Spring Classics: A race-by-race guide

The arrival of spring across Europe heralds the start of the annual series of tough and lengthy one-day “Classics” – races which pit riders against uneven roads and unpredictable weather.

From a near-300km race across northern Italy, to the mud and cobbles of northern France and the oldest of all in Belgium, the seven Spring Classics are among the hardest races a professional cyclist will face.

Even the riders have hard-man nicknames – where else will you find Spartacus taking on the Terminator?

Spartacus, or Fabian Cancellara, underlined his status as a one-day specialist by winning two races last year, taking his overall tally to six, with six more top-three finishes.

But the 33-year-old has competition from young pretender Peter Sagan – the Terminator. The 24-year-old Slovakian won one race and finished second in two others in 2013.

Belgian Tom Boonen, 33, is another with pedigree – seven wins and 12 podium finishes mark him out as one to watch this spring.

Geraint Thomas is one of the riders leading the Team Sky challenge over the next six weeks, having switched his attention to the road after

winning a second Olympic gold on the track

in the team pursuit at London 2012.

Milan-San Remo – Sunday, 23 March

Alexander Kristoff

won a sprint finish

ahead of Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Britain’s Ben Swift to claim the biggest victory of his career.

“It’s amazing,” said Swift. “I only found out I was doing San Remo two weeks ago. I felt good all day. It’s just a shame that I got a bit boxed in in the sprint.”

Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory in the 2009 race

but he could not repeat the achievement as he just came up short in the final metres, crossing the line in fifth place.

Gent-Wevelgem – Sunday, 30 March

Peter Sagan winning Gent-Wevelgem in 2013

Peter Sagan celebrated his 2013 victory in fine style

The first of the spring “cobbled classics”, Gent-Wevelgem was first contested by juniors in 1934. When racing began again after the Second World War, professionals were allowed to compete.

Another predominantly flat race, the approximately 200km (124 miles) route is famed for the cobbled Kemmelberg, which can be treacherous in wet conditions and is climbed and descended twice.

Britain’s solitary winner is Barry Hoban in 1974, although Lizzie Armitstead became the first winner of the women’s version of the race in 2012.


Riders to be confirmed closer to the race but expected: David Millar (Garmin), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Mark Cavendish (OPQS), Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas (all Team Sky).

Look out for: Tom Boonen

– Belgian bidding to become the first rider to win the race four times – he won in 2004, 2011 and 2012)

Last year’s race:

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan

had time to pull a wheelie as he crossed the line

23 seconds clear of second-placed Slovenian Borut Bozic. The Cannondale rider had broken clear in the final 3km.

Geraint Thomas says:

“To use an analogy, you’ve only got a few bullets in a race and you’ve only got a few times where you can fire those bullets. The better riders have more of both so they can make a mistake but when you are limited you only have one or two big efforts in you.

“It is about making those count and hopefully you get a bit of luck along the way and who knows what can happen.

“San Remo and Wevelgem are more suited to the sprinters. The Flanders races are the ones where I will probably get more of a leadership role and look to really get a result there.”

Tour of Flanders – Sunday, 6 April

Fabian Cancellara

Cancellara takes on the cobbles on his way to a second win in the Tour of Flanders

The most important cycling race in the Belgian region of Flanders is celebrating its 101st anniversary – although this will be the 98th staging of the race as it was halted for World War I. Tom Simpson’s 1961 victory remains Britain’s only triumph.

The second of the season’s monument races, the approximately 255km (158.45 miles) race, which starts on the outskirts of Bruges and heads to Oudenaarde, features 17 short climbs and 17 cobbled sections with the notoriously difficult Koppenberg among them.


Final line-up to be confirmed.

Look out for: Fabian Cancellara

– the Swiss rider, nicknamed Spartacus, loves one-day racing and was triumphant in 2013, to add to his

victory in 2010.

Last year’s race:

Cancellara made a break on the final climb of the day to

win by one minute and 26 seconds

from Sagan. Belgium’s Tom Boonen, one of the pre-race favourites, crashed early on, bringing a premature end to his spring season.

Thomas says:

“This is my favourite race and probably the one classic that is suited to me the best.

“I think I can figure at the finish – I was 10th three years ago and definitely feel I am a lot better now. So, if I can get a bit of luck and ride it well, I have got a good chance.

“Hopefully tactically as a team we can ride it well and I think we have learned a lot from last year.”

Paris-Roubaix – Sunday, 13 April

Tom Boonen

Boonen tackles an off-road section on his way to a record-equalling fourth victory in the Paris-Roubaix

Known as the Queen of the Classics or the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix was first raced in 1896 and this is the 112th edition.

The weather, cobbles and mud in northern France often combine to make this one of the toughest one-day races. It is 257km (159.69 miles) long and will feature 51.1km of cobbled roads, split into 28 sections, before the traditional finish in the open-air velodrome in Roubaix.

