Take pain meds with you for after the rides — the Spring Classics are arguably the most grueling one-day cycling events in the world.
Although multiweek stage races like the Tour de France capture the attention of the general public, the eight early-season classics held during March and April of each year are events that determine who the real ‘hard men’ are within the ranks of professional cycling.
These early season single-day races are held on brutally long 155-165 mile routes through Europe’s narrowest, most difficult country roads with sections of rough cobblestone pavement, mud, dust and unrelenting short steep hills on some routes.
The long race distances mean that cyclists will be in the saddle racing for 6-7 hours in unpredictable spring weather that may range from dry, dusty and windy to rain, cold, sleet and snow.
Although these races are for top-level professional cyclists, thousands of amateur riders test themselves each year by riding tours over the routes the day before actual races.
One of the most challenging of the eight spring classic races, Paris-Roubaix, will take place on April 12 this year. This 157-mile race, sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Classics or the Hell of the North, was first held in 1896 and is considered to be the hardest ‘cobblestone classic’ because of the 27 sections of cobbled roads (32 miles total) included in the route.
Paris-Roubaix is so demanding that many top professional cyclists skip the event. Those who race will be on specially equipped race bikes that may have stronger frames, wider tires with less pressure that normal, extra padding on handlebars and strong wheels to withstand the jarring impacts from bouncing over cobblestones.
Where possible, racers will often ride on the ‘smoother’ dirt adjacent to cobblestone surfaces in an attempt to avoid the roughest patches of rock-paved areas.
Team cars loaded with spare bicycles and replacement wheels follow the racers to deal with the inevitable flat tires, damaged wheels and broken bike frames.
Even though the cobble sections in the Paris Roubaix are much like riding over river rocks in a dry creek bed, the racers still manage to go fast. Recent winners have averaged over 27 miles per hour.
After surviving Paris Roubaix, the Spring Classics racers will turn their attention to Liège–
The race starts in the town of Liege and goes through the areas around Bastogne, made famous during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, before heading back north toward Liege through the challenging hills of the Belgian Ardennes.
Racers competing in Liège–Bastogne–Liège will encounter rough roads and a few areas of cobbles, but the biggest challenges during this 160-mile race are the 11 tough climbs in the Ardennes.
Some of these climbs are so viciously steep and narrow that riders must compete for a position at the front of the pack just before an uphill to avoid the congestion as riders are squeezed onto uphill roads where only two or three cyclists can ride side by side.
Unfortunately, most of us will never have the opportunity to ride one of these classics routes, so the next best thing would be to ride our own West Texas version over a course that simulates some of what racers face in events such as Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
A 150 mile simulation course might start in downtown San Angelo, head east on FM 380, south to FM 765 and then east on 765 until reaching the first unpaved section of Gesch Road (FM 1520) and then continue on narrow rough back roads to Paint Rock.
From Paint Rock, the route would go north to Ballinger, then across to Bronte and on to Robert Lee with occasional short ‘cobblestone’ sections over rough gravel roads.
After leaving Robert Lee the course would continue on to Carlsbad, then south over the Burma Road hills to Arden Road, back into San Angelo on Arden and then into downtown for a high-speed sprint finish on Concho Avenue.
Pick a day when it’s cold, windy and wet and go ride this route at race pace on your narrow-tired road bike to fully simulate a classics race.
Although the route as described is less challenging than the Spring Classic courses in Europe, you’ll still get a feel for what the pro cyclists face as they race the classic events.
Mar 21: Habitat for Humanity 5K, roadlizards.org
Mar 21: Steam-N-Wheels cycling race, bikereg.com/26622
April 11: Castell Grind cycling ride, castellgrind.com/home.html
April 25: Lone Wolf Run, roadlizards.org
April 25: Ballinger Bikefest, ballingernoonlions.org/pages/bikefest.html