There’s really nothing quite like being a cycling fan during the Spring Classics. They might not command the same extended attention as the three-week Grand Tours of summer, but the races across Italy, France, and Belgium during March and April are pure cycling in all its gritty glory.
Each race covers 250 to 300+ kilometers, and beyond the distances, these are the races for the hard men and women of cycling. These are the days for riders who shine in the foulest conditions, on the toughest parcours, over hundreds of kilometers of brutal terrain. These are for the classiest riders who smile at inclement weather and embrace the battering from riding all-out segments over cobbles. These are the riders who achieve cycling greatness with heroic efforts on the bike. As we sit home cozy, watching the spectacle, these are the riders that, deep down, we aspire to be.
Each spring, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège bring out the best performances in the best riders across the globe. Each race offers just one day for glory. A single event that can change a career. Racing is aggressive. It's unpredictable. It is spectacular to experience. These races are nothing short of monumental.
Here's a quick primer on the four biggest one-day races of the Spring Classics season
March 18, 2023
La Classicissima has been called the easiest Monument to finish but the hardest to win. Easiest is, of course, a relative term for those of us (most of us) who squirm at the thought of pedaling over 300 kilometers in a single seven-hour sitting. Although it's the longest one-day race on the WorldTour calendar, that's not what makes it so spectacular.
The race is often defined by the ultimate climb on the route, the Poggio, whose 162 meters of elevation produce a coordinated explosion of power from the contenders. But it's not always the riders who reach the top who win. Those who can scream down the serpentine descent toward the finish along the Via Roma often come out on top.
Though it’s been hailed as a sprinter’s classic, the Poggio delivers a spectacular finale year after year, producing winners that range from grand tour champions to Classics strongmen to the fastest fast men. While the people and styles of wins have varied over the years, the Poggio and how riders attack it have proven to be the deciding factor over the decades.
The Tour of Flanders
East Flanders, Belgium
April 2, 2023
For over a century, the Tour of Flanders has turned the rather ordinary farm lanes of Northwest Belgium into some of the most extraordinary and celebrated roads in the cycling universe. Hundreds of thousands of fans pack the farm lanes and punchy hills of the Flemish Ardennes, the steep lumps and ridgelines that surround the Schelde River Valley.
The names of the bergs have become burned into cycling lore, the Koppenberg, the Oude Kwaremont, and the final climb, the Paterberg, that has decided so many of the 104 editions for the men and 20 editions for the women.
Though many of the climbs are less than a kilometer long, the gradients reach brutal double digits like the 19 percent slopes of the Koppenberg (aka the Bump of Melden) that, in wet years, can leave the pros walking. It's the relentless succession of climbs and the constant pace driven by the contenders, up until the final sprint on the outskirts of Oudenaarde, that make this one of the most exciting days of the year.
April 9, 2023
This year marks the 1200th edition of The Hell of the North, one of the most recognizable Classics thanks to its iconic route over the treacherous cobbles of Hauts-de-France. It’s also the third year that women have had a chance to write their own lore into the cycling history books.
Roubaix is consistently a race for the strong and burly, who can endure a hammering by the rough roads and a blasting by incessant crosswinds while maintaining composure and balance. If it rains, boy, if it rains, the race enters the realm of epic. Fabled sectors of cobbles like the Trouée d'Arenberg and Carrefour de l'Arbre become slimy with muck and produce some of the grittiest spectacles in all of cycling.
Nearly 20 sectors of cobbles whittle down the field until a select group often sprints for glory around the old velodrome in Roubaix. The second Sunday in April always delivers classic performances, unlikely heroes, and champions tough enough to conquer the cobbles.
The Tour de France in recent years has taken to including a Roubaix style day, much to the chagrin of the GC men, while at the same time, to the delight of crowds worldwide who are treated to an encore of the Spring Classics in the height of summer.
April 23, 2023
La Doyenne (we're in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium now) is the final Monument of the Spring Classics season and the oldest on the calendar–the first men's edition took place in 1892, and this year will mark the sixth edition for the women.
It’s a classic, undulating day for those lithe riders who have been battered and beaten through cobbled Classics. This is one for the climbers, whose time has come to finally shine in the spring. The mountains of southeast Belgium tower over their eponymous Flemish counterparts, with slopes tailored for the spry men and women who thrive on days with hard, extended ascents.
While the Ardennes are no Alps, a number of the ten classified climbs are just long enough at over five kilometers and packed together tight enough that the fast men and women generally fall out of contention somewhere amongst the pine trees and small villages. This leaves those who have mastered the art of the ascent, with some extra punch thrown in for good measure, to fight it out on the final climb and descent before sprinting into the heart of Liège. Liège–Bastogne–Liègetraditionally marks the end of the Spring Classics season, a fitting transition into the Grand Tours and high climbs that begin with the Giro in May.