As a cycling fan I'm supposed to like the Ardennes Classics, but they're just not the races for me
For one week in mid-April, most eyes in the cycling world are on the hills of Belgium and the Netherlands and we start to obsess about the Ardennes Classics.
But I have to admit, they’re not really my cup of tea.
Don’t get me wrong…I love one-day racing and I love hills, and I know we’re supposed to love these historic races, but I just don’t.
To me, the Ardennes Classics are like running, or watching Grand Designs – things I tell myself I like but in reality I’m bored within minutes of actually doing them. And here’s why.
I can’t proclaim to be a cycling history buff, but as someone who has often been described as ‘pedantic’ I have to note that one of the Ardennes Classics isn’t actually in the Ardennes and one of the Ardennes Classics is by no means ever a ‘classic’.
The Amstel Gold Race is in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, but they’ve let their race be swept up by their neighbours. And the Flèche Wallonne produces such little excitement that it’s rarely even the highlight of my Wednesday afternoon, let alone my year.
It’s not the cobbled Classics
Disliking something because it’s different to something you like is a little childish, but the fact that the Ardennes come immediately after the cobbled Classics always makes them seem a little anti-climactic.
I bloody love the cobbled Classics, especially Paris-Roubaix, because they provide an actual challenge for even the best professional riders to even make it to the finish line.
The Ardennes may offer hills, but few of them are tough enough to actually cause a problem for the peloton. It’s only ever the final climb in both the Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne that see the race come to life.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though, isn’t as horrendous, with a series of pretty tough climbs over a really long distance, but who wants to watch a bike race that ends in an industrial estate in Ans rather than the picturesque city of Liège?
La Flèche Wallonne is almost always instantly forgettable
As a cycling journalist I often feel like I have to be enthusiastic about every race, but it’s hard to even muster fake enthusiasm for La Flèche Wallonne.
Firstly, it happens on a Wednesday, which is not a day to hold what is supposed to be one of the 13 most important one-day races of the year.
And secondly literally nothing ever happens for the first 195.8km of the 196km race, with a 200m sprint up the Mur de Huy the only time the comatose viewer’s heart rate even threatens to rise.
Great one-day races are made when the fans have no idea who’s going to win (who predicted that Matty Hayman would win Paris-Roubaix?) but it’s almost guaranteed that Alejandro Valverde will win his third consecutive title because he’s just the best at sprinting up the Mur de Huy.
The Amstel Gold Race has a stupid finish line
When your race markets itself entirely around the climb of the Cauberg, why on earth wouldn’t you organise it so the race finished at the top of the Cauberg?
Instead of rewarding the man with the most energy in his legs on the final ascent of the climb, the Amstel Gold Race allows the race to regroup before the finish line, where a half-arsed sprint usually determines the winner.
When Michal Kwiatkowski won it in 2015 he was nowhere near Philippe Gilbert and Michael Matthews on the climb of the Cauberg at the end but took advantage of the fact that those two couldn’t hold off the bunch in the two kilometre trundle to the line.
Cheaters very regularly prosper
Look at the winners list of the three Ardennes Classics and there’s quite a few dodgy characters in there
Davide Rebellin has won them all, Alejandro Valverde has won two of them multiple times – both of whom have served doping bans in the last 10 years. Stefan Schumacher, winner of the 2007 Amstel Gold, was also popped for drugs.
Then there’s the Astana riders who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2010 and 2012. Alexander Vinokourov faces corruption charges based on his alleged offer of €100,000 to Alexandr Kolobnev to let him win the race.
And Maxim Iglinskiy smashed his way to a solo win in 2012, but we know now why it all looked so easy for him.
There are other races on at the same time
I never thought I’d be so excited about the Tour of Croatia – in fact I didn’t even realise there WAS a Tour of Croatia – and when I heard it would clash with Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege I didn’t shed many tears.
Then there’s the Giro del Trentino this week as well, which will surely offer more excitement than the Ardennes.
At least during the two big cobbled Classics – Flanders and Roubaix – the Tour of the Basque Country has the decency to not clash with either of them. That’s the sign of a proper big race.
I’ll still watch all of the Ardennes races, of course, because that’s what a cycling fan is ‘supposed’ to do, but I’ll sit there silently wishing Paris-Roubaix had come back round again.