Ronde Van Vlaanderen - Blue Loop
The blue loop (78km) is the shortest of the three on offer from the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen, but this by no guarantees an easy day in the saddle. It's Parcours is a circuit around the finale of the Ronde beginning with the classic trio of the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg. If you've still got the legs you'll continue on to the Taaienberg, Kruisberg and Hotondberg before returning to Oudenaarde.
Three: that’s how many times riders must climb the famous Oude Kwaremont during the Ronde. The Oude Kwaremont is the longest cobbled climb of Flanders at 2200 meters long, and 92 meters of climbing. While it averages a nice “easy” 4% gradient it’s maximum gradient of 11.6 % lies in the middle of the climb – it’s not an easy feat to recover from that over cobbles. Indeed, if you fail to recover from it in time, you can consider a pause at In 't Palet on the corner of the village square.
“Kwaremont-dorp is a picturesque
painter’s village that attracted several
artists after the Second World War.
And even today, the streets are still
lined with art galleries and cafés. Bar/
brasserie/restaurant 't Palet and the restaurant pub In de Zon are just a few examples. Definitely worth a detour!”
It’s only a relatively recent addition to the Tour of Flanders, constructed in the 1980s on farmland by a landowner jealous of his friend's proximity to the Koppenberg every year, but the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status. With a maximum gradient of 20.33% and an average gradient of over 12%, it’s one of the steepest climbs in the region. The descent to the sharp right hand corner at the foot of the climb requires care and usually claims at least one victim every year on the Tour of Flanders.
The ‘bump’ of Melden, as the Koppenberg is locally known, is guaranteed to add suspense to the Ronde, every year. Not surprisingly it has been listed as a national monument. This hill and over 100 acres of surrounding countryside add up to one the most beautiful natural hotspots in the Flemish Ardennes.The Koppenberg is also probably the most difficult climb in the region, combining maximum gradient of 20% with rutted, worn cobbles and a constantly greasy surface. There's no shame in having to stop. Better men than us have had to walk up here. Legend has it that the climb was introduced to the Tour of Flanders organisers by 2 time winner Walter Godefroot, but only after he'd retired so he wouldn't have to race up it.
Artist Vladimir Tanghe once counted the number of cobblestones on the steepest part of the Koppenberg: 66,240 cobblestones over 2760 rows at an average of 24 stones per row. On the entire hill there are even more cobblestones.
You didn't travel that far to ride in the gutter?
This hill lives up to its name. Taaienberg literally means ‘tough hill’ and the reason for this name will become clear when you ascend its 530m stretch of cobblestones. This wasTom Boonen’s favourite hill to test his early season form on with an annual attack in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earning it the name of 'Boonenberg'.
The 750m climb starts going gently uphill from the center of Ronse. The upper – and steepest – part of the climb has a roughly-paved cobbled surface, totaling 450 m of cobbles. The climb was first included in the Tour of Flanders route in 1973 and has become a fixed location in the route since the race's restyling in 2012. In recent years, it comes at 26 km from the finish in Oudenaarde, as the last cobbled climb before the iconic Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs. The Kruisberg is also regularly included in the Three Days of De Panne, E3 Harelbeke.
In the Ronde van Vlaanderenstraat in Kwaremont you can greet Karel Van Wijnendaele, founder of the Tour of Flanders. But also keep your eyes on the road. All the winners of the Ronde are indicated on the asphalt.
Time for some post-ride Belgian beers. Santé!