A Guide to the 2024 Spring Classics, Cycling’s Toughest Road Races

2nd paris roubaix 2022 women's elite
A Guide to Cycling’s 2024 Spring ClassicsGetty Images
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Late-February ushers in one of the best times on the cycling calendar: the Spring Classics, a series of one-day races from late-February through April that suits a special breed of cyclist, one who yearns for gray skies, rough roads, and tough climbs. Here’s a brief rundown of everything you need to know about these terrific races.

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Name: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

When: Saturday, February 24, 2024

Nickname: “the Omloop”

How to Say It: “ohm-loop, het news-blad”

How to Watch It: FloBikes

We’re (mostly) purists, which means despite the fact that racing begins in mid-January, we don’t consider the season to have really started until the last weekend of February with the running of the men’s and women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the opening races on the Belgian calendar.

The “Omloop”–as it’s affectionately called by the locals–offers everything we love about the spring Classics: rain, wind, cobblestones, and lots of the short, steep “bergs” that speckle the Flemish countryside. Given the weather and the terrain, it’s no surprise that Belgian and Dutch riders often excel here, with Benelux riders winning 63 of 76 men’s editions and 12 of 18 women’s editions of the race.

Last year, former Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma) won the men’s race after an attack on the Bosberg, the day’s final climb. The Dutchman will be back to defend his title in 2024 with a stacked Visma-Lease a Bike (the team’s new name) squad that includes Belgium’s Wout van Aert (who won the race in 2022), France’s Christophe Laporte (who finished third last year), and one of the team’s new signings, American Matteo Jorgenson (who finished 9th in last year’s Tour of Flanders while racing for Movistar). Together, they’ll prove tough to beat.

The women’s event should be headlined by the defending champion, Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx-Protime), who last year attacked on the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen–the race’s penultimate climb–to become the first Belgian woman to win the Omloop. She’ll be back this year and looking to add another title to her palmares–this time while wearing the rainbow jersey as the sport’s reigning world champion.

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Strade Bianche

Name: Strade Bianche

When: Saturday, March 2, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: “strah-day, bee-ahn-kay”

How to Watch It: Max with B/R Sports add-on

Debates have raged for ages among cycling conoscenti about what makes a race a “Classic.” Some reserve the term for only the sport’s oldest and longest one-day races—generally races over 200K in distance—reserving the phrase “semi-Classic” for the smaller build-up races that riders often use to prepare for them. And these races are always really, really old, dating back to the earliest days of the sport.

But then there’s Italy’s Strade Bianche, an event that often comes in well under 200K (last year’s men’s race was just 184K) and has only been around since 2007.

To some, this Tuscan masterpiece couldn’t be called a “Classic”—it’s too new, too short. But this year, the organizers have addressed those concerns, adding more distance and more of the punchy, white gravel roads that give the race its name. More than ever before, Strade Bianche is without a doubt one of the hardest and most beautiful races of the year.

It’s also a race in which the strongest rider always wins, so it makes sense that the event’s list of winners reads like a Who’s Who of the sport’s best racers. For example, Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the race in 2022 with a solo attack 50 kilometers from the finish line in Siena, an incredibly gutsy move that only a rider like Pogačar would attempt (and pull off).

And before Pog, previous editions were won by the Netherlands’ Mathieu van der Poel (2021), Belgium’s Wout van Aert (2020), and France’s Julian Alaphilippe (2019). And Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara—a modern Classics legend—holds the record with three wins over the course of his own storied career.

Last year, Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) added his name to the event’s impressive roll of honor with a daring attack, winning the race solo thanks in part to his impressive mountain bike and cyclocross skills. But while Pidcock isn’t scheduled to be back this year, Pogačar will be (it’s the first race of his season), and the Slovenian will certainly be a top favorite.

The women’s race always produces fireworks as well. Last year, the Netherlands’ Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx-Protime) out-sprinted Kopecky (the defending champion) with a well-timed bike throw to take the win–and this was after the two teammates had worked together to catch and overtake the lone leader, the United States’ Kristen Faulkner (Team Jayco-AlUla).

Kopecky and Vollering should be back to try and make it four wins in a row for SD Worx (the Netherlands’ Chantal van den Broek-Blaak won the race for the team in 2021). We’ll be rooting for Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM Racing), a four-time podium finisher who’s still searching for the top step.

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Milan-San Remo

Name: Milan-San Remo

When: Saturday, March 16, 2024

Nickname: la Classicissima/la Primavera

How to Say It: “mee-lano, sahn ray-mo”

How to Watch It: Max with B/R Sports add-on

The first of cycling’s Monuments—a distinction reserved for only five of the sport’s hardest and most legendary one-day races—Milano-San Remo is also by far the longest at almost 300K. Considered the easiest Monument to finish, but the hardest to win, the race begins like a massive group training ride, as the first 250K of the route offer few obstacles—aside from crashes and bad weather—as the race passes through the mountains on its way to the Mediterranean coast.

In the end, the race always comes down to the final 30K where two climbs—the Cipressa and the Poggio—present the perfect opportunity for late-race attacks. In particular, the Poggio, a steep, twisty little climb offers the last chance for puncheurs to escape, and you’ll see them take big risks on its treacherous descent to try and stay away. Should they fail, any sprinters able to survive the final two climbs will battle to take the season’s first major win.

Last year, van der Poel attacked over the top of the Poggio and then used the downhill to consolidate his lead–ripping in and out of the descent’s tight hairpins in a death-defying display of technical skill. The Dutchman won the race solo, holding-off a superstar trio consisting of Italy’s Filippo Ganna (INEOS Grenadiers), Pogačar, and van Aert.

There’s no women’s Milano-San Remo, but the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, an important stop on the women’s WorldTour and a holdover from the former women’s World Cup series, takes place the next day—and will also be streaming live on Max. Last year, the Netherlands’ Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo) brought Trek’s winning streak in the Italian event to three, escaping to win the race alone, 23 seconds ahead of her teammate–and the defending champion–Elisa Balsamo.

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E3 Saxo Classic

Name: E3 Saxo Classic

When: Friday, March 22, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: “ay-dree classic”

How to Watch It: Max with B/R Sports add-on

Only Belgians would name a Classic after a highway (and we love it). Well that’s what happened in the mid-1960s when a race called Harelbeke-Antwerp-Harelbeke adopted the name of the newly built E3 highway (now the A14) connecting the two cities.

Taking place two Fridays before the Tour of Flanders, this important 200k event provides ideal training for the upcoming Tour of Flanders, as the race tackles many of the hills (known locally as bergs) that the racers will face the following weekend. As a result, many riders treat this event as their Flanders dress rehearsal, their last big test before the Flemish Monument.

Case in point: last year’s race ended with a breakaway containing cycling’s “galacticos,” with van Aert outsprinting van der Poel and Pogačar to take his second win in a row. Unfortunately, while many riders who win the E3 go on to win Flanders, van Aert’s good luck would not carry over to the next weekend.

Not surprisingly, Belgians have won the race 39 times, with cobbled legend Tom Boonen owning the record for the most victories with five.

In 2022 the organizers started running a women’s event called the Leiedal Koerse, but sadly–after just two editions–the organizers canceled the event for 2024 due to financial hardships. Sigh…

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Gent-Wevelgem

Name: Gent-Wevelgem

When: Sunday, March 24, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: like it’s spelled (just make the g’s sound phlegmy)

How to Watch It: FloBikes

Gent-Wevelgem used to be raced on the Wednesday between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, making it the perfect midweek training race for riders hoping to keep their form topped off between the two cobbled Monuments.

But in 2011, the men’s and women’s races were moved to the Sunday before the Tour of Flanders in an attempt to bundle all of the most important Flemish classics into one 10-day festival of beer, frites, and cycling known locally as “Vlaamse Wielerweek.”

For decades the race was known as a race for sprinters, as the final series of climbs came too far from the finish for breakways to stay away (although some of them did). So the race has since added more climbs, more kilometers, and even a few sections of gravel (the name is now officially called Ghent-Wevelgem–In Flanders Fields”) in an attempt to make the race more on par with the longer, hillier, and cobble-ier (we’ve just made that a word) Tour of Flanders seven days later.

But despite these additions, the race still centers around a circuit of difficult midrace bergs that always split the race into pieces—highlighted by the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg—which the women climb twice and the men climb three times. These loops form the strategic focal point of the race, any breakaway hoping to make it from the top of the final ascent of the Kemmelberg to the finish needs to prepare itself for about 45 minutes of crosswinds on the road to Wevelgem.

Last year’s men’s race ended with a bit of controversy after Jumbo-Visma’s van Aert and Laporte broke away from the field, with van Aert “gifting” the win to his French teammate–a choice he came to regret a week later.

In the women’s race, SD-Worx continued its spring dominance, with Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser breaking away and using her superior time trialing skills to hold off the field by almost 3 minutes. Reusser rode a cunning race, attacking on the Baneberg—before the final ascent of the Kemmelberg—and built up such a large lead that she was able to overcome taking a wrong turn with about 5K to go.

