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Vlaamse Wielerweek: Tale of the Tape!

Tomorrow's Race Across Flanders kicks off the High Holidays of Flemish Cycling, a/k/a Vlaamse Wielerweek: ten days, nine stages around Flanders -- mostly West Flanders, and with all the cobbles and crosswinds that entails. Wayofthecross-3_medium

In case you hadn't noticed, the races themselves actually fall mainly into two categories: jaunts around the Flemish Ardennes, and flatter, more coastal/western routes. [Also, FYI, Scheldeprijs is East Flanders; Brabantse Pijl in Brabant.] The beauty of the Tour of Flanders is that it fulfills one of the original "tour" functions, uniting the region it purports to Tour with a comprehensive jaunt -- in this case, de Ronde heading west out of Bruges to pay homage to the coast before its date with bumpy destiny. Anyway, Stages 2-4 of Driedaagse de Panne and Gent-Wevelgem make up the western category, while the DDV falls squarely in the Ardennes category, along with the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, the first stage of Driedaagse de Panne, and the latter half of De Ronde, where all of the hard racing takes place. You could throw the Omloop in the same category if you wished -- its popularity has more than a little to do with previewing Vlaamse Wielerweek.

So... how do the Ardennes races stack up against one another? Naturally the Tour of Flanders is the gold standard and everything else is just trying to do a respectable impression. First, some resources:

Exactly how hard each race is cannot be boiled down to numbers, at least not in advance. Maybe you could check Tom Boonen's wattage data afterward, but that would be a function of the course, the weather, and how hard the race is run. Of these variables, we only know the course. But enough of my disclaimers... to the numbers!

Tour of Flanders

  • Total meters climbed: 13,555 (N.b., these are HORIZONTAL, not vertical)
  • Climbs averaging 7+%: 6
  • Cobbled climbs: 10
  • Total rated climbs: 15

The choice of 7+% is a bit arbitrary, but if you pick almost any number you should get a sense of where the steep stuff is. A more scientific study might include figuring out what the average gradient is for all 13,555 meters. Maybe over at Podium Cafe Premium. Anyway, the remaining Ardennes races look like this:

Dwars door Vlaanderen E3 Pris Vlaanderen Driedaagse Stage 1 Omloop Het Niewsblad
Total m climbed 10,042 16,652 11,172 10,048
Cobbled 4 (of 12) 4 (of 11) 8 (of 12) 4 (of 12)
7+ % avg 4 4 4 4
# in RVV 5 5 4 6

The only thing that really stands out is the amount of climbing in E3, a full 6km more than Dwars and the Omloop and even 3km more than de Ronde. A week before the big show, this is a pretty serious effort, and any rider thinking he needs more hard ascents in his legs should seriously look at going to E3 instead of Gent-Wevelgem.

Otherwise, each of the Ronde dress rehearsals offers up a nice menu of hard-to-very-hard climbs, a flavor of de Ronde, more than enough cobbles to get the point, and a different end point (respectively: Waregem, Harelbeke, Oudenaarde and Gent) to give each race something of a unique identity. The most important point is that they all cross paths with de Ronde, and everything in Flanders between now and April 4th is oriented toward that moment.

Update! Speaking of hellingen, over at Sporza they are discussing a Flemish author who has rated the climbs, according to six criteria: length, avg grade, max grade, state of the road, historical interest and a "Mont Ventoux factor", which I am at a loss to describe. The top three?

  1. Kemmelberg
  2. Muur van Geraardsbergen/Kappelmuur
  3. Kluisberg (combining both climbs)