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Tour of Flanders 2016 preview: the climbs of the Ronde

The iconic cobbled bergs of Flanders set to play a key role in the 100th Ronde van Vlaanderen

The 100th Tour of Flanders rolls out on Sunday (April 3) and features 18 climbs in all, as the Classics hard men bid for supremacy on the cobbles. It’s a war of attrition over a series of short, steep climbs which whittle the peloton down to decide the champion.

After 100km of flat roads to open the 260km race, the iconic Oude Kwaremont ascent kicks off proceedings before the bergs of Flanders come thick and fast.

Short, steep climbs are the order of the day at the Tour of Flanders (pic: Sirotti)

Stripping the peloton to size, and providing the platform for attacks, the Flandrian bergs have hosted plenty of memorable action during the race’s long history. It’s the unique terrain and cobbled roads of Flanders that have made the Ronde one of the highlights of the professional cycling calendar.

And even without the famous Muur, removed from the route in 2012 when organisers moved the finish to Meerbeke, there will be plenty of fireworks for us to enjoy – and the rider to endure – on the climbs.

Here’s our guide to the climbs of the Tour of Flanders: what they’re like to ride, their history and their strategic importance in the race, including those most likely to be key in deciding who tops the podium come Sunday afternoon.

1 – Oude Kwaremont

Distance from the finish: 152km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 2.2km
Average gradient: 4.2 per cent
Maximum gradient: 12 per cent

First included in 1974, the Oude Kwaremont has become an integral part of the Tour of Flanders and is now one of the race’s key climbs.

Oude Kwaremont features three times on the Tour of Flanders route, and, alongside being the first climb the peloton will hit in 2016, has been the launch pad for plenty of big attacks in the past.

Oude Kwaremont is the first climb the peloton will have to tackle in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

Fabian Cancellara used the ascent to instigate the race-winning move at both the 2013 and 2014 races, while it has also been a key part of E3 Harelbeke – the traditional form-finder for the Ronde.

First time around, however, it will likely just be be an early test of the riders’ legs.

2 – Kortekeer

Distance from the finish: 141km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 1km
Average gradient: 6.4 per cent
Maximum gradient: 17.1 per cent

Kortekeer was originally introduced to the Tour of Flanders in 1988 when the Koppenberg was removed, having been deemed too dangerous.

The climb starts gently but gets tougher as it winds its way through the woods – reaching is maximum gradient of 17.1 per cent.

While the climb is asphalted, and doesn’t have any cobbles, mud and gravel can still make the surface tricky.

3 – Eikenberg

Distance from the finish: 134km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 1.3km
Average gradient: 6.2 per cent
Maximum gradient: 11 per cent

The Eikenberg was included for the 40th time in the Tour of Flanders last year and, for 2016, maintains its position as the race’s third climb between Kortekeer and Wolvenberg.

The Eikenberg has featured 40 times at the Tour of Flanders in total (pic: Sirotti)

Featuring so early in the race, however, the climb will be less important than it has been at some of the other cobbled Classics this year – it was on the Eikenberg at the Omloop Het Niewsblad’s race-winning break consolidated their lead.

4 – Wolvenberg

Distance from the finish: 130km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 600m
Average gradient: 6.8 per cent
Maximum gradient: 17.3 per cent

One of the lesser known hills in the Flemish Ardennes, the Wolvenberg is short, steep but otherwise unspectacular because of how early it features in the race.

Nevertheless, it does come with some importance with a nasty sting in its tail thanks to the 17.3 per cent gradient and the fact it leads immediately onto the flat cobbled Ruitersstraat sector.

5 – Molenberg

Distance from the finish: 118km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 460m
Average gradient: 7 per cent
Maximum gradient: 14.2 per cent

Leading up from a water mill at the foot of the hill (Molenberg means Mill Hill), the Molenberg is short, narrow and not very sweet.