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Dwars door Vlaanderen

Name: Dwars door Vlaanderen

When: Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: “dwars, door, vlahn-der-in”

How to Watch It: FloBikes

First run in 1945, Dwars door Vlaanderen used to take place on the Wednesday after Milano-San Remo. As a result its start list was often filled with young riders and domestiques, with a few stars who decided to skip Milan-San Remo thrown in for good measure.

But in 2018 the race was moved to the Wednesday between Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, making it a much more attractive opportunity for riders putting the finishing touches on their fitness for Sunday’s Monument. A women’s race was added in 2012, with all but two editions being won by Dutch riders.

Sometimes a rider wins Dwars and Flanders. For example, van der Poel made Dwars the first race of his Belgian campaign in 2022, winning the race and then taking his second Tour of Flanders four days later. Laporte, perhaps trying to show everyone that he didn’t need gifts to win big races, won last year’s race. American Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPoat) finished third, adding to a string of solid results in last year’s Classics.

In the women’s event, Vollering escaped from a select group of favorites to win the race solo, 38 seconds ahead of Italy’s Chairra Consonni (UAE Team ADQ), the defending champion.

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Tour of Flanders

Name: Ronde van Vlaanderen/Tour of Flanders

When: Sunday, March 31, 2024

Nickname: “The Ronde”

How to Say It: “ron-duh, vahn, vlahn-der-in”

How to Watch It: FloBikes

Usually held on the first Sunday in April, the Tour of Flanders is by far Belgium’s most important day of cycling. With millions of spectators lining the course and weeks of anticipation, speculation, and scandals leading up to the event, the race packs the drama of the Oscars, the excitement of the Tour de France, and the hype of the Super Bowl all into one single day.

The second of the sport’s five Monuments, “the Ronde” is known in Flanders as “Vlaanderens Mooiste,” the “most beautiful” race in the region—if cobbles, narrow roads, rain, and wind constitute your idea of beauty. Racers generally consider Flanders to be the hardest one-day race on the calendar as its champions need to have strength, skill, experience, and a bit of luck in order to succeed.

The race’s most striking characteristic has to be its climbs (called “bergs”), a relentless series of short, steep—often cobbled—climbs that speckle the second half of the race. With roads barely wide enough for most cars to pass through, the peloton often looks like it’s preparing for a field sprint as teams try to position their riders at the front heading into these important tactical battlegrounds.

In the end, the race usually comes down to two laps (one for the women) of a vicious final circuit that includes the Oude Kwaremont (long and cobbled) and the Paterberg (steep and cobbled) before a fast ride to the finish in Oudenaarde.

After finishing fourth in 2022, Pogačar returned to the Ronde last year, dropping van der Poel, van Aert, and Denmark’s Mads Pedersen the last time up the Oude Kwaremont to become the first rider since Belgian legend Eddy Merckx to win the Tour de France and the Tour of Flanders.

In an era when riders often choose to specialize in winning either grand tours or cobbled Classics, Pogačar proved himself to be a true throwback to the days when riders raced—and some of them won—everything.

But the Belgian fans didn’t go home unhappy: a little while after Pogačar crossed the finish line, Kopecky (SD-Worx) defended her title from 2022, capping off a true team effort in which she and Vollering finished first and second.

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Paris-Roubaix

Name: Paris-Roubaix

When: Sunday, April 7, 2024

Nickname: The Queen of the Classics, The Hell of the North, le Pascale

How to Say It: “par-ree, roo-bay”

How to Watch It: Peacock

Paris-Roubaix is the race many of us think about when we hear the word “pavé”—and with good reason. With long stretches of some of northern France’s oldest and gnarliest cobbled farm roads (all of which are now protected as national landmarks), the “Hell of the North” is more than a race, it’s a life-altering experience—and that’s just for the fans.

For the riders, Paris-Roubaix is something more daunting, painful, and unrelenting than anything they’ve ever experienced on a bike. In fact, the most basic requirement of any future Roubaix champion is the simple fact that they enjoy competing in it.

Organized as a gimmick in 1896, the race actually started in Paris until being moved outside the city to a town called Compiegne in 1968. The race begins rather quietly with over many kilometers of smooth, asphalt roads before the cobbled sectors begin. But as the cobbles approach, the race gets faster as teams fight to position their captains at the front of the peloton before all hell breaks loose (along with a few stems, saddles, and rims).

Each of the race’s many cobbled sections (the men will cover about 25 and the women will cover about 17) is counted down from highest to lowest and rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars according to its difficulty. Both the men and the women (who race on Saturday) finish in the legendary Roubaix Velodrome, with one-and-a-half laps around the vintage track often proving to be the decisive factor in determining the winner.

