The Muur


Roger. The Muur, yes?


Whenever anyone talked to me about it in Belgium, it was always ‘The Muur.’


Did you retire before it was taken out of the Flanders route?


Yes, it was the first year after I retired that the new circuit was introduced. It was a pity, because I was looking forward to sitting down in the armchair and watching them battle up there. I’m pretty gutted, really.


Is the race poorer for the Muur’s exclusion?


The Classics are given the name for a reason: because of the iconic moments that have built up over the years. Even when I rode them, I was thinking about Eddy Bosberg [as Edwig van Hooydonck became known having twice won following attacks on the climb following The Muur] and remembering all the little tales – most of them probably fictitious – about how he counted down the telegraph poles on the Bosberg, which ones he could ride the big ring from at the top – all of these little stories that divide the Classics from a ‘big race’.

The Muur, 1952, and Rik Van Steenburgen resorts to pushing
The Muur, 1952, and Rik Van Steenburgen resorts to pushing

There’s plenty of races with loads of prize money and all the best riders in the world, but they don’t have the same history as the Classics.


For me, Adri van der Poel on the Arenberg and the Carrefour are childhood memories. Remove those and all you have got is another big race, with no history and no story. It’s a big step to give up 100 years of memories. And for what gain? I don’t feel it has progressed as a race.


Which is the best edition you ever watched?


We all remember the one [2010] where Cancellara rode away from Boonen and made him look an amateur. It was an impressive attack on the Muur with the two biggest riders of their Classics generation going head-to-head. The climb completely dominated the race.

"Oy oy oy oy oy oy... Balen, we have a problem."
“Oy oy oy oy oy oy… Balen, we have a problem.”

And then Van Petegem on the Muur [1999], when he attacked and then you had the three-way fight between himself, Vandenbroucke and Museeuw. But almost every year was spectacular.


It is a pretty simplistic race. It has been run so many times on the same course, you have all of the background knowledge you need to predict what will happen in the race.


Compare it to the World Championships: a different course every year, no one knows how to race it and it produces a really cautious race. Milan-Sanremo or Flanders, it is always exciting, because everybody knows exactly what they can or can’t do. Nobody starts those races dreaming of winning them unless they are one of the big stars.


You have the best guys smashing each other on one of the best climbs of Flanders, which is perfect.


Have you ever started with that dream of winning?


No. Well, that’s why we go out training every day, isn’t it? That dream that the wind will blow in the right direction, it would be the day of our lives, and that everyone else would puncture or fall off, which is what happened when I finished third at Roubaix.


How many times did you ride Flanders?


It was the World Cup race I rode the most, actually, so every year between 1998 to 2011.


Any Muur memories, good or bad, for you?


I was with Cervélo TestTeam in 2009 and had raced the week before and had a shocker. In the team meeting, they were looking for someone to go in the early break, so I put my hand up for that. Eventually, it ended up with four of us [from the team] left: Andreas [Klier], Thor Hushovd, Heinrich Haussler and me.



On the Muur, we had got back on at the foot, immediately got dropped, then chased back on with Lance and got on at the foot of the Bosberg. Got dropped again, then back on again before the finish. Then we were sprinting for fourth place, I think.


All I remember about the Muur is you usually go into it with the fear of God in you. It is not one of those climbs where you can find your own tempo and get to the top: it is so steep, so slippery, and so late on in the race. It’s purgatory.


Originally published in issue 52 of Rouleur. 


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