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  • Back to Blog  

    Everything you need to know about the Spring Classics

       Words by David Hicks

       on 21/02/2018 11:43:24

    tour-of-flanders-bike-race

    Cycling – and particularly professional road cycling – is full of tales and folklore, stories of grit and determination, and of one rider overcoming all the odds to bathe themselves in glory. The terms ‘epic’, ‘brutal’ and ‘legendary’ have become far too overused by your day-to-day roadie to describe a slightly -longer-than-usual café ride and seem to appear in 9/10ths of Strava ride titles, but there’s one time of year where every syllable of each of those words can be applied without a hint of exaggeration. The Spring Classics.

    You can keep your Grand Tours – and Christmas as well – this, we assure you, is the most wonderful time of the year.

    What are the Spring Classics?

    The ‘Spring Classics’ is a little bit of a catch-all term for a number of one-day professional road races that take place across Northern Europe from late February through to April, and includes four of cycling’s five ‘Monuments’ – Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Tour of Flanders. For convenience you’ll often see these races grouped together, such as the ‘Cobbled Classics’ which covers those races held, funnily enough, across the cobbled roads of Belgium and northern France, or the ‘Ardennes Classics’ which includes the three big races held over the space of a week in the Belgium Ardennes and Dutch Limburg regions culminating in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Throw in some Italian flair with Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche, and you have probably the most exciting stretch of racing of the whole calendar year.

    So what makes the Spring Classics different to the Tour de France? All held over one day, the classics are all-or-nothing, do-or-die races – leave everything on the tarmac and hope you’re the first across the line at the end of the day – and that makes for some of the most exciting racing you’ll see. Add to that some unique parcours, inclement weather, and some of the strongest riders in the peloton and you have a two-wheeled touch paper just waiting to be lit.

    paris-roubaix

    The courses

    You won’t find any Alpine climbs during the Spring Classics, but what they lack in altitude they make up for in frequency and ferocity. Races like the Tour of Flanders are characterised by numerous short, sharp ‘bergs’ or ‘hellingen’ which are short in length but pack a punch in either gradient or road surface. Just google the Koppenberg and you’ll see what we mean. For those climbers amongst you, you’ll be more at home in Ardennes week and the lengthier climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And if it’s not hills, it’ll be questionable road surfaces – Paris-Roubaix is pancake flat but tackles some of the roughest roads a road bike will ever see to make it one of the toughest races around.

    The weather

    As you may have guessed, early Spring in northern Europe isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Frequently, these races are blighted by terrible weather which makes the racing even tougher (and makes them more ‘epic’). From snow at Milan San Remo to mud baths at Paris Roubaix, even when the weather is good you’ll see riders caked in mud and dust as they flop over the finish line.

    The riders

    With all of these races around or above the 200km mark and characterised by fast, aggressive racing and short punchy climbs it takes a special type of rider to excel at the Classics. The best one-day pros will have huge levels of endurance and masses of power, and they’ll usually be taller and stockier than your average mountain goat. They’ll also have a pocket full of options when it comes to winning – the engine to ride away from a group, the punch to drop their companions on a climb, or the kick to sprint away at the finish. Here, you’ll see the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet come to the fore with recently retired legends like Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara fresh in the memory.

    The bikes

    The Classics bring out a special breed of bike kit, particularly at Paris-Roubaix. With the rough terrain and long races, arriving fresh at the finish can make the difference between winning and losing and in the past road bikes have seen everything from front suspension, to rear suspension, to bar top brake levers. As technology has moved on it's more about special frame layups and disc brakes, with many of the features making the ideal bike for the average British rider and spawning the endurance and sportive bike category.

    The races

    Now you know what to expect from the Classics, here’s a pick of the best races to keep an eye on over the next few months.

    Cobbled Classics

    Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

    Date: 24th February 2018 | Distance: 195km | Location: Gent, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Greg Van Avermaet

    The traditional curtain raiser for the Spring Classics and the true start to the race season for traditionalists, the peloton hit their first stretch of cobbles when they tackle the Haahoek cobbled road after 60km. This year the race tackles the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen for the first time since 2011. Be sure to look up Ian Stannard’s race-winning ride in 2015, dropping three Quick Step riders in the process.

    E3 Harelbeke

    Date: 23rd March 2018 | Distance: 203km | Location: Harelbeke, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Greg Van Avermaet

    Lovingly named after a Belgian motorway, E3 Harelbeke tackles many of the climbs that will take centre stage at the Tour of Flanders. The Taaienberg is a fixture of the race and would traditionally see Tom Boonen put in his first attack of the Classics.

    Gent-Wevelgem

    Date: 25th March 2018 | Distance: 248km | Location: Deinze, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Greg Van Avermaet

    A key fixture in the build up to the Tour of Flanders, the weather here is often foul with crosswinds wreaking havoc in the first 100km – the 2015 edition saw Geraint Tomas literally blown off the road.

    Dwars Door Valaanderen

    Date: 28th March 2018 | Distance: 180km | Location: Roselare, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Yves Lampaert

    Coming mid-week to mark the start of Flemish Cycling Week, DDV tackles much of the same parcours as the Tour of Flanders and is usually fairly unpredictable depending on whether the big names want to stay quiet in the bunch or assert their authority ahead of the upcoming run of races.