In last year’s women’s race, for example, Canada’s Alison Jackson joined the day’s early breakaway, expecting to do little more than help set up one of her teammates for a high finish. But as the kilometers ticked by and the breakaway continued to survive, she decided to play her own card, winning the race with a last-gasp bike throw after an exciting sprint on the velodrome.

But men’s event on Sunday wasn’t settled in a sprint: van der Poel won the men’s race alone after attacking over the top of van Aert, who had launched himself of the front of a small leading group on one of the race’s final cobbled sectors–before a flat tire ruined his own chances of staying away for the win. Van der Poel’s teammate, Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen, finished second, finishing off a dream day for Alpecin-Deceuninck.

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Amstel Gold Race

When: Sunday, April 14, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: Just as it looks.

How to Watch It: FloBikes

One of cycling’s youngest Classics (it was first raced by the men in 1966), the Amstel Gold Race gives Dutch cycling fans a chance to get in on the action—and with lots of short, steep climbs that criss-cross the Dutch province of Limburg, it delivers.

Even though it takes place in the Netherlands, it’s considered the first of the Ardennes Classics, three races named for the hilly region of southeastern Belgium that hosts races later in the week. This is a fun race to watch as it usually blends riders out of the cobbled Classics with riders looking to excel in the hillier races still to come.

Like many one-day races, the finish has been changed several times in the past few years, as the organizers try to create a finale that’s difficult enough to determine a worthy champion—but not so hard that it discourages late-race attacks.

And after a 14-year absence, a women’s event with a challenging but truncated course was brought back to the program in 2017, with Dutch women winning four of the six editions (there was no race in 2020) in the event’s second-life.

Vollering won last year’s edition on home roads, the beginning of an epic week for the then-26-year-old. And as if he hadn’t won enough already, Pogačar took home the men’s event, as if he wanted to say “Hold my Amstel!” after watching van der Poel win Roubaix the week before.

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La Flèche Wallonne

Name: La Flèche Wallonne

When: Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Nickname: n/a

How to Say It: “flesh wah-lone”

How to Watch It: Peacock

While not one of cycling’s five one-day Monuments, Flèche Wallonne—the first of Belgium’s two Ardennes Classics—is widely considered one the sport’s most prestigious races. It’s been held on a Wednesday for as long as we can remember, which ensures its competitors will have more than enough time to recover before its older sister, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, four days later.

The starting place changes frequently, but the “Walloon Arrow” always winds its way through the French-speaking region of Belgium before entering a difficult finishing circuit that takes the race up the mega-steep Mur de Huy, a “wall” of a climb with pitches that top-out at 26 percent. The men and women climb the “Mur” three times each, and the third and final sprint to the finish line at the top is something you gotta see–imagine a field sprint, but the finish line is at the top of a steep climb.

Last year, Vollering and Pogačar followed-up their Amstel victories with wins on the on the Mur de Huy, making them both top favorites for Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

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Liège–Bastogne–Liège

Name: Liège–Bastogne–Liège

When: Sunday, April 21, 2024

Nickname: la Doyenne

How to Say It: “lee-age (soft “g”), bass (like the fish)-tone, lee-age”

How to Watch It: Peacock

Liège–Bastogne–Liège is cycling’s “old lady”—or la Doyenne as Belgium’s French-speaking Walloons affectionately call it. Founded way back in 1892, it’s easily the oldest of the cycling’s five Monuments and often the most difficult to win.

Created to publicize a French-language newspaper, the event was first run for amateurs before being made open to professionals in 1894. A women’s event was added in 2017, thanks largely to the popularity of the women’s Flèche Wallonne, which is put on by the same organizers.

As its name suggests, the course is fairly straightforward, beginning in the center of Liège and heading south toward Bastogne, a town made famous during WWII’s Battle of the Bulge.

But the big guns in this fight usually save themselves for the hard climbs encountered on the race’s return trip to Liège. As opposed to the cobbled bergs of Flanders, the Belgian Ardennes are longer and paved, which means they suit climbers and puncheurs.

After years of boring outcomes, a new finale was introduced in 2019, bringing the finish away from Ans, a suburb, and down into the center of the Liège. This did away with a long, uphill drag to the finish line outside of a gas station.

So instead of a predictable uphill sprint that encouraged the favorites to simply sit-in and wait throughout the final hour, we’ve been treated to several editions in which riders have won after late-race attacks on the series of climbs before the downhill plunge into the center of the city.

Vollering won last year’s women’s race, putting the finishing touches on her own Ardennes Triptych, sweeping all three of the week’s big races. In the men’s race, an expected between Pogačar and the defending champion–Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step)–never materialized after the Slovenian crashed out of the race and broke his wrist. His absence left Evenepoel free to dominate the race for a second year in a row.

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