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Cyclosport's Guide to the Sportives of the Spring Classics

by Nick Gregory

From Milan-San Remo to the Ardennes classics of Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, via the climbs of Flanders and the cobbles of Roubaix, Cyclosport guides you through the iconic Spring Classics and their sportive counterparts.

Whilst it's impossible for most football fans to have a kick about at Wembley, or for cricket-lovers to bat at Lords, the sport of cycling affords its most dedicated followers the opportunity to compete on the same ground as the stars. Anyone, with enough determination, can climb the Poggio, tackle the cobbles of Flanders or conquer the velodrome in Roubaix. The Spring Classics provide the unique opportunity to combine riding some of the most famous roads in cycling, with watching the professionals do the same just hours later. 

Flanders
The Lion of Flanders (Image: Khoogheem Flickr)

'La Primavera'

Milan-San Remo sees the flag drop on UCI WorldTour one-day racing in Europe for 2014. 'La Primavera', as it is commonly referred to, has been Britain's most successful of the five 'monuments' of cycling, with wins for two different riders: Tom Simpson, and more recently, Mark Cavendish. Milan-San Remo is also the longest race on the professional calendar at just under 300kms. First run in 1907, the most prolific winner of the race is also the most prolific winner in the entire sport's history: Eddy 'The Cannibal' Merckx, who amassed 7 victories during his imperious career. The longer climbs of the Passo del Turchino and Le Manie traditionally kick off hostilities, but the race is usually decided on the shorter climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio, which come closer to the famous finish on the Ligurian coast.

For 2014 the race organisers have added a new climb, the Pompeiana, which will feature between the Cipressa and the Poggio, and will almost certainly tip the balance of the race in favour of the climbers rather than sprinters. Cavendish has recently announced that he won't be riding next year, but will you be? Although the official Milan-San Remo Gran Fondo takes place on the 8th of June, Cycle Classic Tours offer a weekend package in March that involves riding the final part of the route and watching the professional race the next day. 

MSR
Milan-San Remo (Image: One-Fat-Man Flickr)

Cobbled Classics

First held in 1913, the Tour of Flanders - or 'Ronde van Vlaanderen' to cycling aficionados - is the biggest race in the sport's spiritual home: the rugged and harsh landscape of Flanders. Much like the Tour de France, a newspaper - Sportwereld - created the race. Climbs such as the Koppenberg, Kwaremont, Paterberg and Muur have been immortalised in cycling lore, along with the exploits of those riders who have conquered them. The race even has its own museum, in Oudenaarde, a small town on the race route. 

Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen have dominated the Tour of Flanders in recent years, and both have, on two separate occasions, secured victories in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year. Britain's most successful classics rider, Tom Simpson, is the only one of his countrymen to have stood on the top step of the podium at the race, doing so in 1961 in conditions so severe that the banner over the finish line blew down.

If you fancy taking on both the elements and the cobbles, whilst soaking up the atmosphere amongst Belgium's most passionate fans, the Tour of Flanders Cyclo takes place on Saturday the 5th of April 2014, with the Tour of Flanders proper exploding into action the next day. 

ToF
The cobbles of Flanders

ToF2
Team Sky driving on the front of the bunch (Image: Brendan A Ryan Flickr)

Seven days after Flanders the world's best one-day riders will turn their attention to the 'Queen of the Classics', the 'Hell of the North', the 'Easter Race'; Paris-Roubaix is known by many names, but all of them convey its sense of majesty, mystery and suffering. Passing through the former battlefields of Northern France, the race is renowned for its torturous stretches of cobblestones, or 'pave'. The most infamous of these - such as the Trench of Arenberg and Carrefour de l'Arbre - have ended many riders' hopes of crossing the line first in the iconic Roubaix velodrome. Since 1977, the winner of the race has been presented with a cobblestone trophy. In 2012 the Belguim, Tom Boonen, claimed his fourth cobblestone - drawing him level with compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck as the most successful rider in the race's history.

No Brit has ever won Paris-Roubaix, although it is rumoured that Bradley Wiggins may be hoping to change that on the 13th April 2014. The Paris-Roubaix challenge will be taking place the day before, giving members of the public the chance to tackle routes of 70, 153 or 170kms. The latter will also feature over 50kms of cobbles. This could be your opportunity to be a part of a historic weekend.

PR1
Ian Stannard leads riders across the 'pave' (Image: Brendan A Ryan Flickr)

PR2The infamous Forest of Arenberg (Image: Foto! Flickr)

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Tom Boonen celebrating in the Roubaix velodrome

Many companies run weekend packages to the major one-day races that include entry to the sportive on the Saturday, and guided visits to numerous points along the route to watch the pro race on the Sunday. Some companies, such as Sports Tours International, offer a 10-day 'Cobbled Classics' trip that incorporates riding and watching both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, with a visit to another one-day race - Scheldeprijs - during the week in between. 

Ardennes Classics

After the cobbles of early April, it is the turn of the Ardennes region to take centre stage as the month draws to a close.

With its inaugural edition taking place in 1966, the Amstel Gold Race is a relatively new addition to the classics calendar; however, its rise to prominence as one of the most important one day races in the sport has been swift. The route takes in the Limburg region of Holland, and the race represents the opening act in one of the most exciting weeks on the professional cycling calendar. Past winners have included giants of the sport such as Stablinski, Merckx, Hinault, Museeuw, Zabel and Gilbert. 

This year, the professional Amstel Gold Race will take place on Sunday the 20th of April, so amateurs will have the chance to emulate their heroes 24 hours earlier, on Saturday the 19th, in the Amstel Gold Race 'Tour'. Offering 6 different routes ranging from 65km to the full 250km course, the event suits riders of every ability. 

AG1
Dutch fans line the route at The Amstel Gold Race (Image: Cindy Trossaert Flickr)

AG2
The legendary Cauberg (Image: Bier-Blog.NL Flickr)

La Fleche Wallonne is traditionally held mid-week following the Amstel Gold Race. The race provides a great opportunity for cycling enthusiasts to watch another of the big Spring Classics, and makes a week-long trip to the Ardennes, culminating with Liege-Bastogne-Liege, an extremely appealing proposition. Much like Sports Tours International's 'Cobbled Classics' trip, Go4Cycling run an 'Ardennes Week' that gives members of the public the chance to ride and watch both the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, whilst also taking in a mid-week visit to La Fleche Wallonne.

Known affectionately as 'La Doyenne', Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the oldest Classic of all - having first been held in 1892. It is also the hilliest of all the spring classics, and normally favours a climber - last year, Ireland's Daniel Martin - as opposed to a quick finishing rider. It is a very important race to the people of Belgium, and the nation's dominance of it reflects that.

LBL
Daniel Martin powers to victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Image: Flowizm Flickr)

LBL

The 2.1km, 8.4% Cote de la Redoute is perhaps the race's most famous climb, but if you choose to tackle the monster 276km route option on the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge, it'll be just one of many that will test your legs. In 2014 the sportive takes place on the 26th of April, again, a day before the professionals show us how it's really done.

2014 Professional Spring Classics Dates

23rd March: Milan-San Remo, Italy 
6th April: Tour of Flanders, Belgium
13th April: Paris-Roubaix, France
20th April: Amstel Gold Race, Netherlands
27th April: Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Belgium

For more information on the different trips and packages that are available, please visit the following sites: 

sportstoursinternational.co.uk 
go4cycling.com 
veloclassic.com 
cycleclassictours.com





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