Every year, from mid-March to late-April, the sport of cycling enjoys an annual celebration — a period of racing that many feel is the most exciting time of the year.
The spring classics are bicycle racing distilled to its essence — one day, impossibly hard, winner takes all. Absent is the tactical game of a stage race, the predictability of a field sprint, or the measured science of a time trial. If a stage race is a chess match on wheels, spring classics play out more like a bar brawl, where punches are thrown wildly, and often the winner is the last man standing. The spring classics are races that open the season, excite the imagination, and define a career.
Each spring classic has its own personality. Milano-Sanremo, long known as the sprinter’s classic, is the longest, at 300km, and the hardest to predict; it is also so very, very Italian. Gent-Wevelgem is the most dangerous, a tense journey out to Belgium’s windswept North Sea coast, and back, through cobblestone hills. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is the most hallowed, with roughly one million passionate spectators lining the cobblestone course, waving flags, drinking beer, and cheering on the true Flandriens of the peloton. Paris-Roubaix is the most brutal, a race where luck, strength, and determination are needed in equal measure, and perhaps the only race on the calendar to consistently see the hardest men in the sport reduced to tears. The Amstel Gold Race, which began in 1966 as a tour of Amstel breweries, is the most nervous, twisty and narrow, seemingly devoid of even one flat, straight kilometer out of 250km delivered, with more short, steep climbs than seems possible. La Flèche Wallone is the most straightforward, with its three trips over the Mur du Huy, the final ascent doubling as the longest kilometer in pro cycling; it’s also known as the climber’s world championship. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest, and probably the most physically demanding, punctuated with a never-ending string of long, steep climbs that turn the final hour of racing into a true war of attrition.
Each spring classic has its own character, and its own specific kind of rider, but they all share one common element — difficulty. With their long distances, unpredictable weather, cobblestones and hills, and fierce competition, no rider wins a spring classic by chance. They are all far too hard, and too prestigious.
Read much, much more about the races, personalities, and technology of the classics in “The Spring Classics” a new e-book for download today from the iTunes store.