The UCI WorldTour continues on two fronts during Easter, with the cobbled Classics contenders fighting for victory at the Tour of Flanders in Belgium on Sunday March 31, while the stage racers head to northern Spain for the six-day Tour of the Basque Country that begins on Monday April 1.
This year marks the 100 anniversary of the creation of the Ronde van Vlaanderen â€“ as the race is known in Flanders, while the Tour of the Basque Country â€“ or Vuelta al Pais Vasco, as it is known in Spanish, is being held for the 53rd time.
Both races offer significant points for the individual, team and nation UCI WorldTour rankings and could see major changes depending on which riders and teams perform the best.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) currently leads the individual ranking after his victory at the Gent-Wevelgem one-day race. He has a total of 232 points and is the revelation of the spring Classics. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) is second in the ranking, with 151 points.
Team Sky leads the team ranking with 407 points but both Katusha and RadioShak-Leopard, respectively second and third with 268 and 266 points, could close the gap with strong performances in the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of the Basque Country.
Spain leads the nations ranking with 395 points, ahead of Italy (319) and Great Britain (309).
Ronde van Vlaanderen marks the peak of the Belgian classics season, with victory assuring the winner hero status if he is a local Flandrian rider, and huge appreciation if he comes from another country which does not have the characteristic steep cobbled climbs and twisting country roads.
The Ronde was first held in 1913 and this year's race is the 97th edition. Racing was only interrupted during the first world war, when much of the area was close to the front line. Last year Tom Boonen won his third Tour of Flanders, beating Italian rivals Filippo Pozzato and AlessandroÂ Ballan in a sprint after the three proved to be the strongest on the final climbs of the race.
The 256km race route starts in Bruges and ends in Oudenaarde after 17 nasty climbs â€“or Hellingen, as they are known locally, and numerous sections of cobbles.
The race route creates a natural selection and so we are likely to see all the big-name Classics riders in the thick of the action.
Boonen is not at his best this year but is chasing a fourth victory, while Sagan is looking for his first victory and a confirmation of his huge talent. Other contenders include Cancellara and Pozzato, Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing Team), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), while Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) and Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) are outsiders that should not be over looked. The UCI World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) will miss the race due to a cold and will focus on the Ardennes Classics.
A hilly Vuelta al Pais Vasco
The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is one of the most prestigious weeklong stage races of the UCI WorldTour and sees most of the best stage racers clash in the hills of the Basque Country.
The six days of hilly racing begin in Elgoibar on Monday April 1 and ends on Saturday April 6 with a 24km individual time trial around Beasain. The unpredictable spring weather can also be a factor, making the days in the saddle even harder than the steep gradients of the roads.
Samuel SÃ¡nchez rides for the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team and won the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in 2012. He is again a favourite this year along with fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff Bank), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida).