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2004 Spring Classics
February 29: Geelong Women's World Cup
The world's best women's cyclists head to Geelong, Australia in for the opening round of the International Cycling Union's road cycling World Cup, the final event in a week-long cycling extravaganza including the four-day Geelong Women's Tour. A 98-strong field battle it out to see who will hold ther leaders jersey in this World Cup opening round.
March 20: Milano - Sanremo
The first of the spring classics, the opening round of the men's World Cup, the longest one-day race of the season and the race every Italian wants to win, Milan - San Remo marks the moment when the racing season goes into overdrive after the 'serious warm-ups' of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.
March 20: Primavera Rosa
The Primavera Rosa - women's edition of Milan - San Remo - is the second women's World Cup event of the year and covers the last 120km or so of the route into San Remo taken by the men's race. The race follows the Ligurian coastline and includes three major climbs - the Capo Berta, the Cipressa - where last year's winner Zoulfia Zabirova escaped to a solo victory - and then finally the Poggio.
March 28: Gran Premio Castilla y Leon
Held over seven laps of a testing course in Villarcayo, Spain, the 107.5km 2003 GP Feminas Castilla y Leon saw Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers claime her first World Cup race win of the 2003 season. As the third Women's World Cup in a month, the GP Feminas Castilla y Leon will also see some tired bodies pushing themselves to the limit to try and stay close the the World Cp leader.
April 4: Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders
The 2003 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) climaxed with a heart-stopping sprint between Lotto-Domo's classics captain Peter Van Petegem and Frank Vandenbroucke (Quick.Step-Davitamon), with Van Petegem finishing two seconds in front of Vandenbroucke. What will the 88th edition of the RVV have in store for the riders in 2004? We will just have to wait and see.
April 4: Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen
The first Women's Tour of Flanders will depart from Oudenaarde at midday before arriving in Ninove 94 km later. Following a similar course to the men for the final 50km, the women will
April 7: Gent-Wevelgem
Starting in Deinze's Grote Markt, the 2004 Gent-Wevelgem is once again a mid-week 204 km sprinter's classic, and always a great place for the speed merchants in the pro peloton to strut their stuff between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
April 11: Paris - Roubaix
Paris - Roubaix, the Queen of the Classics, will be the highlight of the season for many riders and fans alike. Considered the toughest race on the calendar, Paris-Roubaix stands above the rest as being a race where good luck and sturdy equipment go hand in hand with strong legs and tactical astuteness. For a rider to puncture four times and still win is almost unheard of in any race other than Paris-Roubaix.
April 18: Amstel Gold Race
With a finish atop the steep climb of the Cauberg in Valkenburg, the Amstel Gold Race will definitely be no sprinters affair this year. That's not to say it is normally, with a total of 31 hills scattered along the 250 km parcours, a sprinter has to be very strong to survive these as well as the narrow roads and the wind. Starting in Maastricht and finishing atop the Cauberg, there won't be a fresh muscle to be seen anywhere.
April 21: La Flèche Wallonne/Women's La Flèche Wallonne
Serving as a World Cup race for women and an Hors Categorie race for men, La Flèche Wallonne is the only Ardennes 'double header'. As its name indicates, the race is run in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, and is organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation, which is responsible for the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and several other big races.
Both men's and women's races finish atop the Mur de Huy, a tough 1.4 kilometre climb averaging around 10%, with the steepest part at 20%. It's often the decisive point of the race, the men having to tackle it three times in the last 63 km, while the women do it just once at the finish. Prior to this there are a number of relatively short but steep climbs, and these usually serve to soften up the peloton before the final rush to Huy
April 25: Liège - Bastogne - Liège
The oldest classic of them all, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège starts in Liège's Place Saint-Lambert, a large historical square near the centre of town. For the first 95 kilometres, the riders take a fairly direct route to Bastogne, which is nestled in the south eastern corner of Belgium, quite close to Luxembourg. The route coming back is a lot longer however (163 km), and takes in most of the climbs in the race, before finishing in the northern Liège suburb of Ans.