The Molenberg is short, narrow and badly-surfaced (pic: Sirotti)

The badly-surfaced cobbled road, with a right-hand bend in the middle, was only included in this year’s Tour of Flanders after the route was adapted to avoid the roadworks which led to its removal from the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad semi-Classic in March.

6 – Leberg

Distance from the finish: 97km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 700m
Average gradient: 6.1 per cent
Maximum gradient: 14 per cent

The Leberg is a regular across the Flemish Classics, and peaking at 99m is actually one of the highest hills in the region.

It starts tough, with the maximum 14 per cent gradient coming on a right-hand bend shortly after the riders hit the paved ascent, but it eases out towards the summit where exposed roads mean wind is a bigger issue than gradient.

7 – Berendries

Distance from the finish: 93km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 940m
Average gradient: 7.1 per cent
Maximum gradient: 12.4 per cent

Berendries used to be a hugely important climb in the race, featuring just before the Muur van Geraardsbergen.

Berendries is no longer as strategically important as it used to be at the Tour of Flanders (pic: Sirotti)

With its steepest section in the middle, it holds much less strategic importance now but is one of a number of short, paved climbs featuring in quick succession.

8 – Valkenberg

Distance from the finish: 88km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 875m
Average gradient: 6 per cent
Maximum gradient: 15 per cent

The Valkenberg was first introduced to the Tour of Flanders back in 1959 and for the next quarter-century was one of the permanent cobbled climbs in the race.

Previously a cobbled climb, the Valkenberg has long since been paved over but is tougher than its bare numbers suggest (pic: Sirotti)

Then it got paved over. As such it has not been so regular since – in fact it only returned in 1996 – but it should not be taken lightly, with a leg-sapping drag at both the start and finish belying the hill’s bare numbers.

9 – Kaperij

Distance from the finish: 77km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 1.25km
Average gradient: 5 per cent
Maximum gradient: 8 per cent

The paved Kaperij climb is a relatively new addition to the Tour of Flanders route, featuring just three times before this year.

Also known as Bosgat, the climb is the longest paved ascent in the race, but is less steep than many of the others.

10 – Kanarieberg

Distance from the finish: 70km
Surface: Asphalt
Length: 1km
Average gradient: 7.7 per cent
Maximum gradient: 14 per cent

Another relatively new addition to the race, 2016 will be just the third time ‘Canary Hill’ has featured in the Tour of Flanders.

The last of several paved climbs packed into the route in quick succession, the road starts at a gentle gradient but winds its way up and gets steeper towards the summit.

11 – Oude Kwaremont (second ascent)

Distance from the finish: 54km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 2.2km
Average gradient: 4.2 per cent
Maximum gradient: 12 per cent

The second ascent of Oude Kwaremont could well be the springboard for a long-range attack, with 54km to go to the finish.

Geraint Thomas lights it up on Oude Kwaremont – the first part of the cobbled section is the steepest (pic: Sirotti)

You can expect the peloton to be whittled down on the ascent, where the fight for position will be hugely important because of its narrow opening section.

The first 500m of cobbles are the toughest, and while the average gradient is only 4.2 per cent, the climb’s 2.2km length mean it’s the perfect platform for a group to get away.

12 – Paterberg (first ascent)

Distance from the finish: 51km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 400m
Average gradient: 12.5 per cent
Maximum gradient: 20 per cent

Originally a paved road, a local farmer reportedly paved the Paterberg so the Tour of Flanders would pass closer to his house – and in doing so created one of the race’s toughest, most iconic climbs.

Geraint Thomas on the Paterberg during last year’s Tour of Flanders (Pic: Sirotti)

Featured every year since its 1986 debut, the road is only 400m long but comes with a fierce average gradient of 12.5 per cent, and at least a quarter of the climb is nearer the 20 per cent maximum gradient.

The climb’s position on the modern race route means the Paterberg is now one of the most decisive ascent, with both the first and second ascents offering perfect opportunity to attack or cement a move previously made on the Kwaremont.

