All you need to know about Ardennes Classics

The cobbles might have gone for another year, but that doesn’t mean the Spring Classics are over – far from it.

The Ardennes Classics are a trio of one-day races which start with the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday 17th April. La Flèche Wallonne follows on Wednesday 20th April and Liège-Bastogne-Liège rounds them off on Sunday 24th April. Here, we’ll aim to answer some of the questions you might have about them, and to point out what makes them so special:

Why are these races called the Ardennes Classics when they don’t all take place in the Ardennes?

La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège do take place in the Ardennes region, which is mostly located in the predominantly-French speaking part of Belgium known as Wallonia. The Amstel Gold Race starts and finishes over the border in Holland, but the route does briefly take the riders back into Belgium. Put simply, these races share the same characteristics, and their proximity in the cycling calendar means it’s convenient to group them together.

What are the main characteristics of the Ardennes Classics?

While the Cobbled Classics are defined by their punishing pavé, the Ardennes Classics are far hillier affairs, more suited to climbers. This year’s Amstel Gold Race for instance, features 34 short, sharp climbs, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège is seen by some as the toughest one-day race of the season due to its length and barrage of brutal late ascents.

Should I be looking out for any notable climbs?

The Cauberg (1.5km at 5.8%) is pivotal in the Amstel Gold Race and riders have to tackle it a four times in total. The race used to end at its summit, but the finish was pushed back 1.8km for the 2012 World Championships and the course has remained the same ever since. The move has given the race a different dimension – favouring riders who are able to manage their effort on the climb before pressing home their advantage on a flat run to the line.

La Flèche Wallonne takes the riders up the fearsome Mur de Huy (1.3km at 9.3%) on three occasions, and the last ascent leads directly to the finish. Maxing out at a gradient of 26%, it is one of cycling’s most notorious climbs, and the final sprint to the summit is one of the sport’s great spectacles.

At Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Côte de Saint Roche (800m at 12%) always provides amazing photos, but it has traditionally been the Côte de Redoute (2.1km at 8.4%) and Côte de Saint Nicolas (1km at 11.1%) that sort the men from the boys before the final ramp to the finish.  This year though the organsiers have included the cobbled Côte de la Rue Naniot (550m at 10.5%) in the last 2.5km which could give the race a whole new outcome.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the fourth Monument of the season after Milan San-Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Known as ‘La Doyenne’, meaning ‘the oldest’, it dates back to 1892 and it brings the curtain down on the Spring Classics.

Who is likely to take one of the three titles?

Michal Kwiatkowski won the Amstel Gold Race last year racing for Etixx – Quick-Step, and he has previously made the podium at both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (both in 2014). Philippe Gilbert won all three races in 2011 and will be looking to add to that tally in 2016, while Alejandro Valverde is the most successful rider of the current era. He has notched up seven Ardennes Classics wins so far and claimed the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège titles last season. In truth, these races are among the most unpredictable on the calendar though, and that’s what makes them so special.