Like the recent Tour de France, the BinckBank Tour keeps the legend of the “Muur” alive. Since 2012, the Belgian-Dutch stage race formerly known as the Eneco Tour reaches its conclusion atop the legendary climb of Geraardsbergen
Legends in cycling are built not only by champions but by venues, such as an iconic climb that tests riders to the limit and thrills the spectators. The Grammont Wall (Mur de Grammont in French or Muur van Geraardsbergen in Flemish) is a 1km climb from the Dender river in the centre of the city to the 110-metre high summit of the Oudenberg (literally ‘the Old Climb’). It has an average incline of 9% with a maximum 20% in some steep parts covered by cobblestones that were bevelled in the XIXth century so the carts wouldn’t hurtle down. That makes climbing it on a bike a tough mission, made all the more challenging when muddy and wet.
The “Muur” has been marking cycling for decades: it featured in a race from Gent to Gent in 1950, and has often been the penultimate and decisive climb of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (the Tour of Flanders). It disappeared from the course when the finishing area was moved from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde in 2012, a decision met with controversy and nostalgic comments. Five years later, in 2017, the Muur was back on the race route: 95km from the finish, where Philippe Gilbert began his epic breakaway ride to the finish.
Since last year, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad that opens the Belgian pro season uses the old finale of the Tour of Flanders with the “Muur” and the Bosberg just before the finish.
As the Tour de France started from Brussels this year, race organisers paid a tribute to Flemish cycling by putting the “Muur” and the Bosberg at the beginning of stage 1. In his pre-race press conference, local hero Greg Van Avermaet didn’t reveal his plans but right after the finish, he admitted that he had made a goal for himself to crest the “Muur” in first position as soon as Guido De Padt, the Mayor of Geraardsbergen, expressed his desire to see the 2019 Tour de France pass through his city in December 2017. First at the top meant wearing the polka dot jersey for two days. It was the ambition of many Belgian riders, including Frederik Backaert of Wanty-Groupe Gobert who was the enfant du pays ( is farm in Michelbeke is just 15km away) but the Olympic Champion got it right.
Van Avermaet will once again race up the “Muur” on August 18, but the finish line of the BinckBank Tour will be drawn halfway into the climb, on the cobbled section, rather than at the top in front of the neo-baroque church of the Oudenberg – the building that gives the hill its other name, the Chapel Wall. Gilbert is another famous contender of the BinckBank Tour. Belgian fans love the stories of Van Avermaet and Gilbert who have crossed paths many times in the past ten years, - sometimes team-mates (at Silence-Lotto and BMC Racing Team) - but more often rivals. Van Avermaet is Flemish and Gilbert is a Walloon but both are loved by all Belgians for the respect they express for both communities, languages and kinds of cycling – cobblestones in Flanders and hills in the Ardennes.
The BinckBank Tour has a bit of everything that roads in Belgium and the Netherlands can offer: open fields exposed to the wind and a few cobblestones, hills around Houffalize – also popular for mountain biking – including the Mur Saint Roch with gradients at 20%, an 8.4km individual time trial in The Hague, the seat of the government of the Netherlands, before the grand finale in Geraardsbergen preceded by the Berendries, the Leberg, the Valkenberg, Ten Bosse, the Bosberg, the Onkerzelestraat and the Denderoordberg, all famous cobbled sections of numerous races held in that cycling-mad part of the world.
Since history prevails as much as geography to make cycling exciting in Belgium, stage 3 around Aalter features the pavé of Kanegem, the native town of Briek Schotte who would have turned 100 this year. “The Last of The Flandriens” – his nickname as well as “Iron Briek” – passed away 15 years ago. “Flandrien” doesn’t just mean Flemish, it’s more of a lifestyle and an endless love for riding hard in difficult conditions. Luckily, there have been several “last Flandriens” since and recent “Flandriens” such as Johan Museeuw, Boonen and Van Avermaet seem to have designated successors with the likes of Jasper Philipsen and… Remco Evenepoel who, even at his tender age, is already showing that he can do anything on a bike.