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90th Tour of Flanders - Preview
By Andy McGrath
Date: 4/1/2006
90th Tour of Flanders - Preview

The Tour of Flanders is a cycling race like no other, capturing the imagination and hearts of fans across the world as well in Flanders, where it is considered by public and riders alike as more important and prestigious than the Tour de France. It is a day-long crash course in pain and suffering: even if the head, heart and legs are all primed for the great test of the numerous viciously-steep bergs and cobbled sections which litter the parcours, all it takes is one lapse of concentration, one loss of a wheel, one hesitation to lose the race let alone crash on the narrow, sometimes poorly-covered roads. It goes without saying that the rider who crosses the line in Meerbeke, after seventeen climbs and 260km, will be fully deserving of victory.

The Parcours

This historic race starts in the marketplace of the medieval city of Brugge, nicknamed the “Venice of the North” for its system of canals as well as its quiet beauty and culture. From here, the route loops north-east to Ostend, where strong headwinds and crosswinds sometimes blow off the North Sea before taking a south-easterly route back into the heart of Flanders, passing through Gistel, the home of two-time winner Johann Museeuw (the race also goes through Brakel, Peter van Petegem's home town). It is 140km to the first of the race’s famous climbs, but the early pace will be not exactly be leisurely, as many riders attack, vying to get into the escape that will stay away to the latter stages. This is particularly important for the wild cards and smaller Belgian teams.

After several hours of flat riding, the Molenberg (at 9.8% average gradient) is the first noted climb the riders must face. From here on in, the hills come thick and fast, some tarmacked, some cobbled. Particularly in the last 75km, on the approaches to these climbs, the riders literally fight to be best positioned before the climb itself. Imagine riding 60km/h+ on narrow, bumpy roads while jostling and elbowing other riders and staying six inches behind the wheel in front, just before the challenge . As it is, the technique of riding the cobbled climbs in the Tour of Flanders is to stick the bike in a big gear, grit your teeth and try to maintain momentum as you try to control your stead, which is behaving more like a pneumatic drill on this surface.

The Oude-Kwaremont (above) is the third climb of the race, coming with 75km to go, and it is here that the peloton begins to thin out as the pace is ratcheted out and riders are jettisoned, due to positioning as well as lack of condition. The first 600m is tarmacked, before a merciless 1600 meter section of cobbles. The Paterberg (12.5% average with a 20% section) then follows, before the famous (and sadistic?) Koppenberg.

This climb used to be the scourge of the peloton, causing countless cycling legends to walk, lest they grind to a halt on the 22% cobbled gradient. Indeed, it was taken out of the race after the 1987 edition, when Jesper Skibby skidded and toppled to the side of the narrow ascent, and (still attached to it) his bike was crushed by a team car trying to pass. With new cobbles “installed” in 2002, the Koppenberg (above) has back in, and while it has lost some of its old charm and venom, it is still a bona fide bitch of a climb. And there has been renewed speculation among cycling communities this April that, if the expected wet weather hits, the cream of this year’s crop will also be reduced to trudging up it. As for the rest of peloton, it will be a battle against gravity, to keep the pedals turning. Domino effects of riders stopping and forcing others to get off too are also common here.

The thirteenth climb, Berendies, has featured more prominently in the finale in the past, as one of the tests before the Muur-Kapelmuur. Nonetheless, local lad Peter van Petegem encounters it frequently in training and will know Berendies, as well as the other finishing climbs, like the back of his hand, after years of preparation and racing on these bergs: it was just after this climb that the winning six-man breakaway went last year. Soon after, as climb number fifteen, is Tenebosse: any team leader hoping to catch their rivals napping before the anticipated key climb could clip off the front here.

The Muur-Kapelmuur (the Muur de Geraadsbergen, above) has sometimes been the launchpad for race-winning attacks, such as Peter van Petegem and Franck Vandebroucke’s efforts in 2003 which took them away from the chasers. However, in other years, the decisive selection has already been made previously, or the riders have stayed in contact over the Muur, which averages 9.3% on cobbles and reaches a maximum of 20%. Nonetheless, the pace is always driven painfully to the summit after 700m, as the leaders know there is only one climb left: the Bosberg.

