The red route is the most challenging of the three rides, being the longest in length and highest in overall elevation gain at 1,358 meters (including the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg climbs).
It takes the form of a counter-clockwise loop from Oudenaarde on roads which can be best described in cycling parlance as ‘lumpy’. There are no less than 15 climbs to conquer (mainly asphalt) and, if on the previous two days you have already completed the Blue and Yellow routes, then you will be relying on your fitness and willpower to get you around.
Even though it looked the hardest on paper (and was!) this was the one we were looking forward to most, mainly because 53 kilometres into the ride you arrive in the town of Geraardsbergen (pronounce the ‘G’ as an ‘H’) to ascend the Geraardsbergen Muur and reach the legendary Chapel (Kapelmuur) that sits at the top. The last 100 metres of the climb represent some of the most photographed real estate in all of cycling. During the Tour of Flanders, this climb separates the men from the boys and depending on the parcours, many an attack leading to the overall win has been initiated on the Muur.
Perhaps the feeling of riding up the Muur is the same feeling you may experience from walking out onto the pitch at Wembley – it is a very special place.
Soon afterwards you are faced with the well known Bosberg and a very welcome café at the top before heading back to the west. Beware of the Kapelleberg about ten kilometres from the finish – as you are beginning to tire – at just over one kilometre at an average of 7% it drains every last drop of energy out of you as your mind begins to wander towards a nice cold Belgian beer.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Quite simply, the Muur van Geraardsbergen (otherwise known as the “Flanders wall”, (in English) “Wall of Geraardsbergen” or (in French) “Mur de Grammont”).
There are no mountains in Belgium but to the people of Flanders, De Muur is their Alpe d’Huez, their Ventoux. It is not very long and with decent legs not too difficult, but in a similar way to when you first take on the Koppenberg, you experience something different, quite unique and magical. Images are conjured in your mind about all the great cyclists who, over the years, have battled their way to the top and the drama that has unfolded in the final few metres towards the Kapel.
There are always a dozen or so amateur cyclists at the top busy taking photographs outside the Chapel, each one paying homage to a small piece of cycling history.
1. Oudenaarde to Brakel: 0-23 km
Soon after leaving the starting point at the Tour of Flanders museum you cross the River Schelde and then begin climbing. The Achterberg is a very early test of what is to come as you climb your first berg of the day. The terrain towards Brakel is effectively up one berg down and then up the next as this part of the journey sees you ascend the Onderbossenare, Foreest and the Steenberg meaning your first hour or so in the saddle really gets the legs warm. The Belgians refer to Foreest as ‘unknown and unloved’ due mainly to the fact that it has only been used in the Tour of Flanders a handful of times, but it is a magnificent short climb in a tranquil forest setting.
As you arrive on the outskirts of Brakel on the traffic island at Meerbeekstraat and Kerkhofstraat (where you make a left turn towards the Valkenberg) you will see the Cafe Labrieze should you feel like an early stop.
This section includes:
Achterberg – 1300m asphalt climb at 5% (max 11%)
Ladeuze – 1158m asphalt descent at 5% (max 13%)
Onderbossenare – 1300m asphalt climb at 6% (max 9%)
Kouterberg – 1175m asphalt descent at 4% (max 7%)
Stokstraat – 1175m asphalt descent at 5% (max 8%)
Foreest – 685m asphalt climb at 8% (max 12%)
Ganzenberg – 1200m asphalt descent at 6% (max 17%)
Steenberg – 821m asphalt climb at 7% (max 12%)
2. Brakel to Geraardsbergen muur: 23-54 km
From here, you head out towards what many regard as the jewel in the Flanders crown – De Muur van Geraardsbergen (the wall of Geraardsbergen).
But before you reach the Kapelmuur (the chapel wall) you must negotiate the following four climbs interspersed with a short descent of the Kasteeldreef:
Valkenberg – 537m asphalt climb at 8% (max 12%)
The Valkenberg, like the ensuing Berendries, is a steep climb in a built-up area between the villages of Brakel and Elst. It prepares you nicely for what is to come.
Berendries – 936m asphalt climb at 7% (max 12%)
As you head out of the small village of Michelbeke towards the foot of the Berendries note the Cafe Bierpotje in case you need to take on refreshments. Locals will tell you that the only time Lance Armstrong led the field at the Tour of Flanders was on the Berendries – he didn’t last long though and ultimately finished in 28th place. The climb itself can best be described as a long drag through the outskirts of the village with private housing on both sides of the road.
Kasteeldreef – 800m asphalt descent at 6% (max 8%)
At the top of Bernedries, there is a very fast descent down the N462 before a long slog up the Elverenberg.
