So I’ll admit, getting up for work on Monday morning wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs but the payoff was worth it. You cannot beat a trip to cycling’s Mecca, Belgium, for a festival of bikes and beer.
The Spring Classics are a series of one day professional races that are an assortment of tough, hilly, cobbled, rainy, snowy, hot, dusty, muddy, unfeasibly long and epic (or all of the above). Think Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallone or Paris Roubaix. The best thing is, fantastically well organised sportives happen the day before giving thousands of amateur cyclists from across the world the opportunity cycle the same route. I spent the weekend at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and there are plenty of reasons why a spring classics sportive should be on your calendar for 2018.
First off is the very fact that you get to ride the same course as the pro peloton. This puts things entirely into perspective. While the pros are busy tapping out 270km in 6.5 hours, it takes the sportivers at least double that. You also really get a sense of how easy they
manage to make it look. Effortlessly spinning up a 20% climb rather than grinding up, gritting your teeth and nearly coming to a standstill. Cycling in the Ardennes is as hard, yet enjoyable, as they say it is. An amazing place to ride for a week of you want to get fit!
You also get a fantastic taste of the conditions and atmosphere along the route. Campervans already lined the climbs while inebriated Dutch people pumped out dance music and boogied to our pain faces. The weather was also pleasingly cold and wet. Perfect Classics conditions that gave way to endless tales of how near hypothermic we got at 50km and how much the sideways rain hurt. Of course, all while secretly relishing in the experience.
Being out in Europe for the weekend also means you can watch the pros the day after. There is something quite fun about the build up to watching them come flying by or being part of the pomp and ceremony at the start. Having ridden the course yourself, you feel that extra bit aligned to the race. This year, Liege-Bastogne-Liege was particularly special as it was the first ever time a women’s race has also been held.
Did I mention the beer? Post-ride beer, carbo loading beer, recovery beer, rehydration beer, pre-event beer, get me back to the hotel from event HQ beer… There are plenty of opportunities to sample Belgium’s second love. Obviously not all spring classics are in Belgium, but you can quite easily delete as appropriate for the local tipple. The recovery waffles, ice cream, crepes, chips and mayonnaise also go down fairly well.
Even without the cycling, it is a great excuse for a weekend with friends, a road trip and stories to tell for the next year. The friend who turned up in shorts and a short sleeved jersey for 6 degrees and raining or the friend who pulled a turtle on a climb (going so slow they fell over backwards!), giving a push start to a car in the middle of the Eurotunnel, exploding rear mechs and the broom wagon, Kylie’s greatest hits on the motorway (yes, sorry I’m afraid that did happen, who knew she was so unlucky in love, for the entire album!), eating Sven Njis pasta and finding out how many stroop waffles you can carry in a jersey pocket.
All in all, a top weekend. The only question now is which Spring Classic to target next year. Milan-San Remo anyone?