Last week the International Cycling Union officialy announced the 2018 date of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. On February 24th 2018 the riders will decide amongst themselves who will become succesor of twofold winner Greg van Avermaet. The riders won't be deciding this in Ghent this year, but will battle it out on the former route of the Tour of Flanders, including the iconic hills of Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg. The finish lies in Meerbeke, part of the city of Ninove.
Flanders Classics boss Wouter Vandenhaute was playing with the idea for a longer time now to do something with the old Tour of Flanders Route. In 2011 he decided to leave Meerbeke for a 'new look' Ronde with finish in Oudenaarde. Vandenhaute didn't want the old route to be just a vague memory for future generations. That's why he planted the legendary climbs of the Muur and Bosberg deep into the finale of the first WorldTour classic on Belgian soil from next year on.
"Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara are the two sole riders who have won the Tour of Flanders both on the old route and the new one", says Wouter Vandenhaute. "Meanwhile, both riders have ended their careers. The riders in the peloton of let's say, 2025, won't have had any touch with the old track, which was ment to be a distant memory in the history books. That's why I chose to reincarnate the old route completely in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I've presented my ideas to a few insiders in the cycling business and all reactions were unanimously positive. That's why we just went for it."
Happening in Ghent, finish in Meerbeke
The city of Ghent will remain the stage for the introduction of the WorldTour riders on Belgian soil. Organizer Flanders Classics held a succesful cycling happening last year in the iconic site of the Ghent Kuipke. These kind of activities are something where Flanders Classics will remain to invest in, in the future. Ghent will remain thé place for cycling fans to enjoy the first big race of the season.
Regarding the new finish in the city of Ninove (Meerbeke), the city has signed a contract for five years and will pay 200.000 euro annualy. The Belgian spring classics opener which is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will remain about 200km in distance, but from the city of Brakel on, the route will be changed completely in comparison to the past few years. The 73rd Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will pass by on the hills of Tenbossestraat, Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg. From there on, the riders will set direction towards Meerbeke, where the finish line will be at the white church on the Halsesteenweg. The last rider to win there was Belgian Nick Nuyens in 2011.
"How we will set sail from Ghent to Brakel, hasn't been decided yet", says cycling director Peter Van Petegem, who won the Ronde two times and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad three times himself. "Maybe we'll make a passage on the Berendries or Valkenberg. A finale on the cobbles of Lange Munte or the Muur and Bosberg: it will be a huge difference. This new route is quite a bit tougher. In the end this new finale will suit the WorldTour status of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad best."
Van Avermaet: “Very happy with Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg”
Greg Van Avermaet has yet to win in Meerbeke, but is keen to make it a three for three on February 24th next year after winning the past two editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. "The arrival in Ghent was sublime, but this is something a whole lot different", says Van Avermaet on the night before his departure to Düsseldorf, where he will start in the Tour de France.
"Every rider likes to ride the duo Muur-Bosberg. You can't be against this decision. I grew up with climbs such as Berendries, Valkenberg, Tenbosse, Muur and Bosberg, although I don't know if those first two will be part of the new route. In my opinion the final breakthrough will come a bit later in the race, but there are plenty opportunities to make the difference. That was not always the case on your way to Ghent the past few years as soon as you had passed the Molenberg. I'm really glad that the old finale of the Ronde is back in a WorldTour race. I'm looking forward to it", says Van Avermaet.
Foto's: (c) Photo News