This is the final challenge of the race, and it could be one climb too far for one of the leaders. Though it is usually no more than three riders who make it onto the climb, such is the selective nature of the event, an attack here would make for a particularly exciting triumph. It’s not unheard of either: Edwig van Hooydonck made it such a habit of soloing away on the Bosberg that he acquired the nickname ‘Eddy van Bosberg’.

From here, it is 15 kilometres to the finish. As we saw last year, Tom Boonen pulled away from his rivals in this largely-flat section (above) and hit the streets of Meerbeke alone for his first Tour of Flanders victory. While this could happen again, the leaders must continue to work well together to ensure any chasers do not bridge across. Then again, at least for any Flandrian, the knowledge that they are mere minutes from potential victory in the Tour of Flanders (a scenario which has likely been dreamt of fervently since childhood) will make them focus all the energy they have into turning the pedals as fast as possible.

It is perhaps most beautiful to enter Meerbeke alone, as an epic winner who would be seen conspicuously as the strongest man on the day. To round the corner and see the finish, the yellow flags of Flanders, the banner reading ‘Aankmost’ and to hear the roar of a passionate, fanatical crowd must be elements that linger in the memory long after the race has finished. To cross the line, arms outstretched, chest heaving, legs cramping, eyes blurring with tears, face grimy, mouth curved into a grin. Herein lies the essence and beauty of cycling and of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, maintained from the days of cycling yore in this Monument. It is all that this great cycling region and Mother Nature has to offer against all that man can give: great suffering for all, joyous victory for one.

