Sporza reports, and the race website confirms, that Oudenaarde has reached agreement with the Ronde van Vlaanderen organizers to retain the finish of the Monumental classic in the historic Flemish Ardennes heartland. Oudenaarde upped its annual fee from EUR 150,000 to 400,000 to keep the race on site, banking on the town becoming an enduring symbol of the race and the financial benefits of such a brand.
Not only will the race continue to conclude in Oudenaarde through the 2023 edition, but the organizers will look to create a five day window of racing, which will include possibly moving Dwars door Vlaanderen to the Wednesday before de Ronde. That race was just bumped up to world tour status for 2017, and moving it would undoubtedly mean that Driedaagse De Panne — a lower-status race and conspicuously not a Flanders Classics product — would have to move out of the way, presumably just switching places with Dwars’ current spot a week earlier.
There is also a hint of more events for bike tourists, though the Ronde Sportive is already happening in that window, the day before the big race. The whole idea is that Oudenaarde would like more tourist dollars please, and they are looking for ways to keep people in town for more than just the weekend. [Hint: shuttles to Westvleteren every hour on the hour?]
What this would mean for racing, if the Dwars calendar change were to happen, is a big question mark. Currently the biggest warm-up races are Dwars (11 days before Flanders), followed by E3 Prijs Harelbeke (9 days out) and Gent-Wevelgem (a week out). That gives the stars of Flanders a chance to go hard at each other, preview their form, and entertain us like crazy, with a full week to back off and get ready for the main event. Some riders prefer to use De Panne to stay fresh, but not being WT means there’s no pressure to ride for the guys who prefer not to.
The system definitely is not broke, so of course people will try to fix it [translation: replace it with something more lucrative, irrespective of how it affects racing]. But maybe we will end up liking the end result? Dwars is a far better “Flanders Warmup” than Driedaagse de Panne, which goes off in another direction from the Flemish Ardennes and ends with two bunch sprint stages and a short time trial, which the Flanders guys usually ditch. The Wednesday double of a Koksijde circuit race and ITT bear no resemblance to de Ronde. Dwars, on the other hand, is a scaled-down replica of the big race, figuratively speaking at least. Maybe the peloton will decide that a very valuable event five days before Flanders that looks and smells and feels a lot like Flanders is actually something they will go all out to win. But I’ve never heard riders complain that they have too little to do in that pre-race period of relative calm.
Thoughts? Opinions? Mourning for Meerbeke?