Ronde van Vlaanderen director Wouter Vanden Haute spoke to the press today defending the massive changes to Flanders' mooiste (most beautiful) and laying out the particulars of the route. Get all the data here. A few take-home messages:
- This video, which I don't understand, is entitled "no plans to make paying round." Yes, you can still stand by the side of the road for free in Flanders.
- The gist of the talk, as the gnomes relay it to me, is that Vanden Haute thinks de Ronde needs to change with the times. A traditional point-to-point was nice but included long stretches in the last few KM with no spectators in sight and no real tension. Apparently fans want back-loaded tension nowadays. Also, there is a note about two TV stations paying up that doesn't translate coherently enough to tell if the race responded to the promise of more TV money, or the TV money came due once the race made changes. We will clarify as Dutch speakers jump in.
- Eddy Merckx previewed the new route before they made any decisions, and while he apparently started off skeptical, he was convinced by the end. Merckx's approval sounds like a bit of a crutch, but it's better than having him against it.
- The Oude Kwaremont is being billed as the new Muur. IMHO it's not hard enough to truly replace the Muur's impact on the race but as a spectacle it has some similarities. Vanden Haute says he was a bit taken back at the fury unleashed by the Muur's exclusion, though he knew he'd hear something.
- The bottom line, which I can appreciate, is that the race saw cycling changing a lot and didn't want to be left behind. They have agreed to try something different, with more end-game drama, but haven't ruled out the possibility of bringing the Muur back in. Vanden Haute says they will run it twice this way and evaluate. If it looks bad, then all options are on the table, whatever that means. And if it works out, they plan at least six years of this formula. Basically, they're asking us to give it a chance, which seems reasonable enough. The route of de Ronde has never been set in stone.
Personally, I think there are enough truly excellent climbs around Oudenaarde to feature different ones as the finale. Sure, use the Paterberg for a couple years, then try a course which uses the Taaienberg as the decisive last climb. Or the Molenberg. Or even, just once, the Koppenberg. [Very risky, but if the weather is dry, that would seriously be the coolest thing ever.]