Previous Results

Year - First place - Second place - Third place
1913 P. Deman J. Van Daele V. Doms
1914 M. Buysse H. Van Lerberghe P. Vandevelde
1919 H. Van Lerberghe L. Buysse J. Van Hevel
1920 J. Van Hevel A. De Jonghe A. Van Hecke
1921 R. Vermandel J. Van Hevel L. Budts
1922 L. De Vos J. Brunier (Fra) Fr. Pelissier (Fra)
1923 H. Suter (Swi) C. Deruyter A. De Jonghe
1924 G. Debaets R. Vermandel F.Sellier
1925 J. Delbecque J. Pé H. Martin
1926 D. Verschueren G. Van Slembroeck M. Decorte
1927 G. Debaets G. Van Slembroeck M. Dewaele
1928 J. Mertens A. Mortelmans L. Delannoy
1929 J. Dervaes G. Ronsse A. Haemerlinck
1930 F. Bonduel A. Dossche E. Joly
1931 R. Gijssels C. Bogaert (Hol) J. Aerts
1932 R. Gijssels A. Deloor A. Haemerlick
1933 A. Schepers L. Tommies R. Gijssels
1934 G. Rebry A. Schepers F. Vervaecke
1935 L. Duerloo E. Meulenbergh C. Leemans
1936 L. Hardiquest D. De Caluwé F. Neuville
1937 M.D'Hooghe H. Deltour L. Hardiquest
1938 E. De Caluwé R. Maes M. Kint
1939 K. Kaers S. Maes E. Vissers
1940 A. Buysse G. Christiaens A. Schotte
1941 A. Buysse V. Van Overloop O. V.d. Meerschaut
1942 A. Schotte G. Claes R. Van Eenaeme
1943 A. Buysse A. Sercu C. Beeckman
1944 R. Van Steenbergen A. Schotte J. Moerenhout
1945 S. Grysolle A. Sercu J. Moerenhout
1946 R. Van Steenbergen L. Thiétard (Fra) A. Schotte
1947 E. Faignaert, R. Desmet, R. Renders
1948 A. Schotte, A. Ramon, M. Rijckaert
1949 F. Magni (Ita), V. Ollivier, A. Schotte
1950 F. Magni (Ita), A. Schotte, L. Caput (Fra)
1951 F. Magni (Ita), B. Gauthier (Fra), A. Redolfi (Ita)
1952 R. Decock, L. Petrucci (Ita), A. Schotte
1953 W. Van Est (Hol), D. Keteleer, B. Gauthier (Fra)
1954 R. Impanis, F. Mahé (Fra), A. V.d. Brande
1955 L. Bobet (Fra), H. Koblet (Swi), R. Van Steenbergen
1956 J. Forestier (Fra), S. Ockers, L. Van Daele
1957 A. De Bruyne, J. Planckaert, N. Kerkhove
1958 G. Derijcke, W. Truye, A. Conterno (Ita)
1959 R. Van Looy, F. Schoubben, G. Desmet
1960 A. Decabooter, J. Graczyk (Fra), R. Van Looy
1961 T. Simpson (GB), N. Deffilipis (Ita), J. De Haan (Hol)
1962 R. Van Looy, M. Van Aerde, N. Kerkhove
1963 N. Foré, F. Melckenbeeck, T. Simpson (GB)
1964 R. Altig (Ger), B. Beheyt, J. De Roo (Hol)
1965 J. De Roo (Hol), W. Sels, G. Vanconingsloo
1966 W. Sels, A. Durante (Ita), G. Van den Berghe
1967 D. Zandegu (Ita), N. Foré, E. Merckx
1968 W. Godefroot, R. Altig (Ger), J. Janssen (Hol)
1969 E. Merckx, F. Gimondi (Ita), M. Basso (Ita)
1970 E. Leman ,W. Godefroot, E. Merckx
1971 E. Dolman (Hol), F. Kerremans, C. Guimard (Fra)
1972 E. Leman, A. Dierickx, F. Verbeeck
1973 E. Leman, F. Maertens, E. Merckx
1974 C. Bal (Hol), F. Verbeeck X
1975 E. Merckx, F. Verbeeck, M. Demeyer
1976 W. Planckaert, F. Moser (Ita), M. Demeyer
1977 R. De Vlaeminck, X X
1978 W. Godefroot, M. Pollentier, G. Braun (Ger)
1979 J. Raas (Hol), M. Demeyer, D. Willems
1980 M. Pollentier, F. Moser (Ita), J. Raas (Hol)
1981 H. Kuiper (Hol), F. Pirard (Hol), J. Raas (Hol)
1982 R. Martens, E. Planckaert, R. Pevenage
1983 J. Raas (Hol), L. Peeters, M. Sergeant
1984 J. Lammerts (Hol), S. Kelly (Irl), J.-L. Vandenbroucke
1985 E. Vanderaerden, Ph. Anderson (Aus), H. Kuiper (Hol)
1986 A. Van Der Poel (Hol), S. Kelly (Irl), F. Vandenbrande
1987 C. Criquielion, S. Kelly (Irl), E. Vanderaerden
1988 E. Planckaert, Ph. Anderson (Aus), A. Van Der Poel (Hol)
1989 E. Van Hooydonck, H. Frison, D.O. Lauritzen (Nor)
1990 M. Argentin (Ita), R. Dhaenens, J. Talen (Hol)
1991 E. Van Hooydonck, J. Museeuw, R. Sörensen (Den)
1992 J. Durand (Fra), T. Wegmüller (Swi), E. Van Hooydonck
1993 J. Museeuw, F. Maassen (Hol), D. Bottaro (Ita)
1994 G. Bugno (Ita), J. Museeuw, A. Tsjmil (Mol)
1995 J. Museeuw, F. Baldato (Ita), A. Tsjmil (Ouk)
1996 M. Bartoli (Ita), F. Baldato (Ita), J. Museeuw
1997 R. Sorensen (Den), F. Moncassin (Fra), F. Ballerini (Ita)
1998 J. Museeuw (Bel), S. Zanini (Ita), A. Tsjmil (Bel)
1999 P. Van Petegem (Bel), F. Vandenbroucke (Bel), J. Museeuw (Bel)
2000 A. Tchmil (Bel), D. Pieri (Ita), R. Vainsteins (Let)
2001 G. Bortolami (Ita), E. Dekker (Hol), D. Zanette (Ita)
2002 A. Tafi (Ita), J. Museeuw (Bel), P. Van Petegem (Bel)
2003 P. Van Petegem (Bel), F. Vandenbroucke (Bel), S. O'Grady (Aus) 2004 S. Wesemann (Ger), L. Hoste (Bel), D. Bruylandts (Bel)
2005 T. Boonen (Bel), A. Klier (Ger), P. Van Petegem (Bel)

Thanks to Ronde van Vlaanderen website.

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