Plan ahead

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The Independent Online
Plan ahead

The international cycling road season in Europe starts on 6 February and the spring classics offer the spectator the chance to follow teams and riders as they perform in the one-day World Cup races and begin tuning up for the Tour de France in July.

The Het Volk, on 2 March, is Belgium's opening spring classic and is an indicator to the form of riders for the forthcoming World Cup races. Starting and finishing in Ghent, the 208km race includes five tough climbs on cobbled surfaces. The Paris-Nice or the Race to the Sun from 10 to 17 March is the first classic stage race of the season. The first six World Cup races follow, concluding the spring classics. The Milan-San Remo opens the sequence on 23 March and the Grand Prix of Frankfurt concludes this series on 1 May.

The four World Cup races in between, all held at the weekends in April, are within easy reach for spectating. The Tour of Flanders on 7 April is a gruelling 260km ride partly over the Ardennes and includes infamous cobbled climbs like the Murr de Grammont, 20km from the finish. The Paris- Roubaix the following Sunday lives up to its alternative title of the "Hell of the North", a hellish mix of cobbles, crashes and punctures.

Chris Boardman has pencilled in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the fourth World Cup race on 21 April. The oldest classic is a race of repeated short climbs in the Ardennes though on tarmac. The hill of La Redoute, 48km from the finish, is a good vantage point. The Amstel Gold ends the series on 27 April. The Netherlands' only classic is raced over the south-east corner, 245km from Heerlen to Maastricht.

Sporting Tours, of Otley, specialises in cycling trips and provides excursions to these four World Cup races, though the Amstel Gold is now booked. Prices for the Tour of Flanders are a day trip at pounds 65, two nights in Ghent at pounds 139 or if you wish to bring your bike for three nights, pounds 179. The Paris- Roubaix costs pounds 65 for the day trip, 125 for one night in Paris and three nights with bike starting at pounds 125. The Liege-Bastogne-Liege race starts at pounds 109 for two nights in the town. Sporting Tours also has a video brochure, narrated by Phil Liggett, at pounds 5. This is refundable on booking.