The Best of the Spring Classics

Nothing can truly make up for the absence of the Spring Classics, but as racing remains temporarily halted, we’re going back through the archives to bring you a selection of our all-time favourite moments. Keep checking back as we make our way through the calendar over the coming weeks.

02 April 2020
Photo credit: Offside - L'Equipe

1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège

In bad weather, they say that most riders are beaten before the race begins. So it proved in the 1980 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which was affected by an abysmal snow storm from start to finish. After an hour of racing, half the field had dropped out. After two hours, just sixty were still on their bikes.

While most riders, wearing inadequate woollen gloves and jerseys, were simply surviving, Bernard Hinault was attacking, distancing the others with 80km left. In temperatures close to freezing, the Badger pressed on and eventually crossed the line with a staggering 10-minute gap. Of the 174 riders who set off from Liège that morning, only twenty would finish. To this day, Hinault has limited feeling in the tips of his fingers, battle scars from a day that helped forge his legend.

Photo credit: Graham Watson

2000 Paris-Roubaix

He might have been known as the Lion of Flanders but Johan Museeuw’s best and worst memories are from Paris-Roubaix. In 1998, heavy rain fell and the wet cobblestones caused a dangerous pile-up in the Arenberg Trench. Museeuw fell and damaged his knee so badly that doctors feared it would have to be amputated. His career seemed to be over but the Lion roared back two years later, taking his second win in the Roubaix velodrome and celebrating with one of the most famous victory salutes in cycling history.

Photo credit: Graham Watson

1994 Paris-Roubaix

Nominated by EF Pro Cycling directeur sportif, Tom Southam

“I was a fan of Andrei Tchmil and the black and red Lotto kit that they came out with in ‘94 was the coolest thing that I had seen. Anyway, I didn't see the race live as we didn't have Eurosport so I watched it on a video cassette without knowing the result.”

“It snowed at the start and it was a block headwind. The rain came in by the end, turning the course into a quagmire and the race into an epic. No helmets, no glasses, inches of deep mud and even Rock Shox suspension. Tchmil took off sixty kilometres from the finish and was hounded down by his arch rival Johan Museeuw, who got to six seconds of closing the gap before he cracked and then had a mechanical.”

“Museeuw was so cold that he couldn't get his feet out of the pedals when his mechanic got to him and there were so many other incidents that the commentator, David Duffield, lost his voice during the broadcast, which just added to the drama of the whole thing. Years later, I spoke to a guy who rode that day and he told me that the cobbles were so slippy that riders were falling, remounting and falling off again immediately as they tried to get going. One for the ages that one.”

Photo credit: Offside - L'Equipe

1981 Paris-Roubaix

Nominated by Guy Andrews

The 1981 Paris–Roubaix, won by Bernard Hinault, was one of the toughest in recent history. He crashed no fewer than seven times, and the last one seemed to be enough to take him out of contention. But in classic ‘badger' style, powered by rage with his world champion’s jersey covered in mud, he regained the race before outsprinting Francesco Moser, Roger De Vlaeminck and a host of classics specialists in the velodrome. The French press thought it was a miracle. Afterwards, Hinault is famously alleged to have said that the race was bullshit.

Photo credit: Offside - L'Equipe

1985 Tour of Flanders

The cobbled parcours of de Ronde is a challenge to navigate on the best of days, but in the wet it becomes treacherous. The 1985 edition took place in weather conditions that fans long for and riders loath. The day dawned under drizzly skies but the weather only worsened as the race got underway. Every single rider was forced to dismount and run up the steep slope of the Koppenberg and the rain was so heavy in the final hour that only 24 riders finished – the lowest number in the modern era. A vintage edition was capped with a win for the reigning Belgian champion.

Photo credit: Offside - L'Equipe

1977 Tour of Flanders

Contested by two of Belgium’s great champions, the tale of this edition of Flanders is one of slander and skulduggery. Freddy Maertens is pushed up the Koppenberg by a spectator while his breakaway rival Roger De Vlaeminck refuses to pull a turn for the last 70km. Eventually dodgy Rog’s conniving tactics earn him the win but he is booed off the stage by the crowd. The controversy continued with allegations that De Vlaeminck offered Maertens 300 Francs to let him win, but Maertens got his comeuppance as he was later disqualified for doping.

Photo credit: Yuzuru Sunada

2015 Gent-Wevelgem

Nominated by Unbound Gravel champion, Colin Strickland

“This is my favourite race to watch. There were 30mph winds all day and it wreaked havoc on the peloton, with echelons extending backwards into the distance with the crosswinds just shattering things. Luca Paolini rides a really smart race strategically, outwitting everyone in the lead group and convincing them to work. He then attacks with 3km to go when no one expects him to and just rides away. Easy.”

Race highlights also feature a highly unusual crash featuring then-Classics contender, Geraint Thomas.

Photo credit: Yuzuru Sunada

1998 Gent-Wevelgem

Now held on a Sunday, Gent-Wevelgem used to be run on the Wednesday of Holy Week, between Flanders and Roubaix. The 60th edition was a stone wall classic featuring three breakaway riders: Frank Vandenbroucke and Nico Mattan of Mapei-Bricobi, and Lars Michaelsen, riding for TVM Farm Frites. Rain had begun to fall as the trio approached Wevelgem, making the sweeping turns damp and slippery. Mattan attacked but Michaelsen could match him, and whenever they regrouped Vandenbroucke would pounce. Like a boxer with a stinging jab, Vandenbroucke finally landed the killer blow in a display of textbook team tactics.

Photo credit: Yuzuru Sunada

1992 Milan-San Remo

The Berlin Wall is down, the brightness of cycling kits is up, and Sean Kelly is reaching the end of a sparkling Classics career. A few years have passed since his previous San Remo victory and his run of seven straight titles at Paris-Nice is slowly fading from memory, but the Irishman isn’t done yet. As our Alan Partridge inspired commentator notes: ‘Kelly looks keen.’ When Moreno Argentin takes off over the Poggio, there’s only one man with the skills to catch him on the descent. All hail King Kelly.

Photo credit: Jojo Harper

2018 Strade Bianche

A relatively new addition to the Classics calendar, ‘Strade’ is already a race rich in history. Who can forget the 2018 edition when persistent rain over the Tuscan hills turned the white roads into a mud bath and the riders into a bicycle-mounted division of the terracotta army. The race pitted GC riders against cyclocross champions and witnessed the confirmation of an emerging Classics star. Watch the final 30 kilometres and make a reminder to book your own trip to Tuscany when you can.

Photo credit: Offside - L'Equipe

2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Cycling is a sport for the romantics, but it’s also a numbers game. When Team Sky’s Ian Stannard found himself in a lead group with three members of the Etixx-Quick Step squad, no one gave him a cat in hell’s chance. These weren’t any ordinary adversaries either: Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra had both won multiple Monument titles, and Stijn Vandenbergh was an able foil. But in spite of the odds, Stannard kept cool and covered the moves and even made his own en route to one of the most staggering upset wins in recent times.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we continue our journey through Spring Classics history, with memorable moments and monumental victories from Paris-Roubaix and Ardennes week.