Nevertheless as I am a native and know a thing or two about the new owner of the ‘Ronde’, I do fear the change is made mainly for commercial reason.
I do not object the fact that they skipped the ‘Muur’ so much but more so that they are going to charge entry. Since it is in the hands of the new owners (Flanders Classics, boss= Wouter Vandenhaute) they started arguing immediately with the hosts of VIP tents that are alongside the parcours. I understand and even support that the ‘Ronde’ had to be run more economically and more solvent. But sometimes I get the impression that is all about the money and they forget the socio-cultural importance of the race or even cycling in general for Flanders.
With this change to a 3x loop however I fear the the prestige of the race will decline. Futhermore I believe that people will strongly object admission tickets. Don’t forget one of the biggest appeals to cycling is seeing your hero’s fight their battle on the famous hills or cobbles for free. For Flanders where almost every day a race is organized this is deeply embedded into our culture. It was this closeness without any constraint that made the sport so popular.

I believe if things come to this there will be more that sufficiant opposition that the organizers will adapt in the good sense.

P. Kirby September 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I don’t care either way. I just hope I get to see it on TV. Flanders is my favorite of all the bicycle races.

Vincenzo April 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

By eliminating the muur from the race, they just cut a very big piece of cycling history. The Flanders without the muur is like Rome without the Colosseum of Paris without Eiffel tower… that’s shit

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