Cycling Travel

The alternative Spring Classics

It’s getting close to that time of year again, the Spring Classics are nearly upon us. After the early season openers in Australia, South America and the sunny bits of Europe, the pro peloton returns to the concrete roads and bleak skies of Northern Europe. For many, it’s the most exciting part of the season, mixing together climbs and cobbles to encourage breathtaking racing.

We all have our favourite spring races. You might be a Flanders or Roubaix kind of person or you might just prefer the demi-classics that build up to those two Monuments. Or maybe the lumpier Ardennes are more your thing? Regardless of your preference, there are plenty of races over the next few months that will fill any cobble shaped void. Here is our guide to the alternative Spring Classics.

 

cycling on cobbles

The one that’s like Flanders – Le Samyn & Le Samyn des Dames (3rd March)

 With 16 sectors of cobbled roads, it’s easy to see why we’ve labelled this one ‘Tour of Flanders lite’ – although it’s in Wallonia so they probably wouldn’t like us saying that. Le Samyn is one of the many demi-classics held midweek so can be easily missed if you’re at work, but it’s definitely worth checking out. The race acts as a building block and form guide for the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), with the likes of Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert and Claude Criquielion all winning in Dour before going on to win the biggest Belgian race of them all. With a tough route, a cobbled uphill finish and plenty of sectors that are not used in any other classic, Le Samyn and Le Samyn des Dames, are refreshing races. Although, if you want to get away from the big races because you’re bored of Deceuninck-QuickStep’s dominance, it’s worth noting riders from that team have won three of the last four editions…

 

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Nice day. 😅🐺🐺🐺 #gpsamyn @deceuninck_quickstepteam #thewolfpack

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Grote prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré (8th March)

 A race where Deceuninck-QuickStep can be avoided is the Grote prijs Jean Pierre Monseré. Contested between UCI ProTeams and Continental teams from the Benelux countries and France, this race is perfect for anyone who might be experiencing withdrawal symptoms following the cyclocross season – past winners include current Belgian national cyclocross champion Laurens Sweeck.

The race follows a circuit around the town of Hooglede and takes in an ascent of a cobbled climb called the Gitsberg, which provokes exciting racing and acts as a launchpad for anyone who wants to win the race. The demi-classic takes its name from former world champion Jean-Pierre Monseré who tragically lost his life in a racing incident in 1971.

 The one that’s like Gent-Wevelgem – Ronde van Drenthe (15th March)

 The Ronde van Drenthe is one of the most exciting one day races on the Women’s WorldTour and can well and truly be described as a monument. The interesting thing about Drenthe is that it totally upstages its male counterpart, held the day before. Drenthe may also boast one of the most unique climbs of the year – the VAM-berg, tackled four times by the men and thrice by the women, is a man-made road on a man-made hill, the result of the landfill site.

With multiple flat cobbled sections that also help to showcase the very best of the women’s peloton, it begs the question why is there not a WWT Paris-Roubaix?

 Danilith Nokere Koerse (18th March)

Another circuit classic, the Danilith Nokere Koerse starts in Deinze, Belgium, before passing through Oudenaarde (the home of the Tour of Flanders) and entering a series of circuits. Looking at the race map for too long will fry your brain as there are three separate circuits in three separate areas, all criss-crossing each other. However, this makes it perfect for spectators as nearly every potentially race-defining section is easily accessible by bike. With a tricky finale, often ending in a bunch sprint over a section of town cobbles, the winner has to be both a powerful and technically astute sprinter. No surprise then that the defending champions this year are Cees Bol and Lorena Wiebes.

 The one that’s like Roubaix – Tro-Bro Léon (19th April)

 If you have never come across this small provincial French race, make 2020 the year you sit down and experience it for the first time. Raced in Brittany, Tro-Bro Léon includes 24 sections of dirt, cobblestones and gravel roads – referred to as Ribinoù – and is essentially Brittany’s answer to Paris-Roubaix (they even call it ‘The Hell of the West’).

 

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#TroBroLeon

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The race is arguably just as beautiful as The Hell of the North – with sunken roads, glorious coastal tracks and thick forests throughout, the scenery is just as epic as the racing. Interestingly, two victors are crowned on the day, the first finisher, naturally, and also the top Breton rider, who instead of a trophy, receives a small piglet. It’s potentially the most bizarre prize in professional cycling.

 

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The best trophy in cycling? @ashleygruber and I think so. #trobroleon

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So, there’s our guide to the alternative Spring Classics. Impress your mates by keeping abreast of these brilliant races and you may just get a glimpse of the next great cycling champion, winning a demi-classic before they step up to the big leagues. Finally, with the many sections of dirt, cobblestones and gravel roads that punctuate these races, it’s not difficult to see why the UCI want to establish a gravel calendar. If it goes ahead, the likes of Tro-Bro Léon, may very well grow in size. This could even include the UK’s very own mini Paris-Roubaix, the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic. Food for thought.

If you are planning your trip out to crush some cobbles, don’t forget to cover yourself with our home/bicycle and travel insurance.