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Spring Classics Cycling Season - Eat Sleep Cycle

The Drama and Excitement of the Spring Classics Cycling Season

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As the winter comes to an end, before fingers and toes have fully thawed out and with the season crescendo of the Tour de France still months away, come the Spring Classics. Often considered the ‘true’ cycling fan’s favourite races these prestigious one-day events are synonymous with cobbles and chaos. Such is the nature of one day races that riders give their all, more likely to attack and take risks making them truly exhilarating viewing. Indeed, many riders, so-called ‘classics specialists’, focus their seasons around these races, often those who hail from the areas where the races take place.

Defining “The Classics” of Cycling

Held throughout northern Europe ‘The Classics’ is a loose term often applied to the most prestigious of these races, also known as ‘Monuments’. As the races mainly take place in Belgium and Northern France their history is entangled with that of the First and Second World Wars and the courses often negotiate terrain where battles took place. There is, in fact, no official definition of what a ‘classic’ is, but we want to focus on the races that we at Eat Sleep Cycle think are the most exciting.

Strade Bianche Spring Classic - Eat Sleep Cycle

Strade Bianche – 9th March

One of the youngest classics, first held in 2007 Strade Bianche has rapidly acquired the status of a bona fide monument. In part due to the eponymous white gravel roads which give the race its unique character. More than 50km of the race takes place off-road and the growing popularity of gravel riding only compounds the appeal of this early-season race.

The Strade Bianche traverses 176km over the hilly terrain of southern Tuscany. It starts and finishes in the UNESCO World Heritage site and medieval city of Siena and covers 9 sectors of gravel roads. The race culminates on the extremely steep and narrow Via Santa Caterina climb before finishing on the Piazza del Campo in the centre of Siena. Since 2015 a women’s Strade Bianche has been held on the same day as the men’s race over approximately half the distance won in 2018 by Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen.

Strade Bianche Gravel Sectors:
La Piana – this is sector four in the race and is 5.5km long and has been included since the first edition.
Asciano – sector 8/11, consisting of 11km is the hardest sector of the race as it is mostly uphill with some steep gradients.

Recent winners of Strade Bianche

  • 2018 Tiesj Benoot
  • 2017 Michał Kwiatkowski
  • 2016 Fabian Cancellara

Most wins: Fabian Cancellara

Canty’s call for 2019: Romain Bardet

Mattia Bettagno - Eat Sleep Cycle Italian Tour Guide

Meet Mattia – The ESC Italian Tour Guide

If you’re going take on the Strade Bianche then you’re going to need a tour guide who knows the route, speaks the language and can handle a bike like no other. Regazzi, the ESC team are delighted to introduce you to Mattia, our main man in the saddle in Italy!

What is your name?
My name is Mattia Bettagno

Where are you from?
I’m from Varese, Lombardia. Land of cycling, mountains and lakes!

Where do you live?
I live in Cuasso al monte, a small town on the little mountains just outside Varese.

What drew you to cycling and why?
When I was 8 my dad bought me a road bike and I never stopped riding! I raced since then until U23 category.

What is your favourite thing about guiding?
Guiding is discovering! It’s beautiful to show other people the places I love – priceless!

Describe your favourite ride or favourite place in Italy?
I feel really good and free in Tuscany, on the white roads, better if I’m on a old steel bike during the Eroica day. That is the best day on a bike I can remember.

What do you like to do when you’re not on a tour?
Riding! I like to ride any kind of bike. Mountain bike is a big part of my days off. The mountains where I live are amazing so it’s not hard to get out and enjoy my days.

What’s the best meal you’ve enjoyed in in Italy?
It’s hard to say ! Every place has different specialties.. I have a passion for the cakes during my rides so I know quite well where to get a good snack..Off the bike I’d say: Pizzoccheri if I’m in Bormio, Trippa if I’m in Siena.

Milan-Sanremo Spring Classics Cycling - Eat Sleep Cycle

Milan-Sanremo – 23rd March

Milan-Sanremo has a long history with this year marking the 110th edition of the race, its name in Italian ‘La Primavera’ literally means spring. Run along an epic course it is the longest one-day race on the professional calendar. As the name suggests, the course traverses around 300km in north-western Italy from the city of Milan to the coastal city of San-Remo.

Although it is considered one for the sprinters due to its relatively flat course there are still plenty of climbs to catch the bigger or less prepared riders out. The race has been taken on many occasions by a well-timed attack from a non-sprinter in the closing kilometres, which is indeed how most recent winner Vincenzo Nibali sealed the deal.

