The Spring Classics: A Survival Guide
Seeing, riding, and experiencing the Spring Classics is something every true fan counts on his bucket list. Peter Thomson, owner of Thomson Bike Tours, knows how it’s done, and shares some insider tips on how to make the most of this trip to Belgium.
– Special Travel Feature By Peter Thomson of Thomson Bike Tours –
If you love cycling, it’s hard not to love the Classics. The one-day races are full of dramatic action, devious obstacles and heroic feats. The Classics simultaneously demonstrate the beauty and brutality of bike racing. To win a Classic is to be the last survivor and earn your place among the greatest champions of cycling.
At Thomson Bike Tours, we are drawn to the more extreme elements of cycling. We ride huge routes and conquer the biggest mountains we can find. As longtime fans of the Classics, we couldn’t resist the urge to design a trip that would introduce hardcore cyclists to the ruthless pavé, sawtooth course profiles and unforgiving weather of these great races. We designed a true Classics experience, one enjoyed not from the comfort of the couch, but by riding the bone-shaking cobbles, climbing the famous murs, and tossing back beers with zealous fans on the side of the road.
Big Year for the Spring Classics: The 100th Tour of Flanders!
This year marks the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders. That means even more excitement… Expect more festivities, wild crowds, and unbelievable race action. This could be the best Pro race this season as the top contenders are sure to bring their A game for such a ‘monumental’ occasion.
Our Spring Classics Challenge is a 10 day trip that rides 5 Classics courses and watches 2 races live. The adventure starts with live viewing of Flanders and ends with VIP access to the Queen of Classics, aka “The Hell of the North,” Paris-Roubaix. In between, we’ll ride the final 100km of Flanders and the 3 Ardennes Classics: Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallone, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The icing on the cake is lining up for the Offical Paris-Roubaix Gran Fondo- 170km with 28 cobbled sections, the day before the race. This is how Thomson Bike Tours does the Classics.
Last year was our inaugural trip and it was a big success. Now that we’ve conquered the Classics, we can offer advice on how best to survive this quintessential cycling experience.
The Cobbles: Don’t Look Down
Riding the cobbles, more eloquently known as pavé, is the highlight and also the biggest challenge of the Classics. It helps to have the right gear. We ride Bianchi Infinitos that were designed with additional shock absorption for this type of terrain. Tires should be at least 27mm with slightly less pressure. We run a few practice sessions before our big rides so that everyone has the opportunity to adjust. The key is to put it in the big ring, stay loose and charge ahead! When there’s a smooth edge or a patch of asphalt, use it to briefly rest. A good Belgian beer at the end of the ride aids the recovery process.
The Murs: Short and Steep
There are no long climbs in the Classics. These races are famous for their short, steep walls. They are typically 1-2km long and can top out at over 20%. These punchy climbs spike the heart rate and load up the legs. Shift into a small gear, get out of the saddle and know it’s a short-lived pain. There are a lot of these power climbs, so don’t over-gear, you’ll wear out your legs. It’s a thrill to conquer these iconic murs. When you watch the races, you will have a whole new appreciation for their effort!
Our favorite murs are the Cauberg in the Amstel Gold Race, the infamous Mur de Huy from La Fleche Wallone, the Cote de la Redoute and Cote de Saint Nicolas from Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the notorious Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont and Koppenberg from Flanders. In order to get the true Classics experience, we’ll tackle all of them (some several times) on our trip.
Watching the Races: Proper Form
The Spring Classics are renowned for their enthusiastic, cowbell-loving, flag-waving fans. There is a frenetic atmosphere, fueled by good beer and a century-long obsession with the sport. The scene is truly intoxicating. The best viewing is on the mid-race pavé sections and the iconic climbs. Grab a beer, make friends, and edge your way up to the barrier so you can see the haggard riders destroying themselves for monument glory.
On our Spring Classics Challenge, we are going all out. We will watch the 100th Tour of Flanders from the critical, cobbled Paterberg wall. We’re sure to see some fireworks as it’s the final climb, just 13km from the finish. This milestone year will deliver wildly fun crowds and a thrilling race. If you’ve ever thought about going to Flanders, this is the year to do it!
VIP at the Velodrome
Paris-Roubaix has excellent viewing opportunities. Spectators flock to the two most notorious cobbled sections: the Carrefoure de l’Arbre and Troueé d’Arenberg. These are decisive stretches that fully embody the Classics’ atmosphere. The ‘Queen of the Classics’ also has the most spectator-friendly finish. The final 750m charges into the Roubaix Velodrome. This is unique to Paris-Roubaix and a sensational way to celebrate the grand finale.
On our Spring Classics Challenge, our guests will ride the complete course the day before the race, all 170km and 28 cobbled sections, in the Official Paris-Roubaix Gran Fondo. After all that work, we felt that they deserve prime viewing of the race. We’ve arranged for VIP access to the start, middle and finish! That means we’ll have special access to the team paddock at the start of the race before moving to the Troueé d’Arenberg for the punishing pavé, and then finally ending in the Velodrome for the electric final moments and podium ceremony.
The Classics are not for everyone. Their questionable conditions and animated crowds suit a certain type of cycling enthusiast. But…if you are glued to your television or computer on Sundays in the Spring, if you are passionate about cycling and it’s celebrated history, if you are curious about the cobbles, if you love Belgian beer, frites and waffles, or if you are the type of rider who likes to test your limits…the Spring Classics may be for you.
Join the Trip
Thomson Bike Tours Spring Classics Challenge travels through France, the Netherlands and Belgium to ride the courses, catch the live action of the 100th Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and revel in the electric atmosphere of these great one-day races.
10 days, 9 nights. April 2-11, 2016 $4895/person Bianchi Infinito rental bikes available.
• See more info and book your trip at www.thomsonbiketours.com/trips/Spring-Classics