The Classics: All you need to know

Cycling’s Classics season provides some of the sport’s most enthralling, action-packed and memorable racing. Here is everything you need to know about them, including the full 2017 schedule:

The famous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. This year's edition takes place on Sunday 9th April (Photo: Getty Images)

What are the Classics?

The Classics are one-day races held predominantly in Europe, although there are a handful that take place elsewhere around the world.

When do they take place?

The first Classic of the year is held in January and the last in October, but the majority take place in the core Classics season in the European spring. 

Types of Classics

The Classics vary in both prestige and the nature of their course. The five most prestigious Classics are known as the 'Monuments'. In order of when they take place, they are: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia.

In terms of courses, the Classics can be placed roughly into three groups:

  • Cobbled Classics. As the name suggests, these take place on courses containing sections of cobbled road, known as pavé. Some cobbled Classics contain only a handful of kilometres of pavé, but others have more than 50km. The pavé varies in difficulty, from modern and relatively smooth cobbles to centuries-old surfaces more suited to mountain bikes than road bikes. Riders use wider tyres with lower air pressures to minimise the chance of punctures. 
  • Climbers' Classics. These take place on hilly courses that suit traditional climbers or specialists on short and sharp ramps. Three of these races are known as the Ardennes Classics, all taking place in the space of a week at the end of April: the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
  • Sprinters’ Classics. These may include climbs or sections of pavé along the course, but a mostly flat finale ensures they end in sprints.
The peloton tackles a climb during the Amstel Gold Race (Photo: Getty Images)

What makes the Classics special?

Classics are generally the longest races in cycling. While Tour de France stages average around 160km or 170km, the Classics are almost always over 200km and the most prestigious ones cover more than 250km. Milan-Sanremo is the longest and will this year cover 291km, while the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia all weigh in around the 260km mark.

The other major factor that stands the Classics out is the weather. Because the bulk of them take place in March and April, riders regularly have to contend with strong winds, heavy rain, sleet and even snow. The 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo was stopped and restarted 50km later due to snow, while Britain’s Geraint Thomas was blown off his bike during a particularly windy 2015 edition of Gent-Wevelgem. The weather is a factor in other races later elsewhere on the calendar, but nowhere more so than the Classics.

Classics phrasebook

Talk of the Classics comes with some foreign and complicated phraseology. Here are the key terms to get your head around:

Hellingen: The name for climbs used in the Belgian cobbled Classics. They almost always end in “-berg” - and can also be known as “bergs”. Famous examples are the Koppenberg and Paterberg.

Mur: Translating as “wall”, this is the name given to particularly steep climbs. The most famous example is La Fleche Wallonne’s Mur de Huy.

Pavé: The word for cobblestones. 

Puncheur: A rider who flourishes on short but steep climbs. Puncheurs are well suited to the Ardennes Classics.

Rouleur: An all-rounder who can flourish on all types of terrain. Rouleurs tend to do well in the Classics.

2017 schedule

Here is this year's schedule, including insight from Team Sky’s Ian Stannard and Quick-Step Floors’ Dan Martin.

Sunday, January 29: Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
Winner: Nikias Arndt (Ger) Report
Saturday, February 25: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Winner: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Pro Team)
Sunday, February 26: Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
Winner: Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe)
Saturday, March 4: Strade Bianche
Winner: Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
Saturday, March 18: Milan-San Remo
Winner: Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) Report
Wednesday, March 22: Dwars Door Vlaanderen

Winner: Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling)
Friday, March 24: Record Bank E3 Harelbeke
Winner: Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team)
Sunday, March 26: Gent-Wevelgem
Winner: Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team)
Sunday, April 2: Tour of Flanders
Winner: Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling Team)
Wednesday, April 5: Scheldeprijs
Winner: Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling)
Sunday, April 9: Paris-Roubaix
Winner: Greg van Avermaet
Sunday, April 16: Amstel Gold Race
Winner: Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling Team)

Wednesday, April 19: La Flèche Wallonne

Type of Classic: Ardennes Classic.
Country: Belgium. 
Distance: 200.5km.
Status: UCI WorldTour.
2016 winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team).

