Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège marks the end of the spring classics season and the transition to stage racing and soon, the summer. We’ve had races like Paris-Nice or the Tour of the Basque country and the scenic Giro di Trentino is on right now. But eyes have been on the spring classics in Belgium.
For me the races from early March to the end of April are the fourth grand tour. Races criss-cross Belgium and even Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold have their finishes a cobblestone’s throw away from the Belgian border. Of course there is no yellow jersey but the succession of stages means riders who lose out one day can make amends the next and like a grand tour there are some prestigious stages and some where not everyone races full gas.
A quirky country at times, Belgium probably has the most knowledgeable and appreciative cycling fans. Not everyone by the road can tell you who won the 1988 Tour de France but many probably can. The succession of races, often literally on the doorstep of these fans, is a big moment in the country’s sporting calendar. Belgium might lack a government but it has some of the best races going.
Now the racing turns to the Walloon Ardennes, home of some tough roads and as often noted, Liège–Bastogne–Liège has as much vertical climbing as an Alpine stage of the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.
Even before Sunday it’s safe to say this has been a vintage year for the classics. Excitement, drama, suspense and surprise, spectators have been spoilt.
As much as I’ll miss the frenetic action, now we turn to the long stage races in which the pace changes, where you get daily action but often set against a story that takes a full three weeks to unfold. If the Giro is half as good as the spring classics…