The cycling world descends on Belgium & Northern France for four weeks between late March and late April. It's not just the pros that get to have fun, with each one day classic there is an accompanying sportive the day before, making these the perfect cycling weekend. We break down the five sportives from Gent Wevelgem all the way through to Liege Bastogne Liege rating the rides & pro race experience.
Flanders classics week kicks off with the excellent Gent Wevelgem sportive & pro race. This takes part in Western Flanders over the exposed flatlands of the region. The main challenge is combating the headwinds that on a tough day can absolutely batter the peloton. In between the exposed sections are some killer climbs including the Kemmelberg with 23% gradients and the unpaved Plugstreets. The route rolls past several WW1 battlefields, cemeteries & monuments including the Menin Gate in Ypres and the Christmas Truce memorial. The sportive is ridden by a more local peloton filled with local club riders as well as some international cyclists.
Route Highlights: Riding the Plugsteets - unpaved sections past WW1 trenches. The Kemmelberg - one of the best climbs in Flanders.
Watching the Pro Race: Big crowds cheer on the riders at the start in Deinze, along all the key sections & at the finish in Wevelgem. The atmosphere is great on the Kemmelberg and there are big screens by the finish and in Ypres.
Sportive Difficulty: On a windy day 4/5, on a still day 2/5
Ideal For: One for riders that don't love climbing. If you have ridden the Tour of Flanders sportive, you will love this. MORE INFO
The biggest weekend of the year in the most passionate cycling region on the planet. The Ronde is front page news and crowds cheer riders on even for the amateurs the day before! The Tour of Flanders sportive has been going for over 25 years and sees around 16,000 riders coming from around the world to ride the iconic route. The route is action packed with cobbled sections, sharp climbs and cobbled bergs over a route made famous from over 100 years of classic racing.
Route Highlights: There are multiple distances for the sportive from a light 70km to the full 225km. The most famous sections are the climbs. The long route now includes the Muur in Geraardsbergen and all routes take in the very difficult Koppenberg, the long Oude Kwaremont and the final climb in the pro race - the Paterberg. At the top of each climb there is a sign to the next cobbled sector or climb and these features normally come at least every 5km - an action packed sportive route.
Watching the Pro Race: In our opinion, this is the best pro race watching experience of the year. Around 750,000 people watch live on the route and there is a huge crowd in Antwerp for the start. There are a lot of great places to watch the Ronde but we love the Kwaremont which sees the women's and men's race go through multiple times at key stages near a giant screen and plenty of food & beer stands.
Sportive Difficulty: 3/5 - some of the steepest climbs in cycling but all short and over quickly.
Ideal For: Suits all types of riders. MORE INFO
The Hell of the North. Probably the most famous one day race in the world, this is a unique challenge to both the pros and amateurs and one of the rare routes that is unable to ride the rest of the year. Most of the pave sections that make this route so famous are on private land, opened up for special events and the sportive / pro race. The sportive takes in all the famous cobbled sections and finishes with a lap of the famous velodrome. Experiencing the brutal pave for yourself gives you a real appreciation for the pros - remember most of these have as little experience on the cobbles as us amateurs and watching the race the next day makes for an unforgettable cycling weekend.
Route Highlights: There are three route options, a 172km ride from Busigny and two shorter loops from Roubaix. The pave comes thick and fast and even the short route takes in enough cobbles to make it a tough day out. The hardest section is the Forest of Arenberg, available on the long and medium route over horrendously rough cobbles. By the time you get to Roubaix, most riders are too beaten up to enjoy their victory lap.
Watching the Pro Race: The race is pretty much a straight shot north from Compiegne to Roubaix. There are giant screens on the Arenberg, Carrefour de l'Arbre and at the Velodrome where riders of the sportive can get into an exclusive section.
Sportive Difficulty: 5/5 - the most brutal flat sportive in the world.
Ideal For: Heavier, powerful riders who can glide on the pave. A tough day out for the skinny climbers. MORE INFO
Amstel Gold Sportive
Lesser known than the other classics on this list to the wider world but an absolutely massive weekend in Holland. Amstel Gold starts the Ardennes Classics week with Fleche Wallonne & LBL to come. The sportive sells out so quickly there is a ballot system to select the lucky 12,000 riders. Valkenburg is the host town for this weekend for a route that takes in the main climbs of the Limburg region of Holland and dipping into the Belgian Ardennes. The route has been changing slightly in the last few years from its traditional finish on the summit of the Cauberg to a final circuit that culminates with the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg just outside Valkenburg.
Route Highlights: From the start in the town square in Maastricht, this sportive is packed with climbs. There are 35 in the full route. Most of the toughest are back loaded, the Keutenberg is the toughest with 22% gradients, the Cauberg is the most famous with big crowds and a nasty 13% section.
Watching the Pro Race: The race snakes around Limburg and it is relatively easy to catch the action in several spots. Huge crowds line the last few climbs and the atmosphere is fantastic at most points, especially in Valkenburg where the drinking starts early.
Sportive Difficulty: 3/5 - a great ride with a couple of tough climbs.
Ideal For: Suits most riders with a variety of climbs but not too much total elevation. MORE INFO
The final monument of spring takes us into the Ardennes through some pretty remote countryside over one of the toughest routes of the year. The full distance sportive has more climbing than La Marmotte and the weather can often make this even harder. The main feature of the race is the climbs, 11 in the long route, 7 on the medium route and 3 on the short - mostly on narrow tracks with intimidating gradients. Liege is not the prettiest of host towns but the villages outside have a nice charm, we love Aywaille at the base of the Redoute.
Route Highlights: The long route is the only one that goes all the way to Bastogne and back. All of the routes are backloaded with climbs. These are the main feature of LBL and come in most shapes and sizes. The Col du Rosier is long at over 4.5km, the most famous is the Redoute with a very steep section over 17%. Be prepared for an onslaught of steep stuff.
Watching the Pro Race: Another pro race where it is relatively easy to catch the action in a couple of spots. The last few climbs are usually the most decisive so watching on La Redoute, Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons or Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons will give you the most chance to see a winning move.
Sportive Difficulty: 5/5 - the long route is as tough as the Etape / Marmotte with a huge amount of climbing.
Ideal For: With well over 4,000m of elevation, it should suit the pure climbers but is often raced in cold conditions over heavy roads so it is tough for all types of rider. MORE INFO