13 – Koppenberg

Distance from the finish: 44km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 600m
Average gradient: 11.6 per cent
Maximum gradient: 22 per cent

Mention the climbs of the Tour of Flanders, and the Koppenberg will be the first many people think of – and for good reason.

The unforgiving Koppenberg is a short, but brutal climb (pic: Sirotti)

The steepest of the race’s climbs, with an maximum gradient of 22 per cent, the unforgiving cobbled climb has been known to make even the hardest of riders get off and push.

Since the race route was re-worked in 2012, the climb is more importantly strategically too, coming much closer to the finish than in the past.

14 – Steenbeekdries

Distance from the finish: 39km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 820m
Average gradient: 7.6 per cent
Maximum gradient: 12.8 per cent

Steenbeekdries is next up after the Koppenberg, with the cobbles coming thick and fast on this part of the second circuit.

The cobbles continue to come thick and fast, with the Steenbeekdries climb following the flat Mariaborrestraat sector (pic: Sirotti)

Immediately before the 800m climb is a 2km stretch of cobbles on the Mariaborrestraat, before the climb kicks up at an average gradient of 7.6 per cent.

15 – Taaienberg

Distance from the finish: 36km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 800m
Average gradient: 7.1 per cent
Maximum gradient: 18 per cent

Locals have become rather fond of the Taaienberg thanks to Tom Boonen’s exploits on its cobbles in recent years.

Tom Boonen attacks on the Taaienberg… again (pic: Sirotti)

At E3 Harelbeke it was the climb on which he broke clear for four of his five career victories and he has made a habit of accelerating on the ascent at Flanders too.

The climb has become very important strategically having been moved to much later in the race (pic: Sirotti)

But with Boonen Hill now much closer to the finish, there will be no shortage of big-name riders looking to replicate his feats this year.

16 – Kruisberg-Hotond

Distance from the finish: 2.5km
Surface: Cobbles/asphalt
Length: 2.5km
Average gradient: 5 per cent
Maximum gradient: 9 per cent

A full kilometre of cobbles introduce the Kruisberg, with the steepest section towards the top of the cobbled part.

The cobbled opening part of the Kruisberg is tougher than the paved finale to the climb and can be another platform for a race-winning attack  (pic: Sirotti)

This is followed by a more gently rising paved road, giving the climb a total distance of 2.5km and an average gradient of five per cent.

17 – Oude Kwaremont (third ascent)

Distance from the finish: 16km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 2.2km
Average gradient: 4.2 per cent
Maximum gradient: 11 per cent

The third and final climb of Oude Kwaremont is also the most important of the three ascents, and was the platform for Fabian Cancellara’s two victories in 2013 and 2014.

Fabian Cancellara accelerates on Oude Kwaremont in 2014 (pic: Sirotti)

Last year Alexander Kristoff and Niki Terpstra bolted clear on the ascent, while it has also been a platform for plenty of attacks at E3 Harelbeke too.

Positioning is absolutely vital during the Tour of Flanders, not least here, and steep, narrow opening section demands riders be at the front if they want to be in the final selection. Could this be where Sunday’s decisive move goes?

18 – Paterberg (second ascent)

Distance from the finish: 13km
Surface: Cobbles
Length: 400m
Average gradient: 12.5 per cent
Maximum gradient: 20 per cent

Any attack on Oude Kwaremont must be consolidated on the Paterberg – as Cancellara did in 2013 when he finally rid himself of Peter Sagan’s attentions.

Fabian Cancellara detonates on the Paterberg to drop Peter Sagan en-route to winning the 2013 Tour of Flanders (pic: Sirotti)

The short but brutally steep climb is the final ascent in the race and has thus become arguably the most important  – and should prove to be again in 2016. While the climbs of Flanders will constantly chip away at the peloton throughout the race, the Paterberg provides the final opportunity to any rider with hopes of victory to cement a lead or rid themselves of their rivals before the 13km run-in to the finish.

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