Work Life Balance: Following the Classic Cycle Races


We support many outside interests at moss HQ, and spring fever here manifests in excitement about the Classics – the series of one day professional bike races held all over Europe which have been a test of cycling skill since the 19th century.  Matt’s very own Roubaix (pictured above) was designed by Specialized Bikes with shock absorbing zertz and molded carbon fibre monocaque frame to meet the demanding conditions of the Paris Roubaix race with its cobblestone terrain.  It works pretty well on Chicago’s potholes too.  Chris follows the races avidly all spring and has been educating the rest of the office about their ins and outs.

classics map

There are an overwhelming number or races to follow altogether (cycling news’ calendar has a comprehensive list) and even the more detailed breakdowns like Bicycling’s list of major Spring Classics to follow seem like a lot.  To get you started with a toe-in-the-water introduction, we’ve picked out three favorite races to watch.  [NOTE:  The only cycle racing you’re likely to find on your TV in the US is the Tour de France (and then only in bits) but thanks to the miracles of modern technology you can catch clips, highlights and even full live coverage of these races via the internet.  One of the best clearinghouse cycle race websites is where you can find pages devoted to all three of our recommended races.]

Milan San Remo

milan san remo


When:  March 23rd

Say What:  “mee-lan sahn ray-mo” **

What makes it fun:   This longest of the one day races is notable for two famous climbs – steep hills – that can be decisive in winning the race.  Since the route is slightly different each year, the way it is laid out may favor sprinters or other types of racers. This race has already been won for the year but remains notable for its difficult twisty … and spectacular … climbs as it follows the coastline of the Italian Rivera.  This one is a perfect example of why the classics are so fun – they combine a demonstration of impressive cycling skill with some of the most beautiful landscapes of Europe!

Paris Roubaix

paris roubaix


When: April 13th

Say What:  “pairee roo-bay”

What Makes it Fun:  The killer on this race are the series of 31 “secteurs” (insert french accent) or sections of cobblestone – known as pavé – interspersed along the second half of the route.  These areas tend to be the spot were strategy comes into play: going into a sector or coming out of one, individuals may attack (surge forward in the race pace to break away from the peloton – not an actual assault on other bikers) while their team mates try to position themselves at the front of the group and disrupt the pace of the peloton so that the break away can increase their lead.

It also ends in the Roubaix Velodrome with two circuits of the track and the sprint in the Velodrome makes for pretty spectacular finishes.

Check out excellent documentary Road to Roubaix for more on the demands of the race known as “the Hell of the North.”  The 1970’s era documentary about the same topic, “A Sunday in Hell” is available for download and also well worth checking out.

Ronde van Vlaanderen aka Tour of Flanders

ronde van vlaanderen


When: April 6th

Say What: “ron-duh vahn vlahn-der-in”

What Makes it Fun:  This one requires some of every cycling skill for a 260 km, one day course.  It passes through spectacular countryside (treat for the watchers) and over some of its most challenging road conditions (honor for the bikers).  This one wraps up with a climb near the end of the race that is both steep and cobblestone paved.

Maybe also a little explanation of the classics

If you’re still laboring under the delusion that winning a bike race is just a matter of pedaling harder than the other guy you can stop now.  Strategy and tactics are huge factors of winning races both long and short and each winner is backed by a strong team that has all collaborated in the victory.  For example, team members known as domestiques drop back from the group to the supply cars and then catch up carrying water or drop back with team members who have mechanical problems to help draft as they catch up to the group.  Other team members, lieutenants, stay with the leader right up to the end of the race, helping to jockey for position or to draft (follow inches from the back wheel of another rider) protecting leaders from being too close to another team.

Check out this race footage from earlier this year – the last three kilometers of the Kuurne Brussles Kuurne race for a great example of end-of-race strategy.

We’re also already looking forward to the mid and late summer larger tours which blend of scenic views of the European countryside and very competitive cycling.  Keep your eyes peeled not only for the most famous Tour de France but also for the Giro D’Italia and la Vuelta Espania.  Check back in a few months for our highlights!

Do you have a favorite bike race?  Let us know in the comments!

** these helpful phonetic pronunciations courtesy of Bicycling’s very helpful breakdowns.