Top 10 Climbs of the Spring Classics

After a winter spend wondering if the endless Ski Jumping justified your Eurosport subscription, the cycling season returns to Europe with a bang in late February. For many, the Spring classics are the highlight of the year offering both epic drama in the pro races and unique challenges for the Sportive rider

The bergs of Flanders take the early stage with the cobbles being the star of the show and a riding experience like no other, before moving on the Ardennes with its mix of longer climbs and super steep lungbusters. It is easy to find and ride these climbs anytime but on race weekend, they are transformed from quiet country track or grotty suburban Liege street to mythical cycling battlegrounds. The Classics courses are to be loved and feared in equal measure Here is our guide to the top 10 climbs. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t ride in the gutter!

Muur Van Geraardsbergen

This is what European cycling is all about! The Muur is the full Flanders experience boiled down to one 50m stretch of Sportive magic. The sleepy town of Gerrardsbergen draws you in, through the town centre and up its cobbled residential straights before finally revealing its crowning glory. The final stretch up to the Chapel looks and feels like a wall by this stage as you take the sweeping left hand bend all the way to the top. The gradient hits the magic 20% but the pain is short lived as the chapel comes into view and you realise you are going to make it after all. What makes this climb special is that you have time to take it the surroundings and can appreciate the fact you are riding somewhere very special. With some of the other Flandrian icons your mind is focussed fully on survival. There is no doubt about it, the Muur is a proper challenge with an uneven, broken and slick cobbled surface and you have worked hard climbing through town even before reaching the finale, but it is a glorious challenge and one you can enjoy in the moment. After 5 years in the wilderness we are delighted the Muur has been returned to its rightful place on the Tour of Flanders route.

Key Facts: Distance - 1km, Avg Gradient - 7%, Max Gradient - 20%

Difficulty: 4/5

Ride It: Tour of Flanders Sportive (Long Route)

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Koppenberg

The Koppenberg is 600m of mayhem. As you approach the climb you can see the pretty, cow covered hills off to your left and then Bang! a final sharp turn and the narrow track is in front of you. After luring you in with an innocuous cobbled amuse bouche, the challenge begins. The cobbles are nasty; big, uneven and widely spaced. The road is steep hitting 19% and the high sided, tree lined banks add to the drama. It is dark under those trees and the surface is both steep and slick. The narrow road forces riders closer and closer making it hard to pick your own line through the cobbles. The steepest section is short but time seems to stand still as you try and control the power through the pedals. In reality, the main challenge on the Koppenberg is trying to avoid the other riders who are either falling off or jumping off all around you. As the pace ahead of you falls, just staying upright is impressive and both great bike handling skills and confidence are crucial here! With so many riders trying to walk and blocking your path, if you can make it up the Koppenberg you should be rightly proud. It is one of the few spots on the pro tour you will see top riders walking.

Key Facts: Distance - 0.6km, Avg Gradient - 10%, Max Gradient - 19%

Difficulty: 4/5

Ride It: Tour of Flanders Sportive (All Routes)

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Oude Kwaremont

Named after the village that sits in the middle of the climb, Oude Kwaremont is the longest climb in the Tour of Flanders at 2600m and has been the launch pad of many a defining move towards the end of the race. On paper this is not the toughest climb, maxing out at 12%, the challenge here is the length, the changing gradient and the camber of the road. By the time you hit Oude Kwaremont you have climbed so many bergs you will either have the measure of the cobbles or be desperate for the pain to be over and cramping in muscles you didn’t know existed before. The climb can be broken into 3 part. The initial climb towards the village takes you straight up through lush farmland on big but manageable cobbles Riding on the crest of the cobbles is key here as the road surface drops away to the left. The road flattens through the village, often packed with Belgians cheering you on. Here the cobbles are slicker with more regular use and the gaps between them larger. Don’t relax too much as the road quickly rises again. The length will now be telling its toll and the call of the gutter may prove irresistible! Beware as this is where Peter Sagan got entangled with a supporter’s jacket leaving himself, Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen sprawled on the cobbles. Not a soft landing

Key Facts: Distance - 2.6km, Avg Gradient - 4%, Max Gradient - 12%

Difficulty: 2.5/5

Ride It: Tour of Flanders Sportive (All Routes)

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Paterberg

Far from being an ancient farm track, the Paterberg was created by a farmer in the mid 80’s to attract the Tour of Flanders to his patch. It worked and the Paterberg currently features as the final climb in the race, tackled in quick succession with the Oude Kwaremont. Short, steep and straight, the Paterberg is Flanders equivalent of the Travelator in the 90’s Saturday evening ratings winner, Gladiators. Contestants had better be ready. The cobbles are smooth and regular, it is the gradient that does for you here hitting 20%. Tired riders once again add to the challenges, dismounting in front of you and bringing you to a standstill. Towards the top on the right there is a small, 1 metre stretch of tarmac which resembles a welcoming oasis in a barren dessert of cobbles. Aim for this and its momentary relief before cresting the summit knowing only a flat run for home stands between you and some mayo soaked frites.

Key Facts: Distance - 0.4km, Avg Gradient - 14%, Max Gradient - 20%

Difficulty: 4/5

Ride It: Tour of Flanders Sportive (All Routes)

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Kemmelberg

The Kemmelberg is the most talked about feature in the wind fest that is Gent-Wevelgem and with such a star billing, it can get inside the head of the unfortunate Sportive rider. After hours battling the breeze in the Flanders farmlands the route tackles a series of small, steep climbs. The Kemmelberg is the only cobbled climb of the race and despite being over 30kms from the finish, is often the scene of decisive action. In recent years the pro race has been going over the climb from both the classic East Side and the shorter but steeper West side. The East side climbs on fairly manageable, uniform cobbled surface and featured a sweeping left hand bend that hits 22%. The West side is a short and marginally steeper at 23%. However, there is a real psychological boost in that you can see the monument at the top from the start of the cobbled section. The stats don’t lie but If the road is dry this may feel easier than expected. Both climbs feature a steady uphill drag on tarmacked roads before hitting the cobbles and the descent avoids the rough stuff by taking a smooth path down the side of the hill. For the mid distance Sportive the climb will only be tackled from the West.

