PARIS, April 04, 2014 (AFP) – A profile of the five upcoming Spring
Classics cycle races:
Tour of Flanders
One of the five ‘Monuments’ of the Classics season, the Tour of Flanders
was first conceived in 1913 by Karel Van Wijnendaele, the co-founder of the
sports newspaper ‘Sportwereld’. At that time it was customary for publishers
to organise cycling races to promote their newspaper or magazine. Belgian Paul
Deman was the first winner of a 330km race that began and ended in Gent. This
year’s edition will be considerably shorter at 259.1km, starting in Bruges and
ending in Oudenaarde. Although beginning along the North Sea coast, the route
turns quickly inland and heads for the hilliest part of Flanders along the
southern Belgian frontier with France. The toughest section of the race is the
Koppenberg climb that has been dropped from the route several times due to its
danger and difficulty.
For a race to have two nicknames tells you much about it and the ‘Queen of
the Classics’ is also known as the ‘Hell of the North’. Although still known
as Paris-Roubaix, the race has started in Compiegne, more than 50 miles north
of the French capital, since 1968. What makes this race so brutal and exciting
is the huge amount of cobbled sections. There are 28 such sections in the 2014
edition ranging from 300-metres long to 3.7km and totalling 51.1km of the
257km route. That means more than 50km of potential pitfalls and hazards
ensuring that riders face a challenge of merely staying on their bikes in the
quest to arrive in Roubaix with a hope of victory. German Josef Fischer won
the first edition in 1896.
Amstel Gold Race
The first of the Ardennes Classics, the Amstel Gold Race is the only World
Tour Classic that takes place in the Netherlands. It has been running since
1966 when Frenchman Jean Stablinski was the first victor. It was set up by
Dutch sports promoters Ton Vissers and Herman Krott, who ran a company called
Inter Sport together. The first edition was a disaster as although they
announced a start in Amsterdam and a finish in Maastricht, the organisers
hadn’t taken into account what route the planned 280km race would take. After
differences with the local government, it ended up starting in Breda and
finishing in Meerssen. Nowadays the race takes place in the southernmost
Province of the Netherlands, Limburg, beginning in Maastricht and finishing in
Valkenburg. This year’s race will run for 251km with 33 climbs, including two
ascents of the tough Cauberg (800m long with a 12 percent gradient) which
features 1.8km from the finishing line.
La Fleche Wallonne
The one midweek race of the three Ardennes Classics the ‘Walloon Arrow’ was
another created to boost sales of a newspaper, Les Sports, during the 1930s.
Belgian Philemon Demeersman won the first edition in 1936 but although there
have been 38 Belgian victories, one fewer than all the other countries put
together, there have been only six since 1975. Although this is not considered
one of the ‘Monuments’ it is no less prestigious for that. And despite
covering a ‘mere’ 200km, the gruelling Mur de Huy (Wall of Huy), which is
climbed three times and comprises the finish, is an energy-sapping 1.3km at an
average gradient of 9 percent with some sections up to 25 percent.
The final Ardennes Classic is also the oldest of the five Spring Classics
featured here having begun in 1892 when Leon Houna, a Belgian, was the victor.
In fact, it’s nickname ‘La Doyenne’ literally means ‘The Oldest’. It will be a
special edition as it is the 100th and will last for 263km. As its name
suggests, it is run from Liege to Bastogne, and back again. There was a time
when it and the Fleche Wallonne were run on successive days as ‘Le Weekend
Ardennais’. That is no longer the case and mercifully so for the riders as
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is known for its poor weather and long, steep climbs,
which arrive with increasing regularity towards the end of the race.