For serious cyclists, the Spring Classics represent the brutal pinnacle of the sport. The events take place in the murky, damp months of spring on the savage cobbles and narrow, muddy tracks of farming country in Belgium and northern France. They encapsulate the essence of the sport.
The beauty of a Spring Classics cycling tour is that in one long weekend, you can both ride the sportive course yourself and also watch a pro race. If you’re looking to get to the heart of cycling in a time efficient way, a Spring Classics cycling tour is for you.
This interview with Clément Cicuto, Sports Tours International’s General Manager for Europe, digs into the detail of planning the best Classics cycling tours.
Clément has been organising Classics holidays for Sports Tours International since 2011. His vast experience of the event means he has a ton of fascinating insights to share on what’s special about Flanders cycling tours to how to choose between the different Classics events and the best VIP experiences.
1. Why are Spring Classics cycling tours so special?
Our trips to cycle the Belgium Classics are always really popular. Why?! Well –
It’s the start of the pro cycling season and there’s always a sense of excitement in the air about what the new season will bring. The Classics events start in April and so there is also a feeling of having escaped the really biting winter weather (though it is usually still questionable at this time of year, so don’t expect blistering sunshine!).
Cobbles and cycling history
Cycle racing in Belgium, and these Monuments races in particular, have a huge amount of history surrounding them. Where the Tour de France is about endurance, sunshine and sweeping mountain vistas, the Classics races condense the essence of the sport into one (usually chilly) day of pain and suffering.
The races with cobbled sections are very different to other styles of racing, and have a special place in the hearts of cycling fans. Expect to see crowd-lined streets and aggressive, unpredictable battles on the courses. It’s exciting stuff!
One of my favourite spring classics tours is the Paris Roubaix cycle tour. A few years ago I was part of it and watched clients riding the sportive, and then on the Sunday watching the race and experiencing the finish at the famous velodrome. We arranged access to the shower blocks at the velodrome and they even had the chance to collect signatures from pro riders. Everyone left with amazing memories.
Belgium is known for its wildly passionate cycle racing fans and the electric atmosphere that goes with each event; you’ll find knowledgeable, flag-waving crowds, and a relaxed, friendly environment, where, as a spectator, you can get really close to the action. It’s said that 80% of Belgium’s population watches the race (not all in person of course!).
Spectating the Classics is not just about watching the race, it’s an insight into the deep-rooted cycling culture you find here – and their love of beer and frites too!
Ride and watch
For many of the Classics, there’s also the opportunity to ride the sportive event on the Saturday and then spectate the pro race on the Sunday. This makes for a really special, time efficient weekend of cycling and it’s not something that you can do in many other places.
While on the subject of time efficiency, it’s also worth mentioning that cycling holidays in Belgium are a great option for those living in the UK as northern France and Belgium are really easily accessed from the UK. Brussels airport is an excellent hub and Lille International Eurotunnel station is also very well placed.
2. What kind of Spring Classics bike tours do you run?
We run Tour of Flanders cycling tours, as well as tours to cycle Paris Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Our guests can book trips for anything from one day to 10 days. They can start with a day and build out the experience they want.
One day or 10 day trip
Some of our most popular options are long weekends where they join us on Friday, ride the sportive on Saturday, spectate on Sunday and return home on Monday.
Our ultimate 10 day trip starts with the Tour of Flanders weekend, has a week in the middle with guided visits to places like the Tour of Flanders Centre and Museum in Oudenaarde, talks, brewery visits and other special experiences, before finishing with the Paris Roubaix sportive and pro race at the end. This is really quite a VIP experience and so there are normally 15 to 35 people on the trip with one Sports Tours representative for 8 to 10 clients.
We are an official Classics operator and are therefore able to offer VIP access and experiences that you can’t get otherwise.
I think one of the best things we offer is the ability to see more than one part of the race. For example
- On a Tour of Flanders cycling tour, options include everything from taking in the exciting race start and then watching the pros up the Oude Kwaremont three times, to a day in an official Tour of Flanders car!