Key Facts: Distance - 1.3km, Avg Gradient - 8%, Max Gradient - 23%

Difficulty: 3/5

Ride It: Gent Wevelgem Sportive (All Routes)

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La Redoute

La Redoute is one of the iconic climbs in the oldest race of them all, Liege Bastogne Liege. The climb can also be tackled in the excellent Phillipe Gilbert Sportive which combines some of the best climbs of LBL and the Fleche Waloon. In both events this climb often features immediately after a feed stop making that second waffle a poor choice. The legs are called into action from the off as the quiet lane climbs around 5% alongside a dual carriageway. After 500m the road turns left and straight up the hillside. The views improve but the pain increases. This is a proper climb at 1.7km long and the 20% ramp fills the already softened up legs with lactic and the lungs send warning messages to the brain. The gradient drop slightly but not enough to recover before a second ramp. The worst is nearly over though and the top is in sight. The legs will still be burning but salvation is at hand. Time for another waffle.

Key Facts: Distance - 1.7km, Avg Gradient - 9.5%, Max Gradient - 20%

Difficulty: 4.5/5

Ride It: Liege Bastogne Liege Sportive (All Routes)

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Muur de Huy

Everyone’s favourite Flemish word, this is the second Muur on our list. The Muur de Huy is the key climb of the midweek baby classic the Fleche Wallonne. The sportive version takes place in May if this climb is on you must climb list and It also features in the long route of the Phillipe Gilbert Sportive. If you have watched the race on TV you may be thinking thanks but no thanks as it reduces the peloton to walking speed on the insanely steep bends. The gradient hits 25% at the apex, a great reason to take the corners as wide as possible. Whilst not as famous as some of the other Belgian climbs this is certainly one of the toughest challenges out there and is one of the few climbs to also feature in the Tour de France.

Key Facts: Distance - 1.3km, Avg Gradient - 9.8%, Max Gradient - 25%

Difficulty: 4.5/5

Ride It: Philippe Gilbert Classic

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Cauberg

The Netherlands major race of the season, the Amstel Gold is not always a great watch on the TV but is a challenging Sportive with a great atmosphere and plenty of shortish and steepish climbs to keep you entertained. The defining climb of the race is the Cauberg. In fact, it has been so influential in deciding the winner that in order to try and improve the racing the route was altered and the poor Cauberg now has to make do with being 19km from the finale. The Sportive still finishes around 2km after the Cauberg though. The fans lining the bottom may not even notice the changes as Amstel Sunday is an all dayer in these parts and the party atmosphere is all part of the climb’s appeal. Partying with the Dutch is not for the faint hearted but a great way to watch a bike race. The climb has featured in the Tour de France and the World championships so is a hill with serious pedigree not just a climb famous for its bars and cafes. Coming downhill into the town of Valkenburg at pace, the route swings left and 800m of climbing awaits. The road surface is great and with the crowds watching on you will be tempted to put the hammer down early. Hold that thought as the gradient ramps up to 13% through the tricky S-bend. The hardest part is now done, you are still climbing but the race is nearly over. Give it all you have as you hit the summit and the finish line is in sight.

Key Facts: Distance - 1.1km, Avg Gradient - 5%, Max Gradient - 13%

Difficulty: 3.5/5

Ride It: Amstel Gold Sportive (all routes)

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Col Du Rosier

Liege Bastogne Liege is the climbers race with nearly 5000m to contend with. There are plenty of short and steep climbs to contend with but the variety of the hills adds to the challenge. The Col Du Rosier is a proper climb at almost 5km in length. The roads winds up and up through the woods and you quickly realise this is a different sort of climb. It feels good to be ticking off a chunk of the elevation without being blasted vertically up a Belgian wall. The average gradient is 6% maxing out fairly early in the climb at 12%. This is not a comfortable climb as the changing gradient means you cant just find a rhythm and relax but it may be the lesser of two evils on the LBL route, depending on your persuasion. The long climb also means a fairly decent descent which may be the worst thing if you get caught in the snow of recent years. A mountain climb in Belgium, the country really does have everything a cyclist could want.

Key Facts: Distance - 5.6km, Avg Gradient - 5.5%, Max Gradient - 12%

Difficulty: 3/5

Ride It: Liege Bastogne Liege Sportive (All Routes)

Bosberg

The Bosberg has made it onto our list for one simple reason. It is a famous climb – formerly the very last climb in the Tour of Flanders and it is cobbled BUT it is a cobbled climb you can ride and actually feel good about yourself! The road is wide, the cobbles even and inviting and the wheels roll smoothly as you elegantly proceed up the road. Whilst this might be a slightly rose tinted memory of the climb it is certainly not going to haunt your dreams like the Paterberg. Your always have to respect the cobbles and there are gaps and sharp edges to watch out for of course but this is a climb that you will enjoy. 11% maximum gives added credibility and the climb goes on for over a km. The climb normally features as a double act with the Kappelmuur and the pair are re-united in the revamped Het Hieuwsblad route. Enjoy!

Key Facts: Distance - 1.3km, Avg Gradient - 5%, Max Gradient - 11%

Difficulty: 2/5

Ride It: Tour of Flanders Sportive (Long Route)

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