Elverenberg – 1269m asphalt climb at 4% (max 9%)
Fayte – 1404m asphalt climb at 5% (max 8%)
Other than the steady climb up Fayte there just remains about 15 kilometres of flat and downhill terrain to Geraardsbergen.
3. Muur van Geraardsbergen and bosberg to Oudenaarde: 54-116 km
The bustling town of Geraardsbergen is next on the list. Here you need to make a decision in terms of where to eat. You can stop at any of the cafés and restaurants it has to offer situated around the town square or choose to climb De Muur and then the Bosberg before stopping at the El Faro café which is conveniently located at the summit of the latter.
De Muur – 825m cobbled climb at 9% (max 20%)
To many, the Muur van Geraardsbergen climb is the ‘pièce de résistance’ of the Tour of Flanders and has now become an iconic image within the sport thanks to the cobbled climb up to the Chapel.
Initially you climb up through the town square on pedestrianised roads. The route swings to the right and onto the Oude Bergstraat, which translated means “Old Hill Street”. The smoothness of the town centre cobbles then gives way to a rough, uneven and badly cambered surface that is very steep in places.
Eventually, with weary legs, you make a left turn on a narrow cobbled strip and see the Hemelryck pub on your left. As you look to the right, you get your first view of the Chapel. Turning right, the gradient eases somewhat as you make your way to the summit and to the Kapel. Take a breather and some photographs – you’ve earned it!
Bosberg – 986m cobbled climb at 5% (max 10%)
After the Muur there is only one climb on the route (the Bosberg) for the next 20 kilometres. That said, it is a proper challenge – at almost 1 kilometre in length with cobbles that are uneven. Finding a good line is difficult particularly so when challenged with vehicular traffic.
That said the café at the top (El Faro) is well worth a stop – we can recommend the apple pie and cream!
There follows a pleasant and relatively flat circuit through open countryside east of Geraardsbergen before you return to the town (we actually waited here for 30 minutes to see the E3 Harelbeke race pass through the town) and then embark to the west and north for the last five climbs of the day – you’ll cover:
Eikenmolen – 610m asphalt climb at 5% (max 12%)
Kortendries – 2200m asphalt climb at 3% (max 9%)
Pottenberg – 1400m asphalt climb at 4% (max 8%)
Leberg – 1130m asphalt descent at 3% (max 13%)
After descending the Leberg we took a slight detour into the village of Zegelsem stopping at the Den Drijhaard Tavern for a drink and a sandwich before heading back northwards onto Haaghook, which is another long stretch of cobbles for you and your bike.
Haaghoek – 1700m cobbled road
Berg Ten Stene – 1300m asphalt descent at 5% (max 9%)
Kapelleberg – 1100m asphalt climb at 7% (max 13%)
The Kapelleberg will test your legs at this point of the ride as it twists and turns up to open farmland before you have the chance to descend down the other side and then up towards the final climb.
Eikenberg – 1252m cobbled climb at 5% (max 9%)
As you crisscross the N457 for the last time you arrive on the Eikenberg for your last effort on the cobbles. It starts quite benignly before topping out at around 7% but the lactic in the legs and the unevenness of the cobbles make this hard work. There are however metre wide tarmac strips at half distance at the side of the road should you wish for a smoother passage. At the top, you see a very welcome blue signpost for Oudenaarde!
Edelare – 1525m asphalt descent at 4% (max 7%)
The Edelare makes for a very quick descent back to the hotel and the prospect of a well earned drink!
Note: the climb stats in this section are taken from the local tourist board’s guide to the area.
Cafe Labrieze, Brakel at 23 kilometres
Cafe Bierpotje, Michelbeke at 30 kilometres
El Faro café at 57 kilometres at the top of the Bosberg.
Den Drijhaard Tavern at 100 kilometres
There are more details on each of these in the notes above.
We based ourselves in the Hotel Leopold in Oudenaarde. It’s a great place for cyclists, with lots of excellent facilities and a town centre location moments from the Tour of Flanders Museum.
You can find our full review and more detail in the “Where to Stay” section of our ultimate guide to Flanders.
- Don’t miss our separate Tips article – it includes lots of suggestions for how to ensure you have a great trip to this part of the world as well as ways to make riding the cobbles more comfortable!
- Use the towns en route to refuel. There aren’t many cafés or restaurants in between, especially if you’re there out of season or in the middle of the week.
- When you’re struggling up the cobbled climbs, try to remember that they are open to normal vehicular traffic. The best line may mean you want to cycle on the wrong side of the road… take care.
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