The Spring Classics are upon us and for many cycling fans, these races are often the highlight of the season.  You’ve heard of Le Tour, maybe the Giro and at a push,  La Vuelta but what are the ‘Classics’?

There is no strict definition to a Classic, so I’ll make my own up.  These are one day races, so the riders only have one attempt each year to get into form and win their goal.  The races will generally be between 250-300KM, mostly following routes that can be over a century old.  Some races will go over cobbles and we’re not talking about smooth, well laid stones.  The Classics have seen all weathers; blazing sunshine and high winds, torrential rain and sub-zero snow flurries.  The roads can be covered in mud and riders are unrecognisable at the end of the race, or the roads can be dry, creating clouds of dust that makes breathing difficult and visibility poor.  It’s clichéd, but only the strongest rider making their own luck will win.

” So, sit back and read our mini-guide to the races.  Get some Belgian Beers, frites and mayo on the go and watch some of the most exciting cycle races you’ve never heard of! “


 

19 March – Milan San Remo
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History
La Classicissima‘ is the first major Spring Classic of the season, with a distance of nearly 300KM, the race between Milan and San Remo is the longest one day race of the calendar.  It is the first of the five ‘Monument Classics‘  (Tour of Flanders and Paris – Roubaix, Liege – Bastogne – Liege and the Autumnal Classic, Giro D’Lombardia being the remaining four) and was first raced in 1907.

It’s beauty lies within the race, it is almost too predictable – everyone will attack on the Poggio – but this predictability keeps the riders on their toes and tensions high.  It’s a Sprinter’s Classic but looking at recent editions of the race, the winner can never be predicted and certainly, no-one on the finishing straight should be sidelined, as the peloton found out in 2013 when Gerald Ciolek raised his arms!

” Expect lots of attacks that are doomed to fail and some high speed descending on the Poggio, watch how skillful the riders can descend when victory is at their grasp “


Previous winners
2015 –
John Degenkolb
2014 –
Alexander Kristoff
2013 –
Gerald Ciolek


 

25 March – E3 Harelbeke
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History
A modern classic by cycling standards, it was first raced in 1958 and is dominated by Belgium riders.  Although the name has changed many times in it’s short history, the race still takes in many cobble sections in the Ardennes Region to test the riders.  Due to it’s nature, it is often dubbed as the ‘Little Tour of Flanders’ and is a great indicator of those riders in form.

It is the first of the Cobbled Classics and one that everyone will want to win to show their form and ease the pressure for the following month.  The race takes in 12 significant climbs, including Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg (see Tour of Flanders).  The last climb of the day at 13KM from the finish line is the Tiegemberg, just over 800 metres in distance and reaching 8% in gradient should be the deciding factor on who wins.

” The E3 Harelbeke is the first of the Cobbled Classics and no doubt tensions will be high.  There will be a lot of attention and pressure on the Dutch and Belgium riders to do well after a poor few years, so these will be the one’s to watch out for “

Previous winners
2015 –
Geraint Thomas
2014 –
Peter Sagan
2013 –
Fabian Cancellara


 

27 March – Gent Wevelgem
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History
Two days after the E3, the Gent Wevelgem will no doubt test a few tired legs.  The route is around 250KM and it’s highlight is the Kemmelberg climb, a cobble-stone climb reaching 23%.    The cross winds will play havoc on the peloton in the first 100KM, then the quick successions of nine categorized climbs with narrow and technical descents in the final stages will grind many riders down.

” The unpredictable weather during Spring, strong winds and rain makes this a tough one to win. “

Previous winners
2015 – Luca Paolini
2014 –
John Degenkolb
2013 –
Peter Sagan


 

3 April – Tour of Flanders
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History
A week after the E3 and the Gent Wevelgem, we can start seeing who is in form and this will be a great one to win in 2016.  Affectionately known as ‘De Ronde’ by the locals, 2016 will be the 100th edition of the race.  First raced in 1913, it was customary for newspapers to organise major cycle races and ‘Da Ronde’ was no different.  The race even survived during W.W.II, the 1941 edition was won by a Belgian rider Achiel Buysse.

The highlight of this Classic needs no introduction to seasoned cyclists, the ‘Koppenberg’.  Although it does not climb very high (77 metres), it’s punch in is two form, rough cobbles and a 22% gradient.  On many occasion, it has reduced even the pro-riders to walking up with their bikes and in 1987, one rider’s bike was run over by the commissaire!  It took until 2008 to reinstate this climb back into De Ronde.

After the Koppenberg, the riders will do two circuits, taking in two major climbs each time.  The Oude Kwaremont with 11% gradient (and 19KM from the finish on the last lap) and the Paterberg (20% gradient and 13KM from the finish) will certainly liven up the action.

