Long, tough races and narrow roads. “Hellinge“, short, steep climbs, “Kasseien“, flemish for cobbles, not always nice weather and quite often a lot of wind. Fanatical fans lining the side of the road, the smell of beer and frites in the air – the classics are here!
Next weekend, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent, Belgium, traditionally opens the spring classics season. It will be six weeks until the grand finale at Paris-Roubaix. Six weeks of tough races and a party atmosphere on the roads of North-West Europe. Nils Politt, Jordi Meeus and Torsten Schmidt on goosebumps, honest racing and childhood memories.
"Cycling in Belgium is like football in Germany" - Nils Politt
How much anticipation do you have for the spring classics?
Like every year, I'm really looking forward to the classics! Cycling in Belgium is like football in Germany, the sport is incredibly popular there. At the Tour of Flanders, there are hundreds of thousands of fans on the side of the road - as a rider you often get goosebumps! The atmosphere on the Kwaremont, the penultimate climb of the Tour of Flanders, is something you can never forget.
Favourite race in the classics calendar?
My highlight and favourite race of the classics season is definitely Paris-Roubaix. The race suits me and with second place in 2019 I was also able to experience one of my career highlights there so far.
"It's hectic, chaotic, hard and honest." - Jordi Meeus
What do the classics mean to you as a Belgian?
The classics are my home races and for that reason alone something very special in my race calendar. You rarely have family and friends on the side of the road during the season, so that's a really nice feeling.
How do the races on cobbles differ from other races during the season?
The roads here are very narrow, and the wind often plays a big role, so the races are demanding. The start gun goes off and immediately it's already full on. There is no dawdling, you always have to be well positioned and attentive, you can lose the race at any turn. It's hectic, chaotic, hard and honest. In the end, the winner is whoever has energy left and has been well positioned all day. Tactical games are rare.
A victory in the classics or a stage win in a Grand Tour?
Definitely a classics win! For me as Flemish, these races mean a lot, cycling is the number one sport here.
"On these roads, racers become idols" - Torsten Schmidt
What do you associate with the classics?
I associate the classics with crowds, cycling tradition and childhood memories. When I was a child, the only races on TV were the Tour de France in the summer and the classics in the spring. The images from these races fascinated me. The riders were my idols, and later I was able to ride on the same routes, the same climbs and the same cobbles. Since 2008, as a Sports Director I've been looking after riders, who fight for success on these roads and become idols for the next generation.
What does the start of the classics season mean for you as Sports Director?
Now that we have the preparatory races in Spain and Portugal behind us, the tension is rising. The Opening Weekend is an important assessment for the classics season. Fine-tuning can still be done, but it’s important to be able to have a say in the first races and not just ride along. A good start gives you momentum, which is important for the riders.
Six weeks of classics are coming up: what are you looking forward to the most? When you get on the bus as Sports Director after Paris-Roubaix and all the riders are doing well, it's a load off my mind. At that moment, the first part of the season is over, a lot of work and tension are behind us. If the sporting achievements are also good, then I can go home with a feeling of great satisfaction after a few weeks in the hotel room.
Photographers: SprintCycling, Ralph Schezer