Flanders Preview: Knetemann Remembers
Flanders is much more than “just” Classic, indeed, like Roubaix for the French, or Sanremo to the Italians, Flanders is a race so special to the Belgians… To understand just how special this race is, we talked with riders from different eras who have all ridden the race, and asked them about what makes the Tour of Flanders so special. Dutch ex-pro Gerrie Knetemann had a long and successful career that spanned 1974 to 1987, and included such prestigious wins as Paris-Nice, the Amstel Gold Race, several stages of the Tour de France, and others too numerous to mention here.
We asked Gerrie for his thoughts on de Ronde…
“Flanders is one of the most prestigious races of the year because it is a day cycling celebration for all Flemish cyclingfans. Hundreds of thousands of supporters follow the Ronde on their TV’s as the
race gets going, but as soon as the peloton nears their homes they get out of their house to stand by the side of the road.
In the old days, the race used to be just for the Flemish. Flanders was the poorer part of Belgium and their Dutch speaking inhabitants were all too proud of their own. May be this is why there are only a handfull of
Francophones on it’s palmares.
The parcourse is extremely difficult. In contrast with Paris-Roubaix, where everything is about the long stretches of cobblestones, the Tour of Flanders has countless incredibly steep mounts in the last half of the race.
The Wall (Muur) of Geraardsbergen for example is a hill with not only really bad cobbles, you also have to overcome a 15% climb. Oftentimes, fatigued riders just fall off their bikes on hills like these.
The Ronde has always been the arena for great champions. Especially those Italian ‘campionissimi’ like to show them here. Riders like Argentin, Moser, Binda, Bartoli and Tafi (2002) have proven to be more than able to handle the events in the ‘high mass of cycling’.
I am a bit ambiguous about my own participations in Flanders. As a fan and connoisseur of cycling I can more than appreciate those guys who can survive in this mere ‘war of wheels’. As a rider you need to be the master of the situation on every climb, small road and cobbled strip where riders fall on the ground all the time.
On the other hand, as a pro rider I wasn’t too fit for these circumstances myself. I preferred the Wallon Ardennes classics like the Arrow, Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. There it’s a different kind of
hills with their longer climbs that make the difference.”