”  You’ll need to be in the first dozen or so riders on the Koppenberg to get through incident free but it’s not the place to ‘show your cards’.  More than just a few attacks will no doubt happen on the finishing circuit but will it be a solo escapee heading to the finish line  to raise their arms or will a small group of riders battle it out after the final ascent of the Paterberg? “

Previous winners
2015 – John Degenkolb
2014 – 
Fabian Cancellara
2013 – 
Fabian Cancellara


 

10 April – Paris Roubaix
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History
The Queen of all the classics, this race has had everything and a win here will make seal you a contract for the rest of your cycling career!  In recent editions, the race has been completed in sunshine but in previous years, it’s seen mud, rain and even more mud.  Some riders swear that the local farmers plough the fields a few days before the race comes through, just to make the cobbles that little bit more difficult!

Dubbed as Hell of the North, the race takes in 27 cobble sections, some sections smooth, other with pot-holes, some sections as short as 200 metres and some as long as 3.7KM.  The race will generally split on the Trouée d’Arenberg, you certainly won’t win from here, but you can certainly lose it on the tight, rough section through the centre of the Arenberg Forest.  The race wraps up in Roubaix in the town’s open-air velodrome making for a dramatic finish should a solo rider not escape.

As a side note, although often favoured by the Belgian riders and fans alike, you’ll see plenty of Flanders flags along the race, the race doesn’t actually go into Belgium!

If you only watch one Classic, make time for this one…

Previous winners
2015 – John Degenkolb
2014 –
Niki Terpstra
2013 – 
Fabian Cancellara

 


 

17 April – Amstel Gold Race
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History
A modern day, Dutch Classic.  As a Spring Classic, it is relatively fresh, originating in 1966 and during it’s short history, the race has solely been sponsored by Dutch brewing company, Amstel.  The route has been changed many times but it would appear for the near future, the race will start at Maastricht and finish 250KM down the road at Valkenburg (famed for it’s copy of Lourdes Grotto).

As with any Spring Classic, this is a tough race.  The race will climb 34 ‘bergs‘ (hills – who said the Netherlands was flat!), many rising up to 22%.  The last of hour of racing will see the riders complete 8 of those 34 bergs when the pace is at it’s highest.  After four climbs of the Cauberg, the riders will be relieved to see the finish line, but only one will take the top step of the podium.

” A great race that brings out the climbers, perhaps an opportunity to see who has form for the Alpine and Dolomite climbs in the Giro.  I would not put all your money on the climbers though, the last couple of years have seen victories by sprint climbers and World Champions.
Peter Sagan for 2016? “

Previous winners
2015 – Michal Kwiatkowski
2014 –
Philippe Gilbert
2013 –  
Roman Kreuziger


 

20 April – Fleche Wallone
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History
Like a lot of the races pre-WWII, this was originally organised to boost newspaper sales and was run up to distances of 300KM.  La Fleche Wallone used to be the part of the double weekender with Liege Bastone Liege, one of the races on the Saturday and the second race on the Sunday, but in modern day cycling, it’s on the brutal side to run both on the same weekend!  They have even shortened the distance to 200KM, making it one of the shorter distance Classics.

The race starts in a small town of Charleroi and heads East to the direction of Huy.  When the riders get to Huy, they complete three circuits that include the steep ‘Mur de Huy’ (Wall of Huy), where gradients reach 26%!  The clever riders will hold something back on the first two ascents, monitoring the attacks and watching the moves.  Only on the ultimate lap will the winning move happen, but will it be before the climb, on the climb or a late serge for the line??

” The patient rider will wait to attack on the final lap of the Huy but will it be too late?  Will they be able to cover any solo escapees or have they left it too late in the race to play their cards? “

 

Previous winners
2015 – Alejandro Valverde
2014 – 
Alejandro Valverde
2013 –
Daniel Moreno


 

24 April – Liege Bastone Liege
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History
The oldest of the classics, it was first raced in 1892 and the race now covers ~250Km of the steepest hills in Belgium.  Billed as the hardest one day race on the calendar, anyone from a Rouleur to Climber can win this race.  It is, perhaps, the most unpredictable race to bet on.

If the races comes down to a group finish, then the final climb, steep and longer than most riders realise until it’s too late, will soon sort the men from the boys.  Expect to see the Rainbow Jersey ‘mixing it up’ in the final stages, showing the rest of the riders just who is the best.

“It’s the last of the Spring Classics, expect lots of attacks from riders who have yet to see the podium, whilst those who have, will be full of confidence.  One thing for certain, it’s not over until it’s over! “

Previous winners
2015 – Alejandro Valverde
2014 –
Simon Gerrans
2013 –
Dan Martin


 

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