Those with Tour de France aspirations will be paying close attention, with nine of the sections – totalling 15.4km – featuring in stage five of the three-week race in July.


Final line-up to be confirmed.

Look out for: Tom Boonen

– the Belgian is chasing a record fifth win in 10 years.

Last year’s race:

Fabian Cancellara

won for a third time

after a classic track sprint in the Roubaix velodrome

Thomas says:

“I am definitely looking forward to this one! This is one of those races I have grown up watching on the TV – you see the riders covered in dirt and it is a hard man’s sort of race. I can’t wait for it.

“The key thing in these races is actually having numbers and being strong in a team and having a few options.

“I have said since the start of the year that I am happy to ride for Ian Stannard or whoever the leader is there.

“The main thing with the Classics (in the later races) is having the numbers anyway, and having options. So as long as there are a few of us always up there in the final few km then we have a lot better chance of doing something.”

Amstel Gold – Saturday, 19 April

The first of the season’s Ardennes Classics, the race is run in the southern Netherlands province of Limburg and has been on the calendar since 1966.

Philippe Gilbert

Gilbert winning the 2012 world road race title atop the Cauberg

It is a tough course of around 251km (155.96 miles) which starts in Maastricht and finishes in Valkenberg after taking in 33 climbs, which together make up more than 4,000m of climbing, with some gradients reaching 20% in places – thus it favours riders who are adept at ascending.


Final line-up to be confirmed.

Look out for: Philippe Gilbert

– the 2010 and 2011 victor won the 2012 world road race title which finished, like the Amstel, atop the Cauberg – an 800m climb with an average gradient of 12%.

Last year’s race:

Roman Kreuziger surprised even himself as he became

the first Czech rider to win the Amstel Gold

by 22 seconds from Alejandro Valverde.

Thomas says:

“This race will see a completely different line-up for Team Sky. If I am involved, I will be purely riding for the team

“Maybe one of us will ride Amstel but after Roubaix most of us are having a break for a week or so, where we are completely off the bike before the build-up starts towards the Tour de France.”

La Fleche Wallonne – Wednesday, 23 April

Usually held in midweek, between the Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, La Fleche Wallone started life in 1936.

La Fleche Wallone winners

Four riders have won the race three times. Belgians
Marcel Kint

(1943-45) and
Eddy Merckx

(1967, 70, 72) and Italians
Moreno Argentin

(1990, 91, 94) and
Davide Rebellin

(2004, 07, 09)

Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the

Battle of the Bulge,

this year’s race will start in the south Wallonia town of Bastogne. It will finish, as it has done since 1983, atop the Mur de Huy – an ascent which features gradients of 25%.


Final line-up to be confirmed.

Look out for: Carlos Betancur

– the Colombian won the recent Paris-Nice stage race so is in excellent form and finished third in 2013.

Last year’s race:

Spain’s Daniel Moreno had the strongest legs on the ascent of the Mur de Huy.

Team Sky’s British rider Josh Edmondson was prominent on the final climb and his efforts helped his Colombian team-mate Sergio Henao to finish second, three seconds adrift of Moreno.

Thomas says:

“We are always looking to win and every race we go into we have a best plan to at least have a chance of doing that.

“Second place for Henao was great and the main drive and pressure is what we put on ourselves, so we all just want to do ourselves justice.”

Liege-Bastogne-Liege – Sunday, 27 April

The oldest of the one-day races and final Spring Classic is celebrating its 100th edition in 2014. It began in 1892, like many races of its time, to help promote a newspaper.

The toughest of classics

Snow fell during the 1980 race and conditions were so cold that it took three weeks until winner Bernard Hinault was able to move the index and middle fingers on his right hand

Often regarded as the toughest of the classics, the race packs the majority of its climbs into the final 100km of its 263km (163.42 miles) route.


Final line-up to be confirmed.

Look out for: Alejandro Valverde

– the Spaniard has been in excellent form since returning in 2012 from a doping ban and had six top-10 finishes in one-day races last year, including third at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He has won the race twice before, in 2006 and 2008, and was second in 2007.

Last year’s race:

Ireland’s Dan Martin

won in 2013

after jumping clear of the field on the final bend to win by three seconds from Spanish duo Joaquim Rodriguez and Valverde.

Team Sky’s Chris Froome was the best-placed British rider in 36th, one minute and 14 seconds adrift of Martin.

Thomas says:

“There are definitely certain places on the route where you know you have to be at the front, but everyone else knows that too, so there are big races into those sections.

“That is maybe something people back home don’t necessarily see. They just see the finish but a lot of work is involved to get into a position where you can win.

“The way last year went [for Team Sky in the classics] we are all keen to put that right and make amends. We are all motivated, that is for sure.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/26663953

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