The Spring Classics are among the most iconic races in the calendar, steeped in over 100 years of tradition with tales of legend baring all for his place in cycling history. While most of us are dreaming of summer during the dreary winter months, the classics riders are out, feeding off the grueling terrain and harsh conditions, in battle with the elements as they prepare for their early race season.
The ‘Monuments’ are considered the most-prestigious one-day Classic races on the calendar, kicking off with the enduring Milan – San Remo which covers some 298 km. This year’s edition saw the first African teams participation (MTN Qhubeka), and winner (Gerald Ciolek, all-be-it German) but will undoubtedly be remembered for the severe weather. Heavy snow and sub-zero conditions forced organisers to neutralise the race in Ovada after 112km, with racing resuming in Cogoleto, some 54km nearer to the finish where Ciolek outsprinted pre race favorite Peter Sagan.
Next up the steely Rouleurs headed North to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders where narrow cobbled streets, brutally steep climbs, windswept roads and weather to be reckoned awaited. Known to locals as the “most beautiful” race in the region, the Flandrians are a tough breed invigorated by the prospect of driving rain and mud bathed roads. Riders push themselves and equipment to the edge and beyond in pursuit of glory and perhaps the most bestowed honor in cycling, respect. Cancellara showed the turn of power he’s become synonymous for, as ‘Spartacus’ time-trialled to an emphatic win pulling out more than a minute on pre-race favorite Sagan in the closing kilometers.
The following weekend (7th April) is the infamous Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, or perhaps more rightfully known as the Hell of the North. Considered one of the most demanding races on the calendar it is a true test of rider strength, ability and determination. The race starts just outside of Paris with a somewhat misleading 100km of relatively smooth terrain before hitting the relentless cobbled sections. In the closing stages riders enter the legendary Roubaix Velodrome, often coming down to the wire with podium positions fought out over one and a half laps of the concrete track.
Liège–Bastogne–Liège is the next big monument on the 21st April and is the oldest Classic in the calendar, stemming back 121 years. Cycling’s old lady, or la Doyenne is an out and back route, heading south to Bastogne with the favourites often saving themselves for the return trip back up north where the more testing climbs lie. Unlike the short, sharp bergs of Flanders, the Belgian Ardennes are a more arduous slog- suiting true climbers and Grand Tour contenders alike.
The fifth and final Classics monument is the Giro di Lombardia which is held after the Grand Tours in late September, at a time of year when many are looking towards their post season break. A tough classic known for its longer climbs, including the Ghisallo which has become an iconic symbol of the race, with riders making the pilgrimage up to the church of Madonna del Ghisallo – the patron of cyclists. The routes steep climbs have proved decisive in the season’s final hunt for victory.
The big guns
1) Peter Sagan, Cannondale
2) Fabian Cancellara, RadioShack Leopard Trek
3) Philippe Gilbert, BMC
4) Tom Boonen, Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen, Team Sky
Ones to watch
1) Taylor Phinney, BMC
2) Ian Stannard, Team Sky