Key Climbs of Milan-Sanremo
Passo del Turchino: In the past this was the only major climb in the race it is the first climb and the highest point of the race, 13.2km long and not particularly challenging averaging 1.5%.
Cipressa: ordinarily 6 km at 3.9% would not prove too challenging, however after 260km of racing this can be a decisive climb.
Poggio: The climb itself is not remarkable but is often the springboard for attacks from climbers looking to outfox the sprinter’s teams thanks to its proximity to the finish making it an exciting point in the race.

Recent winners:

  • 2018 Vincenzo Nibali
  • 2017 Michał Kwiatkowski
  • 2016 Arnaud Démare

Most wins: Eddy Merckx

Canty’s call for 2019: Fernando Gaviria

Tour of Flanders - Spring Cycling Classics

Tour of Flanders – 7th April

Also known as ‘Ronde Van Vlaanderen’ or ‘De Ronde’, the race is based entirely in the Flemish region of Belgium and was first held in 1913. The Tour of Flanders is the only classic to have been held on German-occupied territory during the Second World War and in full agreement with the German command.

Usually held one week prior to the pinnacle of the ‘cobbled classics’: Paris-Roubaix, Flanders is also characterised by cobblestones and the chaos that they cause. The race starts in Bruges in north-west Flanders before heading south through the flatlands and on to the hillier Ardennes – the climbs are short, steep and mostly cobbled.

Key Climbs of Ronde Van Vlaanderen
The longest climb is the Oude Kwaremont at 2.2km which although not the steepest it is considered the most challenging due to its length and cobbled surface.
The Oude Kwaremont is trumped only by the Koppenberg which while only 600m in length, features sections over 22% and is on a rough surfaced narrow road.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Trivia
A women’s edition of the race has been held since 2004 with Anna van der Breggen taking the win.
The record for the most number of victories (three) is shared between Belgians Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen, Italian Fiorenzo Magni and Swiss Fabian Cancellara.

Recent winners:

  • 2018 Niki Terpstra
  • 2017 Philippe Gilbert
  • 2016 Peter Sagan

Canty’s Call for 2019: Yves Lampaert

Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic - Eat Sleep Cycle

Paris-Roubaix – 14th April

Paris Roubaix or ‘The Hell of the North’ starts just north of Paris and traverses a brutal course through 29 sectors of ‘pavé’, or cobbles which determine the race. Paris-Roubaix also features a unique finish as riders enter the Roubaix velodrome and ride one lap before crossing the line. Widely considered the pinnacle of the cobbled classics season the race usually garners plenty of excitement from fans and riders alike. Such is the nature of Paris-Roubaix that the course has inspired the creation of specialist bikes and equipment designed exclusively for tackling the torturous course.  Each year, the winner of the race receives a cobblestone as part of the prize.

Key Sectors of The Hell of the North
Trouée d’Arenberg or ‘Trench of Arenberg’: A 2.4km long section of pavé and one of the most difficult sections of the race, it crosses the Forest of Arenberg and is known as one of the roughest cobbled sectors in the race owing to lack of maintenance and fans removing cobbles as souvenirs.
Carrefour de l’Arbre: A 2.1km sector just 15km from the finish making a decisive points in the race. Like the Trench of Arenberg it is considered one of the hardest sectors due to the rough nature of the cobbles.

Recent winners:

  • 2018 Peter Sagan
  • 2017 Greg Van Avermaet
  • 2016 Matthew Hayman

Most wins: Roger de Vlaeminck, Tom Boonen

Canty’s call for 2019: Jasper Stuyven

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Spring Classic - Eat Sleep Cycle

Liège-Bastogne-Liège – 28th April

First held in 1892 Liège is the oldest of the ‘Monuments’, nicknamed ‘La Doyenne’ or ‘the Old Lady’ as a result. The event was cancelled during WWI but resumed in 1919 and had some brief interruptions during WWII. The race is the last of the three spring classics races held in the Ardennes region and is typically around 250 km in length. As depicted by the name, the race starts in Liège before heading to Bastogne and back. The myriad steep climbs and challenging course make Liège a true war of attrition providing an exciting race with plenty of attacks. The course changes year-on-year and climbs are added and removed with each edition of the race.

Since 2017 a women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been held over roughly 130km sharing the final 45km with the men’s course, both editions so far have been won by the dominant Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen (intersted in women’s only tours? Then check out our selection of women’s only cycling tours!

Key climbs:
Côte de La Redoute 1.6km at 9.5% with a maximum gradient of 22% it has recently lost its status as a decisive point in the race but it still proves a challenge.
Côte de Saint-Nicolas the last categorised climb of the race and often proves very decisive, it is 1.4km long at an average gradient of 7.6%.

