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Why the Classics are so special

Bradley Wiggins, Paris Roubaix 2015 riding a Pinarello Dogma K8-S

The Classics are coming, and Cyclist has taken a look at what to expect in the first races. Time to get excited

The Classics, along with the Grand Tours and possibly the UCI World Championships, are an undisputable pillar of the sport, and almost as old as bicycle racing itself.

Following pioneering events such as Paris-Rouen in 1869 and Paris-Brest-Paris in 1890, the first race that we would now recognise as a 'Classic' came in 1892, when a primitive version of Liege-Bastogne-Liege was held in Belgium.

The so-called 'Queen of the Classics', Paris-Roubaix, soon followed with its inauguration in 1896, before Italy's Il Lombardia and Milan-San Remo 1905 and 1907 respectively.

In 1913 the Tour of Flanders was held for the first time, and with it came the completion of a quintet of races that would come to be known as 'Monuments', and form the backbone of the Classics at large.

The best time of the racing year

Paris Roubaix corner

The nature of a Classic can be as varied as their locations throughout Europe, from the cobbled, wintry iterations of Flanders and Nord-Pas de Calais, to the steep pitches of the Ardennes and the sun-kissed climbs of Italy.

This of course means that the full spectrum of riders are able to have their shot at winning a Monument too, from the 80kg powerhouses to the purest of climbers, and everyone in between.

the Classics also draw some of the biggest, rowdiest crowds

The races are fast paced and action-packed compared to stage racing, and the one day nature of them, where one wrong decision can spell game over, means that they lie on a tactical knife edge.

Fans thrive on such drama, which unsurprisingly means that the Classics also draw some of the biggest, rowdiest, most passionate crowds of the entire professional calendar, and it's these combined aspects of theatre that make them so appealing.

 

Semi-Classics

Liege Bastogne Liege

Interspersed between the Monuments, often as as appetite-whetting, tension building precursors, are Semi-Classics.

These events don't hold as much prestige, difficulty or length as the Monuments, but most sit along side their elders on the UCI WorldTour, and are often used by riders as part of their build up towards a major event.

Races like the Classics opening weekend's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne are two such examples, with E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem being similar cobbled equivalents.

Fleche Wallone and the Amstel Gold Race then serve a similar purpose during an action packed week in the Ardennes, before the recognised Classics season is drawn to a close at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in late April.

Between all of these are certain outliers - often newbies - like the gravelled Strade Bianche in Italy, or even the lesser-known Tro Bro Leon in Brittany, which due to their novelty road surfaces and old-age feel are becoming more and more recognisable as 'Classics' with every passing year.

Other WorldTour events such as the GP Plouay in France, or the GP Montreal and GP Quebec in Canada, offer a similar format and style of race, but to see the fabled 'C' word included in the same sentence as these is nonetheless a rarity: Such is the often unexplainable, emotionally-driven sphere of world cycling.  

Paris Roubaix

But the excitement begins soon, in Belgium, with the 2018 editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. This year the races will take place on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th February, respectively.

The couplet is recognised as the traditional start of the European season after the pros return from their warm weather excursions into Australia, South America and the Arabian Peninsula during the build up months.

Significantly, it also acts as the first flirtation with cobblestones of the year too. 

Although the more serious affairs of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are still some weeks away, preparation for such events will have begun months ago for the riders targeting them, and the Omloop-Kuurne weekend will form a major part of their build up both physically and mentally.

The races are a way for riders to gauge where they are physically compared to their competitors, and also allows for a gradual re-introduction to the mayhem of cobbled racing before the pressure is really turned on later in the Spring.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - formerly known as Het Volk before the name-giving newspaper changed its moniker - is a lumpier affair, containing many of the most infamous and decisive climbs in Flanders.

There are 13 climbs on the route, the last of which comes 30km from the finish in Gent, but a couple of flat cobbled sectors on the run in usually prove decisive.

If previous editions on similar parcours are anything to go by, we can expect a reduced group - or groups - to enter the finale still in contention, but just how reduced will likely depend on conditions on the day, which at this time of year can be changeable at best. 

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is held the next day, and follows a loop out of the nondescript suburb of Kortrijk through the same hills - known as the Vlaamse Ardennen, or Flemish Ardennes - as OHN, or any other Flandrian classic for that matter.

However with only 11 climbs, and the last of these coming with 50 undulating kilometres left to race, it has been notoriously difficult for any attacking moves to stick enough to stop a bunch sprint from deciding the winner.

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