The Northern Classics Guide, Part 2: into the Ardennes

Five down, three to go in the 2021 Northern Classics calendar. It hasn't been plain sailing for the favourites who were caught out and marked out by other teams. Wout Van Aert claimed victory at Ghent Wevelgem, but it was Kasper Asgreen who won E3 and then the Tour of Flanders, stopping Matthieu Van der Poel from stamping his mark on the cobbles. 

Riders on the cobbles

Paris-Roubaix has been postponed until October. The next stop for the pro caravan is the Ardennes of Belgian Wallonia and Dutch Limburg, and a set of three races, which provide an opportunity for the pure climbers to take victory. Here's everything you need to know about Amstel Gold, Flèche-Walloonne and Leige-Bastogne-Leige. 

Mathieu Van der Poel at the Tour of Flanders

Mur de Huy

 

Amstel Gold
18.04.2021

Beer and sunshine in Valkenberg. A relatively new race for the classics. First run in 1966, the 267km route is made up of three large laps. In non-pandemic times, spectators get a few chances to see the riders pass through. The finish begins with an ascent of the Cauberg before turning off onto twisty lanes and an ascent of Bemelerberg, a few more twisty lanes, then a 900m charge for the line.

Who does it suit?

Everyone! Amstel Gold was so important to emerging top talent, Matthiew Van der Poel, that he bucked a rare invite from the 2019 Paris-Roubaix to focus on the Amstel Gold. Winners have included everyone from grand tour contenders and climbers to traditional classics men. Kasper Asgreen, after his performance in E3 and tour of Flanders, is the man to beat. Mathieu Van der Poel will not want to disappoint on Dutch soil. 

Fleche-Walloonne
21.04.2021

A mid-week climb fest and then a mighty big sprint up the Mur de Huy, otherwise known as The Wall.

The route takes in the Mur de Huy three times (at 60km to go, 29km, and the finish). The second time up is critical. Watch the faces of the riders. Those starting to tire will show it here. 

The route hits the Cote de Cherave at 5.5km to go. It's a steep, stingy little road climb, with most sections at 10%.

Who does it suit?

There hasn't been a lone breakaway win for over a decade. Expect a bunch sprint filled with climbers, slow motion sprinting to the line. The team with the most firepower is the Belgian team of Deceuninck-Quickstep. They have Julian Alaphilippe and raft of deputies to look after him, as well as on-form Kasper Asgreen. Tour winner, Tadej Pogacar, is powerful on short ascents and so is Bora Hansgrole's Max Schachmann. 

 

Liege-Bastogne-Liege finish line

Leige-Bastogne-Leige 
25.04.2021

La Doyenne, the final classic of the calendar. The route was changed in 2019 and no longer finishes with a climb in Ans. Instead, there is a flat sprint into Liege. The race is the hilliest of the Ardenne trio, racking up over 4,500 metres of climbing. In the final 50km there is the 1.6km long, 8.1% average Côte de Desnié, slotted in ahead of the famous Côte de la Redoute.

Who does it suit?

La Redoute is an awkward climb because the gradient changes so frequently. Local favourite, Phil Gilbert, hasn't been seen so much this season, but expect to see the road painted with his name nevertheless. Primož Roglič was on flying form in Paris-Nice. Max Schachmann finished in the top five of the Ardennes classics in 2019. Gold helmet-wearing Greg Van Avermaet has made the top five in several classics races this season. Our fingers are crossed that former Saturday boy, Tao Geoghegan Hart, lines up to race, too.

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