The Cobbled Classics come to a crescendo at Paris-Roubaix. The pre-race hype, the in-race drama, it’s a tough act to follow.
Enter the Ardennes Classics.
The hillier cousins to the cobbled classics, the Ardennes are comprised of three one-day races: Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The first is wholly Dutch, set in the hills of Limburg rather than the neighboring Ardennes, the latter two take place in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonie region.
“The Cobbled Classics are like cheap thrills, where the action comes quickly, where there’s something happening every five seconds, from the left and right,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling sport director Tom Southam. “The Ardennes are more of a slow burn. It’s a real wearing-down process.”
The Ardennes Classics attract the light-weight one-day specialists, including riders that typically excel as general contenders in the longer stage races. While the races lack high mountains, the non-stop undulation favors those who like to climb.
“For the lighter guys, the Classics are just starting”
“For the lighter guys the Classics are just starting over these next three races for them,” Southam says. “These are the riders who over the last few weeks have been lining up at stage races such as Volta a Catalunya and Pais Vasco, meaning they have to be sharp to adjust to the one-day race mentality.
“There’s a bit of a shift,” Southam explains. “They have to get their one-day heads on, not so much , he was good the other day [Brabantse Pijl], it probably was quite hard for him to stay concentrated over the last couple of weeks. But he seems to have done a good job on that, which is good. The boys are confident, they are in good shape.” Alberto [Bettiol]
Bettiol enjoys pre-race favorite status at Amstel Gold, earned after his glorious win at the Tour of Flanders two weeks prior. He is only one of the cards EF Education First Pro Cycling has to play in the Ardennes.
“Amstel God is a race where a few things could happen in the final and having the strategic advantage of multiple riders in a very select group in the finish is important,” Southam says. “It’s only the second year of the new finish and the race was a different race previously. It can be quite hard to pick because there are a lot of guys who can be good.”
The race now doesn’t include the uphill finish on the Cauberg but rather the last climb is the Bemelerberg with the wirey, narrow roads down a descent and then a flat run-in into the finish at Vilt-Valkenberg. The Cauberg still features. It will still appear three times during the race along with the Geulhemmerberg.
In total the peloton will tackle an eye-watering 35 hills, with some, such as the Keuterberg, that crank the gradient up to a leg bursting 22%. Although these races lack the energy sapping cobblestones of their race predecessors, don’t be fooled into thinking they are easy.
As the 54th edition starts in Maastricht and will cover 265.7km of twisting narrow roads the Limburg and Ardennes are infamous for, there won’t be a single rider at the finish who won’t be feeling the Ardennes effect in their legs. Try telling them that they have it easy compared to racing the cobbled Classics.
Our Amstel Gold Race Team