With the Cobbled Classics behind us and the dust, crashes and drama of these races now written into the annals of cycling history, it’s time to head towards the hills with the Ardennes Classics. Three classic races that mark the end of the one-day race season and herald the imminent Grand Tour season, these are where the best climbers and stage racers in the world will come to test their condition. So let’s bid farewell to the big strong men of the flat and say hello to the skinny climbers.

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Amstel Gold: (Sunday 16th April): Hill repeats on steroids, Holland certainly is not flat

Couch Cyclist’s Pro Tips
Location – Southern Holland
Commentary Language – Dutch
Beverage of choice – Amstel Gold beer of course
Snack of choice – Welcome to the world of waffles, pancakes and stroopwafels. But for those who are truly mad with orange fever (oranjegekte) then you’ll want hagelslag on toast (chocosprinkles, of course!)

What is it: With a route more winding than a drunk staggering their way home from a big night out, this race is the super nervous start to the Ardennes classic season. We bid the big strong men of the flat farewell and welcome the skinny climbers and puncheurs. With a route that looks like it was designed by someone with a Spiro-graph, the short sharp hills, narrow lanes and technical nature of the roads makes this a great race to watch. Add to that more road furniture than that found in the Town Planner’s version of Ikea and you’ve got yourself an amazing event.
We recommend: This is a race that normally plays a joker somewhere, so watch this one from the start.
Why is it cool: Short steep climbs with open sections over the top, technical roads and plenty of road furniture make this a race where drama is a given. With the final climb of the leg-breaking Caugberg coming only 1.8km from the finish expect the drama to take place here. But riders be aware: if you underestimate the challenge that this final climb presents and attack too early then your legs will crack and you’ll be crawling to the finish.

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Fleche Wallone: (Wednesday 19th April) The Mur de Huy, a wall by any other name ……

Couch Cyclist’s Pro Tips
Location – Central Belgium
Commentary Language – French
Beverage of choice – Bye, bye beer, hello Vino Rosso
Snack of choice – Tired of the heavy food of Belgium, this race is a great excuse to grab something Italian. But why, you’re asking? Well, with the huge Italian influence thanks to the immigration of Italian miners in the region it is no wonder that riders from Italy feel the pressure to perform here.

What is it: A mid-week semi classic and the perfect leg opener for LBL only 4 days later. Ok, it is only a pro who would use a race such as this to open their legs, but don’t presume that they will ride easy. Starting flat and then heading into the hills, this is a tough one. A mix of crosswinds, steep hills and narrow roads make for great racing. And with the Mur de Huy as the screaming crescendo to this race we know you’ll be yelling at your TV.
We recommend: Switching on when the race hits the Mur de Huy for the first time. This is Wednesday and we are not all free during the week to bond with the couch, so we recommended some time-efficient TV watching because the fireworks will always happen at the back-end of this one.
Why is it cool: As the warm-up to LBL this is a great race to see who will be at the sharp end of affairs in four days time. Plus the Mur de Huy is the ultimate theatre. We never tire of the drama that unfolds here –those who attack are often the first to crumble under the weight of this steep ascent.

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Liege Bastogne Liege: (Sunday 23th April) This old woman can knock down heavyweights

Couch Cyclist’s Pro Tips
Location – East Belgium
Commentary Language – French
Beverage of choice – A nice Italian Wine
Snack of choice – As with Fleche Wallone this is a region that some argue could be called Belgium’s little Italy. So grab some pizza or a nice caprese salad, because we are now in the realm of the featherweights.

What is it: La Doyenne, the oldest, Liege Bastogne Liege, or LBL, is one of the monuments in cycling. If you win this, then your career is cemented in history. Taking the riders from Liege down into the heart of the Ardennes, characterised by short, steep and leg-breaking climbs, the route does a U-turn in Bastogne and heads back to the finish. Long, hilly and often plagued with bad weather, this is a race where only the top riders shine and there are no hiding places.
We recommend: As a monument it is certainly going to be bordering on offensive if you don’t follow this one from the start. Ok, there are bound to be the regular breakaways, but keep an eye on where the top riders are placed as the race carries on and starts to wear down the weak – this is what makes it a great race to follow. And if you want the real experience then move your TV outside underneath a chilly April shower or as is the case with the current Belgian shine maybe just someone with a watering can?
Why is it cool: It’s Liege, it marks the end of the Classics season and the start of the Grand Tours. If that is not enough to get you excited then all we can reply is: WTF?!

Words: Couch Cyclist Photos: Noah Haxel

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Words & Photos: Couch Cyclist