Paris Roubaix is a tough race because of the threat weather poses. Already tough roads are made almost impassable by the slightest bit of rain, earning PR its name: Hell of the North. The Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) is equally as tough, but rather than the course surface, it's the hills and distance that make the RvV so brutal.
This year's Ronde takes place on April 8, 2007, and new for the 91st edition is the decision to eliminate the Koppenberg. Again. Following a makeover that produced a kinder, gentler Koppenberg, it was re-introduced to the fans' delight. Race organizer Win van Herreweghe explained that the surface shows broad gaps between the cobbles making the climb dangerous especially in wet conditions. Win commented, "We do not want to allow non-sporting elements to rule how the race unfolds."
So, there it is: the Koppenberg is too dangerous. I find it ironic that the Giro organizers purposely seek out progressively harder routes for each edition of the Giro, but the orgranizers of the RvV are seeking to make the route in essence easier. All in the name of sport? The condition of the cobbles never seem to cause concern among the PR organizers. I would argue they relish in the fact that PR is the toughest, nastiest one-day race. Undoubtedly, last year's RvV was epic, especially when many of the race favorites were forced to run the Koppenberg following a pile up. It was a "Flanders of old" in my opinion.
The 2007 Ronde will include 18 climbs, one more than 2006, and will feature the new climb Eikenmolen, which is a 610m hill with an average gradient of 5.9 percent. Organizers feel that the new climb and frequency of climbs in the last 80 KMs will be enough to insure a good race. I remember the disappointment from fans when the Koppenberg was on hiatus for its makeover, at least that omission was in order to preserve it for future races. This year's decision is different: Could it be curtains for good for the Koppenberg? I guess we will have to wait and see.
Photo of RvV courtesy Graham Watson
Originally posted on December 24, 2006