    Tour of Flanders

    Date: 1st April 2018 | Distance: 266km | Location: Oudenaarde, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Philippe Gilbert

    With a rich history from over 100 editions, the Tour of Flanders – or Ronde Van Vlaanderen to give its official name – is one of the five one-day ‘Monument’ races in road cycling. With winners including Eddy Merckx, Roger Van Vlaeminck, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan only the very best get to reach the top step at the finish in Oudenaarde, with a perfect cocktail of strength, tactics, team support and luck required to be victorious. Highlights from RVV are plentiful, but be sure to check out Boonen vs Cancellara in 2010, and Philippe Gilbert’s 55km solo victory in 2017.

    tour-of-flanders-bike-race

    Paris-Roubaix

    Date: 8th April 2018 | Distance: 257km | Location: Compiègne, Paris to Roubaix, northern France | 2017 Winner:Greg Van Avermaet

    The ‘Queen of the Classics’, Paris-Roubaix is one of the most prestigious – and toughest – races on the calendar. Pancake-flat, the race also known as the Hell of the North instead challenges the riders with 52.8km of unkept cobbled farm tracks across northern France. Strength, tactics and luck all need to combine perfectly for victory here, with the winner crossing the line first in the Roubaix Velodrome before collecting his cobblestone trophy and freshening up in the famous shower block. The key cobbled sectors to watch are the Arenberg Trench and the Carrefour de l’Arbre, and be sure to watch Tom Boonen’s 50km solo victory in 2012.

    Ardennes Classics

    Amstel Gold Race

    Date: 15th April 2018 | Distance: 260km | Location: Limburg, Netherlands | 2017 Winner:Philippe Gilbert

    With Paris-Roubaix marking the end of the Cobbled Classics, the pros move onto the Ardennes Classics – a week of races with hillier parcours. Amstel Gold kicks things off in the Dutch region of Limburg with over thirty short climbs in greater succession as the race progresses. Things come to a climax with the climb of the Cauberg with the puncheur’s trying to break free and hang on to a lead on the 1.5km run-in to the finish.

    La Flèche Wallonne

    Date: 18th April 2018 | Distance: 198km | Location: Seraing, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Alejandro Valverde

    Sitting midweek between Amstel Gold and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, La Flèche Wallonne (or, ‘The Walloon Arrow’) tackles a tough circuit around the Flemish Ardennes with a finish on the brutal Mur de Huy which sees slopes of up to 26%, and where Alejandro Valverde has been victorious for the last four years.

    Liège–Bastogne–Liège

    Date: 22nd April 2018 | Distance: 258km | Location: Liège, Belgium | 2017 Winner:Alejandro Valverde

    Often called ‘La Doyenne’, or ‘The Old Lady’, LBL is the oldest of cycling’s monuments with the first edition taking place in 1892. With it’s length and numerous climbs, including the mythical Col de la Redoute, LBL is one of the toughest days out for the pros, and draws a different breed of rider to the Cobbled Classics before it, with punchier climbers and Grand Tour contenders coming to the fore.

    strade-bianchi-cycling-race

    The others...

    Strade Bianche

    Date: 3rd March 2018 | Distance: 175km | Location: Siena, Italy | 2017 Winner:Michal Kwiatkowski

    After Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and before Flemish Cycling Week, the peloton’s classics contingent take a sojourn to Italy to tackle Strade Bianche. Although a relatively new race, it has quickly gained popularity for its tough racing on the white gravel roads of Tuscany and stunning scenery.

    Milan-San Remo

    Date: 17th March 2018 | Distance: 291km | Location: Milan to San Remo, Italy | 2017 Winner:Michal Kwiatkowski

    The first Monument of the season, Milan-San Remo – also known as ‘La Classicicissima’ and ‘La Primavera’ – is also the longest. Known as the sprinter’s classic, Milan-San Remo is the best chance for the fast men of the peloton to grab a Monument victory although its unpredictability is what makes it so special, with a slow build up reaching a crescendo with the final ascents of the Cipressa and Poggio as the punchier climbers try to distance the sprinters before a rip-roaring descent into the finish in San-Remo.

    Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic

    Date: 22nd April 2018 | Distance: 188km | Location: Rutland, UK | 2017 Winner:Dan Fleeman

    We’re very fortunate to have our very own classic right here in Rutland! A UCI-registered event, the CiCLE Classic is arguably the biggest and best one-day race in the UK with the race with, much like their continental counterparts, tough off-road and unpaved sections and repeated punchy climbs that litter Rutland and Leicestershire. Supported by Giant Store Rutland, the race has a great atmosphere and is incredible to see up close – make sure to get a spot in Owston, or visit the Somerberg for the best of the action.

    cicle-clasic

    Women's Races

    While many of the Grand Tour’s lag behind in offering a women’s equivalent, the Spring Classics offer some of the best women’s racing all year and although the men’s races often grab the headlines, you’ll find equal levels of grit, determination and blooming good racing in the women’s World Tour. Strade Bianche, Gent-Wvelgem, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège all feature a women’s race on the same day as the men. Plus, don’t forget the women’s CiCLE Classic which takes place around Rutland in July.

    Get geared up for the Classics

    See all the latest pro kit and get geared up for your very own Classics season at your nearest store.

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