Recent winners:

  • 2018 Bob Jungels
  • 2017  Alejandro Valverde
  • 2016 Wout Poels

Most wins: Eddy Merckx

Canty’s call for 2019: Dan Martin

Experience Your Own Spring Classic

A lot of our cycling tours are inspired the by Spring Classics so whether you’re looking to test yourself in the Hell of the North, traverse the white gravel of the Strade Bianche or take on the cobblestone chaos of the Tour of Flanders we have a tour for you! Give us a call on +34 972 649 131 or contact us online for more info!

P.S. Enjoyed this blog? Why not sign up to receive notifications every time we post and get regular updates on our latest tours!

Vuelta vs Tour de France

Is the Vuelta better than the Tour? Here’s 6 Reasons Why We Think It Is

By World Tour 2 Comments

It’s late summer in Europe, the season is drawing to a close, the classics are a distant memory, the excitement of the Giro and the Tour are behind us and something needs to fill the void: step forward La Vuelta a España. However, La Vuelta is more than just the poor relation to the other grand tours; Spain provides a fantastic landscape for cycling. Here’s why we think La Vuelta is better than it’s Gallic counterpart:

1. It’s Unpredictable:

A mix of those for whom luck or form wasn’t on their side at the Tour and are seeking that missing win, those searching form for the world championships and young guns itching to show off their ability makes for explosive racing. There have been 8 different winners of La Vuelta in the past 10 years, which is a testament to the variety of the racing.

2. The Parcours:

There’s no such thing as a siesta in La Vuelta! The Vuelta is known for being the preferred parcours of the climbers for good reason: shorter, punchier stages make for aggressive and exciting racing. Those who cured their insomnia during the 200 km+ formulaic sprint stages of the Tour can expect no such rest from it’s Spanish counterpart. Only one stage of the 2018 Vuelta is over 200 km in length and there are also 9 summit finishes to look forward to. Stage 20, up to the Coll de la Gallina in Andorra, looks to be the deciding stage with 4,000 metres of ascent in just 105.8 km.

3. Crazy new climbs:

Of the aforementioned 9 summit finishes in this year’s race 3 are brand new, the first is on Stage Four in the form of the 16 km long La Alfaguara climb in the Sierra de Huétor Natural Park. Next comes Les Praeres de Nava on Stage 14: 4.7 km at a grueling 13.5% average which is sure to get the pure climbers out of the saddle off the front. Lastly, the conclusion of Stage 17 will feature the debut of Balcon de Bizkaia after 166.5 km through the Basque Country.

4. Riders are more accessible:

La Vuelta’s marginally lower profile coupled with Spain’s rather more chilled attitude to life means that riders are not fielded around in such a tightly controlled environment compared to the Tour, which is good news for media and spectators alike as it makes contact with riders at the start and finish areas more accessible meaning chatting to riders and getting the obligatory selfie is easier…

5. The weather!

The Spanish late summer weather is perfect for both racing and spectating. The oppressive heat of mid-summer has dissipated but autumn cold is yet to draw in. If the Giro is known for adverse weather affecting the outcome and the Tour for its scorching July heat then the weather at the Vuelta is barely newsworthy when it comes to the race as you can expect middle-ground temperatures and sunshine. That being said look out for any Pyrenean and Basque stages where weather is never dependable!

6. Emerging riders

Younger riders who have performed well throughout the season are generally given a chance to prove themselves over three weeks at the Vuelta meaning we get to see the potential future stars in action. These riders also generally light up the race as they are keen to ride aggressively and justify their place on the roster.

Like the sound of the Vuelta climbs? Here’s how to ride them with Eat Sleep Cycle:

  • La Gallina, Andorra – get up close and personal with the riders on our Vuelta Tour this September
  • Les Praeres – a feature in our Trans-Asturias epic.
  • The Balcon of Bizkaia – check out our soon to be released Tour of the Basque Country

Liked this blog? Subscribe to receive weekly updates & don’t miss our Vuelta Series coming at you from the end of August.

Pro Rider Profile: Paddy Bevin Takes the Leader’s Jersey

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As Girona based pro rider Paddy Bevin takes the Leaders Jersey in Tirreno Adriatico, Brian takes a look back at Paddy’s career to date. 

Years in the making, a potential finally being reached

Knowing the guy a little, he’ll probably hate reading this. He’ll probably say it’s pointless, unnecessary and way over the top. In his eyes, it’s just bike racing. It’s not war, or death or famine. Or the All Blacks in a Test match.

Paddy Bevin is the guy who crashed in the opening minutes of his first Tour de France last year and slammed into a steel barrier so hard that he broke his foot – though the fracture may have occurred as he skittered along the slick tarmac before coming to a shuddering halt.

An eerie silence followed a rapturous applause as he picked himself up and trundled to the finish among the last finishers.

It was sickening to watch and it could have very easily ended his career. Over three weeks later he hobbled into my house for some well-deserved burgers and post-race beers.