- For Paris-Roubaix we have lots of options depending what you’re looking for – everything from standard start and finish package to VIP start and finish with breakfast in the VIP lounge, access to the pro signing-in area, race viewing at a cobbled section, seat in the grandstand of the velodrome in front of the finish line with a free bar.
- Our Liege Bastogne Liege tours allow our guests access to the VIP lounge at the start, the signing in and team paddock areas. At the finish there’s another VIP area with TV screens and an open bar.
This ability to see the most exciting parts of the race from the best seats, really allows our clients to get the most out of their trip. We are also very proud of the fact that you can work with your budget – we offer the premium VIP experiences but also recognise that not everyone will want that. With us, those people can still see the start and finishes and access our transport without having to pay the premium prices. We are flexible.
3. What makes these Belgium cycling tours special?
As an official Classics tour operator, and having run classic tours for over 10 years, we have excellent relationships with the organisers.
No wasted time
This means we get plenty of inside information which ensures we can help our clients be in the right place at the right time with minimal waiting around.
We also have superb relationships with suppliers such as hotels, local staff, and reps which helps us to be flexible and offer our clients the best experience. We have minibuses with roof racks that allow us to transport a clients bicycles on the roof and other perks, such as a dedicated space for our clients at sportives so that we can offer them immediate access to food and water after the event.
Our experience and relationships also mean we can be very flexible with the kinds of trip we offer – you can have our entry level experience at one event or ride and watch all of them at our top VIP level. It’s up to you.
As a major operator, we are also ABTA bonded which gives clients peace of mind against financial failure and as well as other protections.
4. How to choose between the Classics tours you offer?
Many of our clients want to experience all of the Classics, but here are some pointers in case time or budget don’t allow it.
All of these tours have VIP options you can choose.
For those that want to ride, one of the attractive things about the Classics sportives is that they offer different distances – so guests can skip riding the part(s) they don’t want to ride.
Tour of Flanders, Belgium
Pro race on Sunday 2 April 2023.
- Starts in Bruges, finishes in Oudenaarde.
- It’s the first cobbled Classic of the year.
- Known for being the most popular cycling event in Belgium.
- Legendary climbs in the Flemish Ardennes, including Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg and (sometimes) the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
Sportive, We Ride Flanders, takes place on Saturday 1 April.
- 235km – Starts from Bruges
- 179km – Starts from Oudenaarde
- 144km – Starts from Oudenaarde
- 75km – Starts from Oudenaarde
Find out more about our tours here.
Paris Roubaix, France
Pro race on Sunday 9 April 2023
- Starts in Compiègne, about 85 kilometres north-east of the centre of Paris, and finishes at Roubaix Velodrome.
- It’s known as the “Hell of the North” and “Queen of the Classics”.
- Famous for its unrelenting cobbled sections and explosive finishes in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome.
Sportive, the Roubaix Challenge event, on Saturday 8 April
- 70 km – Starts and finishes at Roubaix Velodrome
- 145 km – Starts and finishes at Roubaix Velodrome
- 172 km – Starts in Busigny and finishes in Roubaix
Find out more about our tours here.
Amstel Gold, Netherlands
Pro race on Sunday 16 April 2023.
- Starts in ‘De Markt’ in Maastricht and finishes in Berg en Terblijt, Valkenburg.
- Takes place in the southernmost Dutch province of Zuid-Limburg.
- It is the only Dutch one-day race on the UCI World Tour.
- Includes 33 climbs over the 263km course.
Sportive, the Amstel Gold Race Sportive, on Saturday 15 April.
- 6 different route lengths to choose from, 60km to 240km.
Find our more about our tours here.
Flèche Wallonne, Belgium
Pro race on Wednesday 19 April 2023, between Amstel Gold and Liege Bastogne Liege.
- Starts in Blegny and finishes on the Mur de Huy.
- Known for the super steep Mur de Huy (26% maximum gradient), which is the highlight of the route.
