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Gent-Wevelgem set to remember the start of World War I by passing several historic sites while Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will welcome the return of the Muur van Geraardsbergen after a three-year absence

Photo: Sirotti




28.11.2013 @ 15:31 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The courses for two of the major Flemish classics have been unveiled. While the Gent-Wevelgem will stick to its well-known format, it will remember the World War I by passing several historic sites. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will return to the Muur van Geraardsbergen after a three-year absence.


While the riders and teams are finalizing their race schedules and participating in training camps as they prepare for the 2014 season, the race organizers are also working hard to finish their work for the coming year. This week two of the major Flemish classics have unveiled the courses that will be the scene for some exciting race in 2014.


Gent-Wevelgem is known as the third big cobbled classic after the two monuments Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. In recent years, it has traditionally been held on the Wednesday between the two major races but in 2010 it was moved back to the Sunday before the Ronde. The change has seen the historic race become more important as the best riders can now allow themselves to go full gas on the event which is part of the WorldTour calendar.


In the past the race has both been won by a sprinter and an attacker but in recent years, the organizers have tried to make the course a bit tougher by including more climbs in the famous hilly zone that is centered around the famous Kemmelberg wall. A long, flat 40km run to the finish in Wevelgem has often allowed for some regrouping to take place but in 2013, Peter Sagan took his first major classics win when he arrived at the finish alone.


In 2014, the race will stick to its traditional finish but it will mark the centenary of  start of World War 1 by making a few changes to the course. It comes inside the first 50km of the course when, rather than taking a northwesterly path to the port of Ostend, it will take a more due westerly direction so as to pass the Belgian World War I memorial at Diksmuide.

It is natural for the race to mark the centenary as it traditionally passes through many historic sites from the war. The Kemmelberg itself was used for artillery observation by French forces for much of the war while the French hilltop town of Cassel, whose climb is tackled twice from opposite sides, was the headquarters of both French and British armies. Furthermore, the race will pass through Ploegsteert where there are several cemeteries from the war and through Ypres which was the scene of hard battles.


The race will have a length of 233km and will start in Deinze. It will pass the same 9 climbs as in 2013.


"We are not changing the character of the course," organizer Luc Gheysens told Het Vliegend Wiel. “Gent-Wevelgem is a Classic of wind and the hills of the Heuvelland area. It is not a preparation race, but a target in itself. It is the only Classic that is ridden in two countries [France and Belgium], although both belong to the same region."


This week the organizers of the first major one-day race of the season, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, have unveiled the course for their 2014 race too. The race is the traditional opener of the Belgian season and is held on the final Saturday in February. With its many hellingen and cobbled sections, it is known as a mini Tour of Flanders.


In 2014, the main feature is the return of the Muur van Geraardsbergen which will be back after a three-year absence. The climb was known as the decisive point in the Tour of Flanders but was taken out of the Flemish monument for the 2012 edition and has not made a return since.


Many cycling fans have been furious to see the iconic and historic climb being omitted from the major Flemish race but will now get a chance to see the riders climb the steep slopes in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The race skipped the wall in 2011 and 2012 and had to omit in 2013 due to road construction.


"In the past, the Omloop always included the Muur," Wim van Herreweghe, race director at Flanders Classic, told Het Nieuwsblad. "Now we go back to that tradition."


The Muur will, however, not play a role in the finale of the race as it comes already after 84km. The last 40km will remain unchanged, with the three passages of the Haaghoek cobbles being the decisive point.


Because of road construction, Berendries, Ten Bosse and Eikenmolen will not appear on the 2014 course. Instead, the Kasteeldreef has been included while Wolvenberg will return after last year's absence. The number of hellingen has been reduced from 12 to 10 while the number of cobbled sections have increased from 8 to 11.


Last year Luca Paolini beat Stijn Vandenbergh in a two-rider sprint.



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