In each hand were crutches, his fingers holding the race number he promised he’d bring back for our shop in Girona. ‘Bevin 183’. He didn’t care much for the numbers.

“Mate, I’m not that tough. It was fine,” when a few of us asked how the hell do you finish the Tour with a broken foot.

Paddy Bevin most definitely is not Phil Gaimon.

“How the f*** do you get bottles for Uran? How the hell do you sprint? How is it possible to wake up after two weeks and face a Pyrenean stage knowing your foot is fucked and Contador is going to go bonkers from the gun?”

“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad; you just suck it up and get through it. How’s all at Eat Sleep Cycle?” he says in one unbroken sentence.

I should have punched the guy.

Paddy doesn’t jaw about on social media like others do. He won’t use three words if two will do. Hence his Instagram description of BMC winning the opening team time-trial at Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday. ‘Get on bike. Pedal fast. Win race’.

Humble to a fault is how I’d best describe him.

He’s right on one thing, though. It’s just bike racing, but today he took the leader’s jersey in Tirreno after he finished fifth in the sprint and such was his high-placing that he deposed the two teammates who were before him across the line yesterday. And THAT is a result he has been a lifetime chasing.

OUCH: Bevin picks himself up off the floor after an horrific high-speed crash on the opening stage of the Tour de France last year.

 His last day as leader of a GC race was the 2.2-ranked An Post Rás in Ireland four years ago. There might not be a next time.

“It’s a nice feeling,” he told reporters today. “It’s a really weird feeling to take a jersey off a teammate, especially one that’s here to lead the race. I don’t mind babysitting it for a day, but as we hit tomorrow nothing changes.”

There’s that humility again.

He’s a guy I first came across at the aforementioned Rás in 2014 riding for the New Zealand national team. There, he won a brutal stage two from four chasers by almost two minutes, despite a furious chase.

There were sizeable groups four, ten and twenty-five minutes down by the finish.

I recall the time gaps we got in the press car that day from when he attacked on his own with 40 kilometres to go – and the category one climb of Doonagore still to come.

I just thought ‘this isn’t normal’ but neither was the way he won another stage a couple of days later, chasing down a breakaway with just two teammates for help after the two others became ill.

Nobody else was willing, or able, to assist but that didn’t stop Bevin doing much of the driving over the 10 climbs that day, leading out the sprint into Caherciveen and then blitzing it.

That he didn’t win the race outright – or even finish in the top 10, did little to sway my thinking that the guy was simply world class and had to be at a higher level.

It took a year of mopping up wins for Avant Racing in Australia to really get noticed but fast forward a couple years and he’s at the Vuelta, riding for Cannondale and dying under a scorching Spanish sun.

For 10 and a half days he hauled himself around the country, only to climb off with illness on stage 11.

A day later I received a message, “You in town bro?”. The Vuelta had spat him out and he was back in Girona with his tail between his legs.

Sitting down to dinner that night he struggled for words, yet to his enormous credit, didn´t touch a drop or any of the sweet things I´d laid on. A weaker man would have folded and devoured the lot.

Then, life showed it wasn´t so much unfair as mean when an update on TV gave breaking news of a massive earthquake in Gisborne on New Zealand´s North Island – exactly where Bevin´s parents were at the time. He tried to contact them to no avail, but they were fine.

Still, an ugly moment where a man was kicked while already on the floor.

HANDS IN THE AIR: Bevin celebrates winning the fourth stage of An Post Ras in Ireland in 2014.

Every rider goes through misery but for a rider whose career was really only taking off, Bevin fell off a cliff and that month was a real slap in the face. His DNF at Eneco Tour a month later no less of a blow.

There have been many setbacks in the interim; injuries at the worst possible time – such as before the nationals this year when he was a banker to win the time-trial, the Tour de Suisse in 2016 was a disaster, riding on bikes clearly not up to the mark would crack any rider, missing an entire Classics season last year (except Paris Roubaix where he finished outside the time limit) to name but a few.

So, at the end of two years, aside from an amazing ride in the Paris Nice prologue (3rd), a few sniffs of victory at the Tour de Suisse, winning the NZ nationals, his only win was in a TTT in the Czech Tour, the latter NOT coming in contract year and in a field stacked with low-budget conti teams.

Hardly a CV you’d go to an interview sure of landing the job.

This is what makes today special for Bevin and anyone who knows him. Cycling is a puzzle that takes figuring out and because the pro game has become so specialised, that only specialists can really win on the big days.

Bevin is not a climber, or a sprinter, or a tester, but he can hang with the very best on his day.

He has been hammering on the door for years now and not had a huge amount to sing about.

Today, that all changed, and if he loses the jersey tomorrow, the day after or the day after, at least he can look at himself and say ‘today, I realised my potential’.

And isn’t that all any of us want to do with our cycling?

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