Find our more about our tours here.
Pro race on Sunday 23 April 2023.
- Also known as La Doyenne (“the Old Lady”) as it’s the oldest of the five Monuments.
- Known as one of the hardest events in the world because it is so long and demanding (250-260km).
Sportive, the Liege Bastogne Liege Challenge, on Saturday 22 April 2023.
- 255 km: start and finish at Banneux
- 147 km: start and finish at Banneux
- 81 km: start and finish at Banneux
Find out more about our tours here.
5. Which is your favourite Classics cycling tour?
Of course, I would encourage cyclists to experience all the Classics events because they really are so special and each event has its only personality and differences. It’s the perfect cycling holiday for cyclists that are serious about their sport.
That said, the most famous of the events is the Tour of Flanders, and it is often the event that cyclists start with. The special atmosphere in Oudenaarde takes some beating!
6. How does your trip planning process work?
When planning our Classics cycling holidays, we make full use of our 25 years of event and holiday planning experience. I myself have been planning trips to the classics for more than 10 years.
We always start by looking at the feedback from the previous years and ensure that we make adjustments to take into account and reflect clients suggestions for improvements. The fact that we have been running these kinds of cycling holidays for so many years ensures we have a lot of feedback to go on and so we can provide trips that really meet and exceed our clients expectations.
As soon as the routes are announced at the end of the summer, we secure our room bookings and other services including bike hire, transfers and guides. Fortunately, the routes for the Classics events tend to remain quite similar from year to year. This allows us to pre-book quite a lot of our accommodation and so gives certainty on the level of accommodation and other services we offer clients. It also ensures that we can provide clients with a pre-booking option if they want to secure their spots early on.
7. How do you choose the hotels?
Nearly all the hotels we use are ones that we have been working with for many years and which we’ve received great feedback on from our guests.
We know that they can offer things we need, for example, convenient location for the events, secure storage for the bikes, somewhere our mechanics can offer servicing, an early breakfast, a good meal in the evening, helpful and friendly staff available.
8. DIY versus a Sports Tours International trip to the Classics?
As I’ve mentioned before, the advantage of travelling with us is that we are able to offer behind-the-scenes kinds of experiences that you simply can’t get if you are travelling alone.
We help our clients be in the right place at the right time with the best access to watch the race, so they don’t have to spend hours hanging around.
We can also provide guaranteed sportive entries (even where the event is officially sold out), access to our knowledgeable reps and itineraries that include lots of helpful advice based on our years of experience.
Our staff provide a detailed briefing the day before the sportive with information about the route, the logistics and lots of special tips. Our clients tell us that they find this really useful, especially when it’s the first time they’ve done the sportive.
As well as the VIP experiences, we can help our clients flex their trips with things like extra nights at the start or end of a standard package, bike transfers from the UK, taxi transfers from the airport or train station, half board food options, packed lunches and more.
We are also happy to help arrange trips for larger groups, for example, corporate groups or cycling clubs.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also cater for individuals that want to join one of our trips. Non-cyclist other halves are also very welcome!
9. Where can people find more information?
The starting point is the Classics section of our website. Please also feel free to contact our knowledgeable customer service team by phone or by email – +44 (0)161 703 8161 or email@example.com.
They know our Classics cycling tours very well and have worked with us on these trips for many years. They love to work with guests and match them with the best experiences for what they are looking for.
All of us at Sports Tours do everything we can to surprise and delight our clients and always exceed their expectations.
We hope to see you on one of our trips soon!
A huge thank you to Clément for sharing such an insightful behind the scenes look at what goes into planning a Classics cycling tour.
Have you been on a Classics cycling tour?
If you’ve spectated at the Classics or ridden one of the sportives, let us know how it went in the comments below!
For those coming into Belgium or northern France by plane, you might find this website useful – it shares an overview of all flight routes worldwide.
Think a Tour de France cycling tour is more what you’re after? Check out our article on Tour de France holidays.
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