There are many kinds of races in the world of road cycling, ranging from stage races to criteriums and one – day events held around the world.
As a casual fan of cycling it is easy to believe that there aren’t really anymore great races beyond the Tour de France and this is a wildly incorrect statement, with some of the best races of the season actually taking place long before the lap around France.
Today we will be taking a deeper look into some of these one – day events and answering the question of: What are the classics in cycling?
The classics are one-day races that take place throughout the cycling season, mainly in northern Europe and Italy. The biggest of these races are known as ‘monuments’, with five of these events taking place each year. To be classed as a classic race, it needs to have a certain level of history and prestige attached to it.
Whilst there are no true classics held in the US, the Maryland Cycling Classic is growing quickly and is the biggest one-day race in the country.
The Spring and Autumn Classics
Whilst one-day events take place throughout the cycling season, most of them are not truly classed as classics by cycling fans in Europe.
Classic races needs to have a rich history and prestige attached to it. Many of these races take place in the spiritual homelands of cycling such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
The traditional start of the cycling season takes place in Belgium, with the ‘Spring Classics’. These races are held primarily in the Flanders region of the country, with its hilly terrain, nasty weather, and often terrible road conditions making for some of the most exciting racing fans will likely see.
The start of the classics season is referred to as the opening weekend, with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad taking center stage. After weeks of hard one – day races, the Flandrien classics season culminates with the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
After the Grand Tour season has ended, many of the best stage racers cannot hang their shoes up for the off-season just yet as many of them like to race the Autumn classics too. These races are not as prestigious as their Spring counterparts but are testing in their own ways.
Many of these races take place in the South of Europe in countries such as Italy and Spain, some of the biggest Autumn classics include Il Lombardia, Classica San Sebastien, and the Gran Piemonte.
The most famous classics in cycling are called the “Monuments”.
The 5 monuments in cycling are the following (in order):
- Milano – San Remo
- Tour of Flanders
- Paris – Roubaix
- Giro di Lombordia
This may be where things get slightly confusing for some reader but stick with me. Of all the one – day races that take place during the season, the biggest are without doubt the monuments.
These are one-day races like any other but are held in the highest regard by fans and riders alike thanks to their legendary histories and brutal courses.
Many of the smaller classic’s races are used by the classics specialists as ways to train their skills ahead of the monuments, which can often be some riders main goal for the season.
These races are treated with equal importance as the Grand Tours by some riders, as they are more unpredictable and fun to race.
There are a total of five monuments that take place every year, with them being nicely scattered throughout the season and across Europe. The first monument of the year is Milano – San Remo, held in northern Italy it is often won by a puncheur or sprinter.
Following this, the cobbles classics take place and culminate with Paris – Roubaix and the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, both of these races go to gritty riders with plenty of panache.
After this, the Ardennes classics lead up to the oldest of the monuments Liège – Bastogne – Liège. Known as the ‘Old Lady’ in French, this race has been running since 1892.
The final monument of the season takes place long after all the others, with the Autumn classics building up to the ‘race of the falling leaves’, Il Lombardia. This race is usually won by a climber/puncheur, the current champion is Tadej Pogačar.
Are There Any Classics In The US?
At the moment there are no true classics that take place in the US, this is mainly because there is less interest in the one -day races in this part of the world than there is in Europe.
With the sport originating in northern Europe, it is hardly a surprise that the most historic events in the cycling calendar take place over the pond.
The term ‘classics’ holds weight in the world of cycling and fans are not usually quick to claim a race is one when it is just starting up. Despite this, there is no rule that a race has to be historic to be a classic and this is proven by the Maryland Cycling Classic.
Held in the state of Maryland, this one – day race has seen a rapid rise to prominence after being held for the first time this season. The race is already part of the UCI America Tour and the UCI ProSeries, with it attracting a stellar field for a race so young.
The Maryland Cycling Classic follows a 194km route around Baltimore and takes in some of the surrounding countryside before finishing in the harbor.
Belgian classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke won the inaugural edition of the race.
Who Is The Best American Classics Rider?
With all this talk of European classics and specialists in the discipline, you may be wondering where the US representation comes from. Well, at the moment the US does not have a truly great classics rider to boast about, but in the bear future it might.
21-year-old Quinn Simmons who currently races for Trek – Segafredo may well be the future of classics riding for the US. Despite only being young, Simmons has already impressed at a number of smaller one-day races having notched a few top-ten results.
Perhaps his strongest result so far came at the Strade – Bianche 2022, Simmons managed to compete with the best for most of the day and came home a strong 7th place making him a man to look out for in 2023.
Now that you know all you need to about the classics, will you be tempted to make the trip over to Europe for the latest editions of these great races?
Personally they are my favourite races of the season, and whether you are there in person or watching from home they are always sure to entertain.