Martin says: “La Fleche Wallonne sometimes takes a lot of criticism because everyone waits for the last climb, the Mur de Huy, but that’s what I really like about it, that suspense. It’s always a dangerous race because of the fight for position leading on to Mur de Huy. The atmosphere is second to none. The finish line is right at the top, so winning comes down as much to timing and judgement as it does good legs. The climb is just over 1.2km long and you can’t afford to start your sprint too early; you have to be experienced and patient.”

Sunday, April 23: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Type of Classic: Ardennes Classic. Fourth Monument.
Country: Belgium. 
Distance: 258km.
Status: UCI WorldTour.
2016 winner: Wout Poels (Team Sky)

Martin says: “Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a war of attrition. It’s an incredibly hard course. There are officially only about 11 climbs, but in reality there are more like 30 to 35 - it’s an unreal amount of climbing. You learn from experience that you have to be at the front at the critical times. Tactics play a big part and it’s a real waiting game. It’s sometimes referred to as the climbers’ world championship and to be on the list of winners is something special. It brings out the best in you.”

Monday, May 1: Eschborn-Frankfurt

Type of Classic: Sprinters’ Classic.
Country: Germany. 
Distance: TBC.
Status: UCI WorldTour.
2016 winner: Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha).

Saturday, July 29: Clasica San Sebastian

Type of Classic: Climbers’ Classic.
Country: Spain. 
Distance: TBC.
Status: UCI WorldTour.
2016 winner: Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).

Sunday, July 30: RideLondon-Surrey Classic

Type of Classic: Sprinters’ Classic.
Country: England. 
Distance: TBC.
Status: UCI WorldTour.
2016 winner: Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling).

Stannard says: “Starting and finishing in London is pretty special and the tight and twisty roads in Surrey, to the south of London, are pretty fun to ride on. In the past, it hasn’t been in the WorldTour and so it has been hard to control, which means breakaways have a good chance of staying away. But now it’s in the WorldTour, with all 18 WorldTour teams and bigger squads, it will be easier to control and it should finish in bunch sprints from now on.”

Don't go without ...
Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2016 (Getty)

Sunday, August 20: Cyclassics Hamburg

Type of Classic: Sprinters’ Classic.

Country: Germany. 

Distance: TBC.

Status: UCI WorldTour.

2016 winner: Caleb Ewan (Aus).

Stannard says: “This race finishes with a handful of laps in Hamburg. There is a steep climb on the circuit, but there is 10km of flat to the finish. A breakaway usually goes off the front on the climb, but the sprinters’ teams normally bring them back to set up a bunch finish.”

Sunday, August 27: Bretagne Classic - Ouest France

Type of Classic: Sprinters’ Classic.

Country: France. 

Distance: TBC.

Status: UCI WorldTour.

2016 winner: Oliver Naesen (Bel).

Friday, September 8: Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec

Type of Classic: All-rounders’ Classic.

Country: Canada. 

Distance: TBC.

Status: UCI WorldTour.

2016 winner: Peter Sagan (Svk).

Sunday, September 10: Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal

Type of Classic: All-rounders’ Classic.

Country: Canada. 

Distance: TBC.

Status: UCI WorldTour.

2016 winner: Greg Van Avermaet (Bel).

Saturday, October 7: Il Lombardia

Type of Classic: Climbers’ Classic. Fifth Monument.

Country: Italy. 

Distance: TBC.

Status: UCI WorldTour.

2016 winner: Esteban Chaves (Col).

Martin says: “Lombardia is a beautiful race. There isn’t as much history to it as the Ardennes Classics because the route is always changing, but it’s always a huge challenge and it has the prestige of being a Monument. It is held early in the autumn and is known as the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’, so the weather can play a big part. There are a lot of technical downhills and steep climbs, so if it is wet, it can be really tricky.”